Rube Ellis (Trading Card DB)

Rube Ellis

This article was written by Doug Wright

Rube Ellis (Trading Card DB)Most major-league ballplayers consider their time at the top level to be the highlight of their baseball life. Then there are players like George “Rube” Ellis, who was never happier than when he was patrolling left field for his hometown Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League. Except for a stint with the St. Louis Cardinals from 1909 through 1912, Ellis found joy playing in the Pacific Coast League from 1905 to 1921.

George William Ellis was born on November 17, 1885, in Downey, California. He was the youngest of six children born to Absalom and Amanda Ledora “Dora” Ellis. He had four older sisters and one brother. George grew up on the family farm and would make his home throughout his life in the Downey/Whittier/Pico Rivera area southeast of Los Angeles.

Ellis first made a name for himself in sandlot baseball playing for the Rivera amateur team that included future major-leaguer Fred Snodgrass. On a January day in 1905, the Rivera nine squared off against the neighboring team from Olinda that featured a fireballing high school pitcher named Walter Johnson. The game went extra innings until, in the bottom of the 11th, Ellis connected for a home run and Rivera won the game 5-4.1 Ellis and Johnson became lifelong friends. Later, Ellis joined a semipro team known as the Hamburgers, named after the Southern California department store chain of the same name, that played in the four-team Commercial League. All games took place at Chutes Park, home of the Angels.2 Angels manager Jim Morley signed 19-year-old Ellis to his first professional contract toward the end of the 1905 season, paying him $75 per month3 to be his left fielder. The Whittier Daily News gave their hometown ball player an appropriate sendoff:

“Of course, everybody knows by this time that George Ellis, our star left fielder, has been signed up by Morley for the balance of this season and the next. George has been doing some fine playing as left fielder lately for the Los Angeles team, and captured the bleachers, the grandstand and finally Manager Morley, who said he ‘must have George.’ George is invincible in the field, and has a way of pulling down impossible flyballs “with his one hand” that takes with the fans. He is also as good as any of them with the stick. Good luck, George.”4

Ellis, 6-feet-0 and 170 pounds, threw and batted from the left side. In 1905, his first year with the Angels, he appeared in only five games, but he then became a fixture in left field for the club for the next three years, Ellis was the everyday left fielder for the Angels, raising his batting average each year from .205 to .269. In both 1907 and 1908, the Angels (also sometimes called the Looloos or Seraphs) won the PCL pennant. By 1908, Ellis was considered to be among the best outfielders in the PCL, if not the very best.5 An article in The Sporting Life stated that Ellis was “the best outfielder developed in the Pacific Coast League since the days of the immortal Bill Lange.”6

By 1908, Ellis appeared on the radar of major-league teams. Charles Comiskey watched him play in an exhibition against his White Sox and labeled him “a great ball player.”7 In August, the Cincinnati Reds purchased Ellis’s contract from the Angels,8 but he never played a game for the Reds. In January 1909, Reds manager Clark Griffith traded Ellis back to the Angels along with Tom Daley in order to acquire Rebel Oakes.9 At first, Ellis was happy with the news that he would be staying in Los Angeles, even though it meant foregoing an opportunity to play in the major leagues and earn a larger salary. Ellis loved playing ball year-round in Southern California; in addition, he had recently married Julia “Pearl” Magill and purchased a farm in Rivera. The Reds needed Ellis to clear waivers in order for the trade back to the Angels to be finalized, but at the last minute Roger Bresnahan, manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, claimed Ellis on waivers.10

Not only was Ellis now in the big leagues, but while toiling for the Angels he had picked up the nickname by which he had become popularly known: “Rube.”11 How it came to be stuck on Ellis is unknown, but “Rube” was a common nickname in popular use in the sporting world in the early 1900s – it was usually applied to rookies or unsophisticated young players. It also had rural connotations, so Ellis’s farm background was a likely reason. Baseball Reference lists over 30 baseball players called Rube, most of whom played between 1900 and 1930.

