SABR

Andy Rudolph

This article was written by Peter Morris.

Who was Andy Rudolph? Not much more than an especially rabid fan, really. Or so everyone thought until this fixture at early twentieth-century Detroit baseball games suddenly wasn't there any longer. Then people realized local games would never be quite the same without him.

Little is known about Andrew Rudolph's early life. His obituaries indicated that he was born near Toronto around 1865, that his father died in 1905 and his mother was still alive at that time and living in Walkerton, Ontario. A search of the 1881 and 1901 Canadian censuses reveals no perfect match, but there is a likely candidate on the 1881 Canadian census: a German-born farmer named Henry Rudolf living in Brant, Ontario, with wife Mary and eight children, one of them a fifteen-year-old named Andrew.

Andrew Rudolph had moved to Detroit by 1890 where he became well known on the local athletic scene. He was a member of the Detroit Athletic Club track team as a pedestrian, then won renown as a cyclist. He was also connected with a store on Lafayette Avenue and became a familiar face around town.

Around the turn of the century, he married a fellow Canadian named Bessie. By this time his days of active athletic competition were over, but he became a regular at Detroit's Bennett Park, the home of the Tigers. It appears that his only official role was as the ballpark's scorecard man. Initially, he worked for the man who owned the scorecard privilege, but Rudolph bought it for himself prior to the 1905 season.

It soon became clear that he was far more interested in producing a scorecard that was a work of art than in making a profit. "He put up the best card in the American League circuit," recalled sportswriter Paul Bruske, "and characteristically gave not a thought to his profits. When settling up time came at the end of the year he found that, counting his own time at the price for which he could have sold it elsewhere, he had lost about $500, but this never bothered him. He took a genuine pride in his work and the value of his card he placed only secondary to the success of the club." (Paul H. Bruske, Sporting Life, January 16, 1906)

Rudolph was equally eager to help out wherever and whenever he saw a way. His experience with the Detroit Athletic Club had familiarized him with the art of massaging sore muscles and in 1904 he was invited to act as a trainer during the Tigers' preseason spring tour. Typically, Andy was the first to rise and the last to go to bed: "[He] rigged up a vapor bath, to aid the players in reducing weight and getting rid of soreness. Andy supervised this thing all evening, and oftentimes was at work until after midnight, rubbing sore arms or lame legs. Before anyone had arisen in the morning, he was around again, attending to the men."

Despite all these hours of hard work, Rudolph somehow found time to introduce himself to everyone in town: "He had friends in every store in the town inside of a week, and he was riding to fires with the chief of the department the second day the team was in town." (Joe S. Jackson, Detroit Free Press, December 12, 1905)

Aside from that one spring tour, it does not appear that Andy Rudolph was formally employed by the Tigers as a trainer, but that didn't stop him from volunteering: "After the game, Andy almost invariably made his way to the Detroit clubhouse and massaged any player with a sore muscle." (Paul H. Bruske, Sporting Life, January 16, 1906)

In the same spirit, he always volunteered to meet new players at the train depot and help them get their bearings. In the middle of the 1905 season a young player by the name of Tyrus Cobb arrived from faraway Georgia and it was Andy who "took him around town and introduced him, and found him a lodging place." (Joe S. Jackson, Detroit Free Press, December 12, 1905)

At one point, it even appeared that Rudolph might actually become an owner. After the 1904 season, he offered $25,000 to buy the Toledo franchise in the American Association and then upped the offer by another ten thousand, claiming that a rich Detroit man was backing him. Such amounts being tossed around by a scorecard seller naturally created a stir. Was there really a mysterious backer and if so why ask Rudolph to act as front man? But the offer was rejected, so the answers to these tantalizing questions remained unknown.

