Although he answered to a variety of nicknames – Rub-Dub-Hub, Hurling Hub, the Tennessee Cyclone, the Untamed Son of Sumner County, the Gallatin Squash – his family, friends, and baseball fans simply called him Hub. Herbert Rodney Perdue was one of the most personable and exciting pitching prospects to emerge from the hills of Middle Tennessee in the first decade of the 20th century. Perdue exhibited a light-hearted personality on and off the baseball field that concerned contemporary critics. Yet, his four years in amateur baseball (1901-1904) and 19 seasons at the professional level (1905-1923) spanned the entire Deadball Era when he set a pitching record that has stood for practically one century.1
Hub was born the fifth of six children to Marion Blair and Zoritha E. Perdue in the Sumner County, Tennessee, hamlet of Bethpage on June 7, 1882. The locale, little more than a post office, bank, general store, and several smaller buildings, was surrounded by fine farmland. Despite several address changes, the rural area 14 miles northeast of the city of Gallatin remained Hub’s residence for the rest of his life.
Not much is known about Perdue’s childhood. As an adolescent he earned spending money by hunting squirrels and selling them to a local market for a dime apiece. Not owning a rifle, Hub killed his prey with a most primitive weapon – rocks. He later quipped that throwing rocks at these small and fleet targets strengthened his arm, eyesight, and throwing technique. On December 29, 1900, only three months after graduating from high school, Hub married Mable Polk of Oaktown, Indiana. The young couple had two children, Marion Polk (born 1902) and Kathryn Ashby (1909). Hub and Mable remained together for the rest of their lives – almost 60 years.2
Hub honed his hard-throwing pitching skills in local “cow pasture games.” Then, in the summer of 1901, P.L. “Butch” Anderson recruited an amateur nine in Gallatin and scheduled weekend contests from late May to mid-September.3 Perdue’s stature as a raw talent with a blazing “smoke ball” had already earned him considerable notoriety in unorganized baseball contests throughout the county, and he joined the Butchers in 1902. The team developed into a regional town-versus-town powerhouse within two years.
In 1905 the Butchers’ player-manager, Willy Guild, placed Perdue with the Paducah Indians in the Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee (Kitty) League with a contract for $75 a month. “It is said by experts,” reported the Paducah Sun, “that [Perdue] pitches the best drop ball in the South.”4 Hub was released without explanation prior to Opening Day, so he donned the uniform of South Kentucky College in Hopkinsville and tossed a one-hitter and struck out 21 batters. “The magnificent pitcher” caught the attention of the owner of the Hopkinsville Browns, the local entrant in the Kitty League, who promptly signed him.5 It took less than a month for Perdue to establish his reputation as “a phenom” with a “tantalizing up-shoot” and “baffling spit ball.”6 When the franchise suddenly folded on July 20, Perdue possessed a solid 11-5 record, and both league leaders (Paducah and Vincennes) vied for his services.
Perdue chose Vincennes, which was only a few miles from his in-laws’ farm, and he was sensational with the Alices over the final month, when he faced Paducah six times. In a scheduled 13-game postseason championship series against the Indians, Hub went 2-1, including the deciding seventh victory, to cop the crown for Vincennes. A ninth game was played the next day to increase revenues, and modern record-keepers have erroneously identified that meaningless contest as the deciding game for the league crown.7 Perdue had had a satisfying rookie season in Hopkinsville (11-5) and Vincennes (8-4) where he logged 253 innings pitched. As a reward, he was invited to a tryout in Nashville, but first-year manager Mike Finn deemed Perdue not quite ready for “fast company.”
