Colorful, eccentric, and talented, Waddell was one of the greatest lefthanders in major league history! He had everything a pitcher could want, a great fastball, a breaking ball to go with it and excellent control. The only problem was, he was a couple of tamales short of a full plate!!
Rube, who grew up near Bradford, PA. Had Three passions in his life: baseball, fishing and following fire engines! Not the most cerebral ballplayer of all-time, he was an easy going, slow witted sort who loved to have a good time. Oh yes, and before we forget to mention, he also liked to tend bar and chase the ladies around as well.
Signing with Louisville (NL) in 1897, he transferred to Pittsburgh when the two franchises merged. Unhappy with the stern discipline of manager Fred Clarke, he jumped the club. Clarke, preferring not to have to deal with the flaky hurler, let him go. Connie Mack "borrowed" Waddell from the Pirates' Barney Dreyfuss for his Milwaukee team in the AL for the 1900 season.
Waddell followed Mack to Philadelphia to join the Athletics in 1902 and went 24-7, leading the AL in strikeouts for the first of what would be six straight seasons. In 1904 he struck out 349 batters. In 1905 he led the league with 26 wins, leading the A's into the World Series against the Giants. As the series approached, rumors abounded that gamblers paid Waddell off to fake an arm injury and sit it out. The truth was that Waddell had fallen on his left arm while horsing around with teammate Andy Coakley at a train station. It stiffened up overnight, and he didn't pitch again that season.
Waddell never made more than $2,800 a year, and he spent money as fast as he got it. For a time the A's paid him in dollar bills, hoping to make his money last longer. He was forever borrowing or conning extra money out of Mack. Waddell enjoyed waving his teammates off the field and then striking out the side. He enjoyed wrestling alligators in Florida, hung around in firehouses, married two women who then left him, and tended bar when he wasn't the saloon's best customer. He held up the start of games he was scheduled to pitch while he played marbles with children outside the park.
One legend about Waddell is that there was a provision in his contract barring him from eating Animal Crackers in bed. In those days, two players had to share a double bed on the road, and Ossie Schreckengost was Waddell's catcher and roommate. "Schreck wouldn't sign unless he saw that clause in Waddell's contract," said Mack, "so I wrote it in there, and the Rube stuck to it."
Always a fan favorite, Waddell's erratic behavior and declining effectiveness strained the tolerance of his teammates. In the spring of 1908, Mack traded him to the Browns after some of his teammates threatened not to report. By 1910 Waddell was back in the minors. He won 20 games for Joe Cantillon's Minneapolis (AA) club in 1911. In the spring of 1912, he was staying at Cantillon's house in Hickman, Kentucky, when a nearby river flooded. Standing in icy water, Waddell helped pile sandbags on the embankments. The incident affected his health. He still managed to pitch one more year in the minors but after being so badly weakened by the river incident, he became an easy target of tuberculosis.
In 1913 he went down to rehabilitate in a sanatorium in San Antonio, Texas. He died there, fittingly, on April Fool's Day, 1914. For several years there was no monument on Waddell's grave. The president of the San Antonio ballclub told Connie Mack and John McGraw, whose Giants trained there. They raised enough money to put up a six-foot granite marker. Waddell, who was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Committee on Baseball Veterans in 1946, is buried in San Antonio Mission Burial Park, the same site as fellow Hall Of Famer Ross Youngs is buried in.