Bresnahan’s Cardinals were a mediocre bunch during Ellis’s time with the team – they finished in the bottom half of the league all four years that he was on their roster. Ellis was a sure-handed fielder who finished among the leaders in assists for NL outfielders in 1909 and 1910. He showed a little speed, but not much with the bat. Players of this caliber are usually credited with being smart and great team players. Even before he joined the Cardinals, Ellis was recognized for his baseball intelligence. The Los Angeles Express wrote: “He has gray matter in abundance, knows how to use it.”12 After a few months in St. Louis, it was observed “he’s playing great baseball, the kind that is spirited and reliable … He has brains along with his physical qualities.”13

His best year at the plate with the Cardinals was his first, when he batted .268 with 154 hits and 46 RBIs. His numbers tailed off the next two years, and after showing little improvement in 1912, Ellis found more time on the bench than in the field. In August 1912, Bresnahan tried to trade Ellis and infielder Miller Huggins to Cincinnati for outfielder Mike Mitchell and infielder Charles “Tex” McDonald. The trade needed the approval of the Cardinals’ mercurial owner, Helene Britton, who turned it down. Bresnahan was irate and said he was through making trades that might improve the club.14 For her part, Britton had become dissatisfied with Bresnahan’s leadership, and it was speculated that she wanted to keep Huggins in order to replace Bresnahan with him as manager – which indeed she did when the season ended.15

Bresnahan’s attempt to trade him convinced Ellis that his time in St. Louis was drawing short, so he let it be known that he wanted to play on the West Coast and that his preferred team was the Los Angeles Angels.16 Over the winter, Angels owner Henry Berry bought Ellis’s contract from the Cardinals. In 1913, 28-year-old Rube Ellis once again patrolled left field for the Angels, who finished fifth in the six-team PCL.17 While Ellis was expected to feast on minor-league pitching, he hit a disappointing .275, which Berry wrote off as Ellis just having a “bad year.”18 The next year was one of his best. Ellis hit .310, was second in the league with 234 hits in 208 games, and he led the league with 120 RBIs.19 The Angels improved to finish second to Portland.20

When the season ended, Rebel Oakes, a friend of Ellis and by then manager of the Pittsburgh team in the Federal League, made a serious offer to Ellis to join his team. After his productive 1914 season, Ellis was considered by many to be the best outfielder in the PCL, both in the field and at the plate. Ellis was flattered by the offer and said, “I am not an old man, but I realize that I am getting along in years in a baseball sense. Oakes has offered me a good proposition. I hardly can see how I can afford to turn it down.”21 But Ellis did turn the offer down after using it as leverage to get a better deal to stay with the Angels.22

Both Ellis and the Angels regressed in 1915. The team finished third to the pennant-winning San Francisco Seals and Ellis hit just .271 with 191 hits in 200 games. His year was summed up in the Los Angeles Express: “Though he did not hit at a phenomenal gait last year, he played sensational ball in the field. He is a smart player and a hard worker.”23

After the 1915 season, team owner Johnny Powers vowed to improve the club. He did that, in part, by bringing in Frank Chance as a part-owner and manager of the Angels.24 Under his leadership, the Angels won their first pennant in seven years. Rube Ellis played his usual great defense in left field, but the team wanted more offense than his .254 average provided. After the season, Chance traded Ellis to the rival San Francisco Seals, where he began the 1917 season. By May, though, the Seals released him, and the Angels picked him up. Ellis finished the year hitting .270 for the Angels, who finished in second place to the Seals. Powers bragged about Ellis, claiming him to be “the greatest outfielder in the Pacific Coast League.”25

The next year the Angels outfield included 38-year-old “Wahoo Sam” Crawford, by then a resident of Southern California. The future Hall of Famer had been released by the Detroit Tigers.26 The PCL shortened its year because of World War I, so in July the first-place Vernon Tigers and the second-place Angels squared off in a series to determine the league championship. The Angels won five games to two, with Crawford leading the way.27