In 1906 Perdue picked up exactly where he had left off. By mid-July he had amassed an eye-popping 16-4 record, and opponents bestowed his first nickname, “Rub, Dub, Hub.”8 Several interesting idiosyncrasies came to light in his sophomore season. For instance, he swung a heavy 42-inch cudgel which contributed to his poor batting; he wore a heavy red overcoat and later a red long-sleeve flannel undershirt regardless of team colors; he manipulated managers to pitch on or near his birthday; he enjoyed umpire-baiting and coaching third base; and, above all, he displayed clownish antics on and off the field. Perdue finished with a second consecutive league title and improved pitching statistics: a 25-8 record in 321 innings pitched and 260 strikeouts. His WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched), a remarkable 0.75, owed to less than one walk per 12 innings pitched, and one one-hitter, two two-hitters, seven three-hitters, and one four-hitter. Several major-league teams took notice, and Chicago Cubs manager Frank Chance purchased his contract for $800.9
In March 1907 Hub arrived in West Baden, Indiana, a resort community and home to the Cubs’ spring-training facility. The players “enjoyed taking the waters” between workouts, and Perdue struck up an immediate friendship with Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, who showed the wide-eyed rookie his mangled right hand, the result of a farm-machinery accident as a youth. Perdue admired Brown’s physical courage as well as his openness in sharing secrets about the craft of pitching in the big leagues.10 Perdue struggled against major-league hitters, however, so Chance turned him over to Johnny Dobbs, the rookie skipper of Nashville. Dobbs was ecstatic to receive the castoff, who reportedly had mastered the spitball from three different release points – overhand, underhand, and side-arm.
Dobbs’s roster was a tenuous mixture of grizzled veterans, career minor leaguers, and a sprinkling of young rookies. Perdue justified his lack of immediate success in the Southern Association, claiming that he was “a warm-weather pitcher,” an excuse he resorted to frequently throughout his career.11 A case of mumps sidelined him, but Perdue pitched well enough to keep his team out of the cellar. But he cavorted with bad attitudes on the club and known gamblers in the grandstands; and he demonstrated a worrisome inconsistency by neither winning nor losing more than two games in a row. He finished at 11-15, and sportswriter Grantland Rice wondered whether he’d return.
In 1908 Perdue improved markedly under new manager Bill Bernhard, a former major-league hurler with strong connections to Cleveland. Perdue attributed his newfound success to giving up cigarettes and listening to Bernhard’s advice on pitching mechanics. “A fellow that wouldn’t work for Bernhard wouldn’t be willing to work for anybody,” confided Perdue.12 After requesting more slab work, he twirled almost every series opener in the second half. His most memorable performance took place on July 9 when he locked in a pitchers’ duel with Mobile’s Lucien “Clarence” Torrey. Both hurlers gained strength as the contest entered extra innings. The umpire ended the three-hour marathon after 17 frames without a single run crossing the plate. The Perdue-Torrey nondecision went down as the second longest game in Volunteer history and the longest scoreless contest ever in the Southern Association.13 Then arm fatigue limited Perdue’s appearances for several weeks. Upon his timely return, he led the Vols during their crucial September pennant run with a 4-1 record. “Hurling Hub” drew great personal satisfaction in completing his fourth professional season with a third league title, but he was deeply disappointed in not being drafted by a major-league team despite posting a 16-12 record.
“Sumner’s Son of the Smoke and the Spit” was poised for a breakout year in 1909, and Perdue shattered his self-perceived notion as a slow starter with six straight lopsided victories to begin the new campaign. He lost only three times in July and August, and despite his overpowering domination of the entire circuit with 23 victories, Perdue went undrafted for a second straight year. He was devastated and the next season he reported to Nashville woefully overweight at 200 pounds, and his 5-foot-10-inch frame was shaped like a Hubbard squash, said Rice. Also, he complained of a lingering sore shoulder so the club ordered an x-ray that proved inconclusive. Things improved in July when Purdue won five straight, but then he dropped 11 of his last 13 decisions to finish at 12-17. Despite these wretched results, Charlie Ebbets surprised the baseball establishment and drafted Perdue, but less than a month later the Brooklyn mogul mysteriously waived him and a National League rival picked him up: the lowly Boston Rustlers, soon to be the Braves.
Hub was the first player to return a signed contract to Boston. In his National League debut he pitched one inning of relief against his idol, Grover Cleveland Alexander of the Philadelphia Phillies. But elbow soreness caused management to authorize “electric treatments.” Perdue did not respond favorably to the therapy so they ordered an x-ray, which revealed a chipped bone that was causing inflammation. Surgery was performed to remove the irritating splinter and Perdue rehabbed for more than a month.14
The crowning moment in Perdue’s rookie season did not take place on the field but rather on the bench. In mid-August the team had acquired the aging Cy Young in an effort to boost ticket sales. Toward the end of his final season in baseball, the legendary hurler gifted Perdue his red flannel undershirt. Hub had the treasured garment altered and he wore it beneath his game jersey for good luck, hoping that some of Cy’s success would rub off on him.15
By the end of his first season in the majors, Perdue produced a 6-10 record, an inflated 4.98 ERA, and a 1.61 WHIP. When healthy, Perdue was prone to falling behind early or else he failed to hold onto late-inning leads. He was also susceptible to the long ball, ranking sixth in the National League in home runs given up despite only 19 starts.