Whatever hat he happened to be wearing at or around the ballpark, Andy Rudolph was first and foremost a fan. He became known as the "king of the rooters" because selling scorecards always took a back seat to shouting encouragement to the Detroit pitchers, especially his favorite, George Mullin. (Detroit Times, May 27, 1905) He was also noted for his "habit of going into the first base pavilion and stirring up the animals," who, in a nod to Boston's "Royal Rooters," were known as the "Bengalese Rooters." (Joe S. Jackson, Detroit Free Press, December 12, 1905) Yet Rudolph's practice was always to shout "encouragement to the Tigers, never sarcasm for their opponents." (Paul H. Bruske, Sporting Life, January 16, 1906)

His passionate allegiance got him into serious trouble after a tough loss on May 25, 1905. The Tigers had roughed up Philadelphia ace Rube Waddell, only to lose the game after several controversial calls by rookie umpire Thomas Kelly. After the game, Rudolph couldn't contain his fury and got in some sort of altercation with the umpire, although there are conflicting accounts of exactly what happened.

A couple of accounts claimed that the two men that were taking the same streetcar home and that after an angry altercation Rudolph had to be pulled away from Kelly by Tiger players Bobby Lowe and Lew Drill. (Detroit Free Press, May 26, 1905; Paul H. Bruske, Sporting Life, January 16, 1906) But a strange article in the Detroit Times maintained that Rudolph waited for the umpire under the grandstand and then began "merrily pasting" Kelly over the head with "a sack of nickels, the result of the receipts from the sale of score cards that day." The umpire "was howling like a dervish" when manager William Armour came upon the scene and dragged Rudolph away. (Detroit Times, May 27, 1905)

Wherever the assault occurred, there is no dispute about what happened next. Kelly did not know Rudolph, so did not report the incident immediately. But as fate would have it, the next day Rudolph was scheduled to unveil the first of a series of special souvenir inserts in his scorecards. One side of the souvenir featured "a half-tone cut of the 1887 ball team that won a pennant for Detroit. The other half of the sheet was conspicuous with a fine portrait of Mr. Rudolph, the lessee of the privilege." (Detroit Times, May 27, 1905; Detroit Free Press, May 26, 1905)

As soon as Kelly saw the sheet, he recognized his assailant and telegraphed word of the incident to American League president Ban Johnson. Johnson acted swiftly and ordered that Andy Rudolph be barred from all American League parks. As a result, Rudolph's assistant sold scorecards at Bennett Park the next day and George Mullin faced the Athletics without the encouragement of his number one fan.

The Tigers left on a four-week road trip the next day with Rudolph still under an indefinite suspension. But the scorecard man now threatened to sue Johnson, claiming that he had a contract with the ballclub and that Johnson was breaching it. Sentiment in Detroit was strongly behind Rudolph.

Johnson was in a difficult position, and no doubt wanted to save face. Rudolph was a popular figure in Detroit, while Kelly's umpiring was drawing complaints all over the league, and he would end up being fired the next month. While Johnson couldn't condone assaults upon his umpires, he must have been anxious to find a way to make the matter go away. So, with as little fanfare as possible, he rescinded the suspension.

There was no lack of fanfare when the Tigers returned home. Overjoyed that he would again be able to cheer on his favorites, Rudolph and "his band of base ball boys" met them at the train depot accompanied by a brass band that Andy had hired for the occasion. The band also regaled the team at that day's game. (Detroit Times, June 24, 1905; Detroit Free Press, June 25, 1905)

Sadly, though, Rudolph had little more time to root on his beloved team. On December 8, 1905, Rudolph signed a contract to again provide scorecards at Bennett Park in 1906. Two days later he tried to cross a train track at Royal Oak, Michigan, and was hit by the train. His skull was fractured and he died of his injuries the next morning without regaining consciousness. His body was returned to Walkerton, Ontario, for burial.

Andy Rudolph's sudden and tragic demise prompted an outpouring of affection from the many people who realized that Tiger games would never be quite the same again. After this death, "practically every baseball player with whom he had come in contact [called] at his late home to pay respect to his memory. The casket was almost hidden among floral tributes from players, personal friends and from the Detroit baseball club." (Detroit Free Press, December 13, 1905) Perhaps the most fitting eulogy was delivered by Fred Postal, Detroit businessman and former president of the Washington club, who said, "I never saw a man take a ball game so much to heart as he did."

Sources

Obituaries in the Detroit News, December 11, 1905; Detroit Free Press, December 11, 12 and 13, 1905; and Sporting Life, January 6, 1906; Marc Okkonen, Ballpark Memories, 1900-1909; contemporary newspapers (as noted), censuses and vital records.

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