In 1919, the Angels started strong out of the gate and Rube Ellis continued to make amazing catches in left field. In the ninth inning of an early season game against Salt Lake, Ellis made what was called “the greatest catch of his career” to allow the Angels to rally for a walk-off victory in the bottom of the ninth. It was described in the Los Angeles Times:

“Fandom fidgeted uneasily in its chair and an ominous silence followed as Krug shouldered his sapling and strolled to the plate. Oh, how he hit that apple. Away it towered toward the score board, seeming to gather fresh momentum as it gradually invaded the sky. Rube was after it with the crack of the bat. No chance’ moaned a hundred throats as the ball bade fair to hit the fence on the wing. When it was still thirty feet in the air, Rube was still far from it, but scampering along for dear life. Nearing the fence, he bounded far into the air like one inspired. As the ball, still many feet from him, began to gravitate, that right hand of Ellis’s did some kind of ledgerdomain [sic] stunt and to the dumbfounded surprise of everyone present, he held the nailed apple high up in the air with his back to the grand stand.”28

On August 21, 1919, the Angels held Rube Ellis Day to honor their left fielder for his 10 years of play with the team. Before a crowd of 4,000 fans, Ellis was presented with two gold watches; one from the Angels team and a second from team president Johnny Powers, plus he received a percentage of the gate. He then went 3-for4, scored one run, and drove in two more, leading the Angels to a 5-2 victory over Sacramento.29 For the year, the Angels finished second behind Vernon, which won its first pennant in club history.

1920 was the last year that Ellis was a regular for the Angels, appearing in 176 games with a batting average of .249. The team finished fourth in the PCL as Vernon repeated as pennant winners. In 1921, the Angels kept Ellis on the roster as a utility player and pinch-hitter. He appeared in 48 games as Los Angeles won the pennant – Ellis retired to his ranch a winner.

Rube Ellis wasn’t done with baseball yet. After retiring from the Angels, he coached the Whittier High School30 and the Whittier College31 baseball teams and the Rivera, Pico, and Downey amateur teams.32 He appeared in a few “Old-Timers” games33 and golf tournaments.34 In August 1925, the Vernon Tigers lured him back to the PCL to manage their club. Trying to light a fire under the struggling club, on one occasion Ellis called his own number as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the 11th inning with runners on second and third. He struck out and the game was called on account of darkness.35 It was his last professional at-bat. Vernon’s play improved under Ellis’s leadership, but he was not retained at the end of the year.

In 1929, Ellis was hired to manage the San Bernardino Padres of the Class D California State League.36 By mid-June, the financially strapped four-team league was forced to fold. Ellis returned home and resumed coaching semipro ball37 and occasionally umpiring.38

George “Rube” Ellis died at age 52 on March 13, 1938, of a heart attack at his home after a brief hospital stay.39 He was survived by his wife, Pearl; his sons, George, Jr. and Jim; and his daughter Jane; other survivors included his 87-year-old mother, Mrs. Dora Lont, and a sister, Mrs. Belle Triggs. In tribute to a beloved ballplayer, the entire Los Angeles Angels team attended Ellis’s funeral. He was buried at Rose Hills Memorial Park Cemetery in Whittier. Later that year a special Old Timers’ tribute game was played in Los Angeles to honor the memory of Rube Ellis. The gate receipts, which amounted to about $2,000, were given to Ellis’s widow Pearl.40



This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Rory Costello and fact-checked by Tom Reinsfelder.



In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted:

Beverage, Richard. The Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League: A History, 1903-1957, McFarland & Company, Inc., Jefferson, North Carolina, 2011

Ritter, Lawrence S. The Glory of Their Times, (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2010), originally published 1966.

Thomas, Henry W. Walter Johnson: Baseball’s Big Train, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1995



1 “The Valley,” Whittier (California) News, February 4, 1905: 9.

2 “Semi-Profs to Open Soon Now,” Los Angeles Times, April 20, 1904: 11.

3 “Between Innings,” Los Angeles Express, February 20, 1913: 22.