In 1912 Johnny Kling was promoted to manage the worst team in professional baseball (44-107 in 1911). A catcher by trade, Kling knew all of Perdue’s strengths and weaknesses. The two were destined for a rocky relationship. Hub started the home opener on April 11 and despite some wildness he bested Alexander and the Phils. Then, four days later, he shut out the visiting world champion Giants and Christy Mathewson. Perdue quickly returned to his streak pattern by winning four straight and then dropping five in a row. He failed to win a game in May and only temporarily broke the slump on June 11. During this downturn, Hub was involved in two highly publicized flare-ups with Boston management. First team president John Montgomery Ward attempted, without success, to offer hitting and pitching tips to his beleaguered hurler. Then Kling criticized Perdue in front of the entire team for “quitting” in a heartbreaking loss to Rube Marquard, who had just notched his 16th consecutive victory at the expense of Hub’s seventh loss in nine tries.
The stage was set for a colossal meltdown. In the clubhouse Hub lashed out at everyone; he called Kling “a fathead” for allegedly pandering to high-paid hurlers who loafed on the bench; he criticized the owners who agreed to trade a talented young outfielder for an over-the-hill veteran; he even targeted teammates, asserting that the anemic Braves offense required four base hits in order to tally a single run. To punctuate his anger, Hub shredded his uniform, packed his bag, said farewell to the players, and informed reporters that he would never play for Boston again. Then he stormed out. The rhubarb received considerable attention in Boston newspapers, and Kling suspended Perdue indefinitely without pay.16 Quietly, the manager opened negotiations with several other teams to trade his quarrelsome ace.
Perdue’s status remained in limbo as the Braves left for a Western road trip. Shortly after the Fourth of July, Perdue and president Ward made their peace, and he rejoined the club in St. Louis. In spite of these confrontations, Ward tendered Perdue a new three-year contract one month later. Why? “With a winning team,” claimed Sporting Life, “Hub Perdue would soon be touted as one of the wonders of the big leagues. He is a cool fellow and works best when in trouble.”17 Thus, Perdue had emerged as the ace in the Boston stable. In one of his often-overlooked contributions to baseball, Hub was elected by teammates to represent them on the board of directors of the newly formed Fraternity of Professional Baseball Players of America.
Perdue had noticeably improved in several important categories in 1912 despite missing more than 20 days for disciplinary and injury reasons. He led the pitching staff with 13 wins and ranked third in innings pitched (249) and games started (30). The season also witnessed the birth of his newest nickname from the pen of Grantland Rice, the enduring “Gallatin Squash.”18 On the forgettable side, Perdue led the National League in home runs allowed and was fourth in total base hits and earned runs. His batting woes continued and he did not register a single RBI.
In 1913 Hub welcomed the selection of fellow Southerner George Stallings as the newest skipper in Boston. But Stallings was a no-nonsense individual, and he was fated for numerous run-ins with the affable Tennessean. On Opening Day Hub toed the slab in the Polo Grounds in front of 20,000 raucous fans who anticipated a one-sided slaughter. But Hub outdueled Jeff Tesreau and limited the Giants to two hits in a stunning shutout. By June the press was touting Perdue as a “Giants Killer,”19 and his growing notoriety allowed Stallings, who desperately sought to add an outfielder, to dangle his hurler as trade bait to the Reds and Dodgers.
A pivotal series in Pittsburgh in mid-July sealed Perdue’s future with the Braves. As Hub prepared to take his first at-bat against Babe Adams on July 14, Stallings pulled him aside with special instructions to take his batting more seriously and “mix ’em up.” In his first plate appearance, Hub struck out batting right-handed. On his second trip, he switched to the left side and likewise struck out. In his third attempt, the jester took called strikes from each side of the dish to record his third “K.” Stallings fumed over Perdue’s cavalier attitude in the batter’s box. “When I got back to the bench,” Hub later recalled, “George demanded to know what in the h___ I thought I was doing.” “Obeying instructions,” Hub replied, “but I don’t believe George sees the joke yet.”20 Perdue had fallen out of favor with Stallings.
The Boston Braves climbed to fifth place in 1913 and Perdue claimed several personal bests. He established his first winning record in the majors (16-13), shared most team wins with Lefty Tyler and whittled down his ERA to 3.26 – an improvement of 0.54 from the previous year. His WHIP dipped to 1.13 and he appeared in more than 200 innings for the second consecutive year. Perhaps most impressive, however, was his complete domination over the Giants (3-0 and two nondecisions that resulted in Boston victories). In fact, so impressed was John McGraw that he invited Perdue to accompany his postseason barnstorming world tour.21 Perhaps the mogul hoped to obtain the secret behind Hub’s mastery over his beloved Giants. Perdue revealed that he owed his success with the spitball to a special brand of chewing tobacco, the Pat Burnley twist; its spittle gave his fingers just the right amount of lubrication to make the ball behave in unexpected ways. Supposedly, McGraw ordered all of his pitchers to use Perdue’s brand. Incidentally, the Tennessean declined McGraw’s offer to join the overseas excursion.
Prior to the start of spring training in 1914, Stallings directed Perdue and team captain Bill Sweeney to report early to Hot Springs, Arkansas, in order to “boil out.” Then, less than a week later, Stallings announced a blockbuster trade: Perdue and Sweeney were shipped to Chicago for temperamental infielder Johnny Evers and cash considerations. The deal flabbergasted the two Bostonians, and Evers refused to report until all of the financial details had been hammered out. Sportswriters William A. Phelon and F.C. Lane called the proposed swap of Perdue-Sweeney for Evers the trade of the decade.22 Eventually, President John K. Tener of the National League interceded in the controversy and ordered Sweeney to Chicago and Evers to Boston, and returned Perdue to Stallings.
As the trade brouhaha simmered, however, Perdue was approached in Hot Springs by an unidentified agent who offered him a substantial salary increase to jump to the Federal League. And when Henry “Doc” Gessler, the new skipper of the Pittsburgh Stogies of the Federal League, had checked into the Braves hotel in Macon, Georgia, he invited Hub to his room “for a social call.”23 Stallings was tipped off to the clandestine meeting and, armed with a court injunction and a deputy sheriff, the Boston mogul stormed into the room while Perdue hid in the bathroom. Once Gessler was informed that he had violated Georgia state law regarding legal contracts, he left town immediately. Perdue pleaded his innocence, but Stallings was not convinced. Gentleman George had big plans for Boston in 1914 and they did not include the Gallatin Squash.
Hub was winless in the first month of the new season and his ERA ballooned to over 5.00. When umpire Bill Klem confiscated eight baseballs allegedly “tampered” by Perdue (and sent them to President Tener for inspection), Stallings acted. On June 24 Perdue appeared in his final game for Boston. Four days later the Boston manager shipped Perdue and his abysmal 2-5 record to St. Louis for versatile utilityman George “Possum” Whitted and infielder Ted Cather. There would be no miracle finish for Perdue in 1914. “Stallings doesn’t like any fooling around,” the Tennessean recalled, “and I always like to have a little fun.”24 Said Fred Russell, the sports editor of the Nashville Banner and later a Perdue confidant, Hub had joked his way right off the Boston roster.25
On the surface, the trade favored Perdue. The Cardinals, usually a lower-rung team, were currently ahead of the Braves by five games. Also, Hub was joining a pitching crew full of promise – Bill Doak, Slim Sallee, and Pol Perritt. He also teamed with another colorful baseball comedian, outfielder Steve Evans. But most important, Perdue really liked manager Miller Huggins and the warm weather in St. Louis.