4 “Train of Events in Valley Town,” Whittier Daily News, December 7, 1905: 4.

5 “Rube Ellis Will Go East,” Los Angeles Herald, August 20, 1908: 6.

6 Sporting Life, July 2, 1910: 1.

7 “Pacific Coast League Doings Here and North,” Los Angeles Express, July 31, 1908: 12.

8 “Rube Ellis,” Cincinnati Enquirer, August 20, 1908: 4.

9 “Oakes Traded; Ellis Returns,” Los Angeles Times, January 19, 1909: 6.

10 “Ellis Secured by Bresnahan,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, January 29, 1909: 4.

11 “Rube Ellis Will Go East,” Los Angeles Herald, August 20, 1908: 6.

12 “Pacific Coast League Doings Here and North,” Los Angeles Express, July 31, 1908: 12.

13 James Crusinberry, “Ellis is One Recruit Now Sure to Stay,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 19, 1909: 6.

14 “A Little Sport; A Little Gossip,” El Paso Herald, August 21, 1912: 9.

15 “Business Side of Baseball,” North Nebraska Eagle (Dakota City, Nebraska), September 20, 1912: 7.

16 “Trying to Land Ellis, Seraphs After Rube,” Los Angeles Express, January 4, 1913: 11.

17 Los Angeles Buys Rube Ellis of St. Louis, Los Angeles Express, January 8, 1913: 17.

18 Harry A. Williams, “Berry Will Close for Three Major Leaguers,” Los Angeles Times, September 24, 1913: 29.

19 Harry A. Williams, “Near-Records Made During Past Season,” Los Angeles Times, November 4, 1914: 23.

20 Williams, “Near-Records Made During Past Season.”

21 “Rube Ellis Is Sought by Rebels,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 18, 1914: 10.

22 W.A. Reeve, “It Strikes Me,” Los Angeles Express, February 13, 1915: 10.

23 “Rube Ellis Wants to Be Umpire – Some Day,” Los Angeles Express, January 27, 1916: 17.

24 Richard Beverage, The Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League: A History, 1903-1957, McFarland & Company, Inc., 2011, Kindle Edition, Chapter 2: 9.

25 Ross C. Miller, “An Ear to the Ground,” Salt Lake Telegram, November 25, 1917: 7.

26 “Sam Crawford Signs with Angels for 1918,” Los Angeles Evening Express, March 26, 1918: 1.

27 Beverage, The Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League, Chapter 3: 12.

28 “Angels Win in the Ninth,” Los Angeles Times, April 23, 1919: 23.

29 “Sacramento and Bill Piercy Drop Third Game to Los Angeles Ball Team: 5-2,” Sacramento Star, August 22, 1919: 8.

30 “Rube Ellis’ High School Ball Team Scores 45 Markers,” Los Angeles Express, March 29, 1922: 34.

31 “Whittier Nine Cops Baseball Title,” Los Angeles Times, May 27, 1928: 15.

32 “Downey Blanks ’Em,” Los Angeles Times, November 20, 1922: 30.

33 “Meeks’s Outfit Captures Tilt,” Los Angeles Times, June 17, 1925: 41.

34 “Venice Club Has Entry, “Whittier News, July 27, 1925: 4.

35 “Tigers Prove Fighting Club,” Los Angeles Evening Post-Record, August 24, 1925: 7.

36 “Rube Ellis Will Manage San Bernardino,” Oakland Tribune, March 11, 1929: 13.

37 “Brewers Face Hard Game in Junior Stars,” San Bernardino County Sun, August 8, 1936: 18.

38 “Rube Ellis Would Umpire,” Seattle Star, January 26, 1923: 18.

39 “George “Rube” Ellis, Widely Loved Former Ball Player, Passes,” Whittier News, March 14, 1938: 6.

40 “Umps Trample Players, 9-4,” Los Angeles Daily News, August 23, 1938: 11.

Full Name

George William Ellis


November 17, 1885 at Downey, CA (USA)


March 13, 1938 at Pico Rivera, CA (USA)

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