Perdue’s folksy charm quickly endeared him to local fans, who believed he was the missing link to lead the Cardinals out of the second division and into contention for the NL pennant. his first mound victory came against Boston. But old tendencies quickly returned when he could not string together more than two consecutive wins or losses. Moreover, the Braves were ascending just as the Cardinals were descending, and when the former swept the latter an early-September series, the Redbirds were done. They settled for third place as the Braves miraculously copped the NL pennant and upset the favored Philadelphia A’s in the World Series. At first Perdue felt no regret in his trade to St. Louis. “It is worth the [lost] money to be out of the reach of Stallings’ sharp tongue,” said the Gallatin Squash.26
Perdue’s overall record with the Braves and Cardinals (10-13) was nothing special, but not so with his surprising drop in ERA – from 5.82 in Boston to 2.82 in St. Louis. He topped 200 innings pitched for the third consecutive season. Hub appeared twice in the City Championship Series against the St. Louis Browns, when an unfounded rumor spread that manager Fielder Jones of the St. Louis Terriers was expressing serious interest in obtaining him.
Perdue shocked everyone when he reported to spring training in 1915 more than 30 pounds lighter, but the trimmed-down version did not look as good on the mound. Indeed, something was drastically wrong. Huggins began to use Perdue sparingly and against weaker lineups. Eventually Hug relegated Hub to middle-relief assignments out of the bullpen, but his decreased productivity even revealed itself there. A blown save against the Cubs on June 24 (13-10) illustrated his advanced level of deterioration in the box and the local sports media had seen enough.
Perdue experienced one last moment of high drama before his anticipated exit from the big stage. On August 23 he tossed three innings of relief against the Giants in game one of a doubleheader in the Polo Grounds to earn a win. In the third inning of the second game, Huggins called on him to battle Mathewson. Perdue not only shut down the Giants for six frames but he swatted a single and scored the winning run for his second victory of the afternoon. But the end was near. Hub’s final major-league start took place on September 1 in Pittsburgh, and he registered only four outs while allowing four runs on six hits and a wild pitch. Hub toed a big-league rubber (in relief) for the final time on September 30.
In Perdue’s final season in the majors, his record dropped (6-12) while his ERA rose (4.26). He relieved in more games (18) than he started (13), and he led the National League in relief losses (5). In 115 innings pitched, Perdue’s lowest in the majors or minors, he surrendered 141 hits, including seven home runs. In the offseason the Cardinals attempted to release Perdue to San Francisco but he refused to travel west.
Big-league dreams die hard, however. Although he had previously voiced strong objections on returning to the minors, Hub no longer had any control over the situation. In March 1916 the Louisville Colonels of the American Association were gathering in Columbia, Tennessee, for spring training, and Perdue paid them a visit. “Derby Bill” Clymer, the manager, offered him a limited tryout and when the Colonels broke camp they had Perdue in tow. Satisfied with three limited outings against Nashville, Frankfort, and the Chicago Cubs, Clymer welcomed Perdue onto the roster but it must have been a close call because he was absent from the Opening Day team photograph.27
Perdue was a popular choice with Louisville boosters owing to his happy-go-lucky personality, entertaining antics in the third-base coach’s box, and quick start on the mound. A fierce competition soon developed between four teams – Louisville, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, and Kansas City – and Perdue made modest contributions to the club’s successes before his old injury reappeared. After yet another x-ray, Clymer sent Hub home to rest for two weeks; he was gone for over a month. When he returned to action, his on-and-off pattern caused added concern. Then, in late August, at the height of the tight pennant race, Perdue’s team boarded a northbound train for an important road trip while he jumped on a southbound “rattler” bound for Nashville to begin an unauthorized 12-day absence only to return after Labor Day.
The Colonels won 101 games and the American Association championship with the help of Perdue’s 14 mound victories. He tossed 222 innings (second on the staff), produced a respectable 1.10 WHIP (third) and dropped four of nine games by only one run. But he missed six weeks of the season due to injury and unexcused absence. After only three appearances in 1917, Clymer released him.
Perdue’s second tour in the Southern Association (1917-1921) started less than a week after his dismissal from Louisville when he signed with Kid Elberfeld’s Chattanooga Lookouts. Surprisingly, there were no public outbursts between the volatile Tabasco Kid and the jocular Gallatin Squash. From the outset, Elberfeld gave Perdue the ball every fifth day throughout the season and he missed only one start. The Kid was determined to squeeze every ounce of baseball out of Perdue before he expired, and the results were quite impressive – 15 wins (second on staff), 217 innings pitched (fourth), 1.95 ERA (first), and 1.07 WHIP (second). For once, Perdue had finished a season strongly in winning his final seven of eight games. Had Perdue reinvented himself?
As the country’s involvement in the Great War escalated in 1918, Perdue signed with the New Orleans Pelicans, who reportedly made him the highest paid pitcher in the Southern circuit. Reunited with manager Johnny Dobbs, Hub responded positively to the high expectations placed upon him. When the league shut down on June 28 owing to the government’s “work or fight” policy, Perdue led the league with 12 mound victories and secured his sixth team championship. Equally impressive were his WHIP (1.08) and innings pitched (122). He briefly transferred allegiances to the Minneapolis Millers for a month before the American Association shut down, too.
The 1919 season had a storybook ending for Perdue but it started inauspiciously when he slipped on a muddy mound during an exhibition in Beaumont, wrenched his back, and sat out until mid-May. Upon his return, he strung together two four-game win steaks, but an opposing club accused him of throwing an emery ball while another charged him with “paraffining” the baseball.28 Certainly no one argued with Hub’s staggering home record (12-0) before he succumbed to defeat on August 9. However, the Pelicans could not take advantage of Hub’s magical twirling to overtake Atlanta. Then, on September 11, Perdue was spiked during a collision while covering home plate and he complained about a sore back. Dobbs removed his ailing hurler from the game and the injury ended his season. But Hub had ample reason to celebrate. In 1919 he won 17 games along with three other milestones – 260 innings pitched (the most since Vincennes), and a staggering WHIP (0.904) and ERA (1.56); the latter is a league record that still stood in 2013.29
Perdue still suffered from back spasms when the next season began. By Memorial Day he was 1-4 in eight starts, and Dobbs had no choice but to release him. Right away, Hub signed with Nashville. The Vols were struggling and in desperate need of a fresh start. In his four-hit debut, “The Gallatin Gunner looked like Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson all rolled into one,” observed the Nashville Tennessean.30 But then he dropped four in a row, and quarreled incessantly with umpires who accused him of throwing the outlawed spitball. By the end of July, Perdue’s record had plummeted to 4-9, and manager Roy Ellam shut him down. Hub’s combined stats with the Pelicans and Vols – 5-13 in 147 innings pitched – were the worst and lowest full-season figures of his entire career. Ellam reassigned him to scout for young prospects for the remainder of the season. There is little doubt that Hub faced retirement; but there is also no denying that, during his last active stretch during the late Deadball Era (between August 10, 1917, and July 16, 1919), Perdue was the most dominant pitcher in the Southern Association at 34-9.
New opportunities sometimes present themselves at unexpected moments in life, and such was the case for Perdue. On October 6, 1920, president J.A.G. Sloan fired Ellam, reasoning that he’d been too lenient in his handling of the players. Exactly who would succeed Ellam filled Nashville’s sports pages, but Sloan ended the speculation several days later. “We have decided to give Mr. Perdue a trial as manager,” the club’s director announced.31 Hardly a glowing endorsement.
Perdue faced an uphill rebuilding task in 1921. Only three position players and three mediocre pitchers returned; all other players had either been released, drafted, or signed elsewhere. Hub attended baseball’s annual winter meeting in Chicago where Evers offered him a promising southpaw, Wallace “Cy” Warmoth. When training camp officially opened, Perdue greeted over 40 prospects, but he was forced, out of necessity, to settle on aging veterans at key positions like shortstop, catcher, and first base.
Nashville boosters were hopeful that Perdue would restore the franchise to its glory days, but less than a month into the season he struggled to put forth a consistent lineup owing to absenteeism, injury, family bereavement, and “dissipation.” Furthermore, the Vols suffered from a porous defense and a weak offense despite boasting several of the league’s current top hitters. Dissatisfied players bickered among themselves, fought with fans in the stands, and blamed others for their misfortune. President Sloan publicly called out Perdue to restore order and lead by example. He begged Perdue to take the mound himself. “You are in a warm climate now,” he challenged the Gallatin Squash. “What is your alibi?”32
Perdue shocked his detractors several weeks later when he beat the first-place Crackers at Atlanta. He even swatted a single and double, and some claimed his two-bagger would have been an easy triple for anyone else; the rotund Perdue had to walk between first base and second base. Then, just as the Vols were flirting with the .500 mark, they began a precipitous descent. Three straight double-digit losses threw fans and owner into a funk. Seven straight losses during a nine-game homestand, including four to in-state rival Memphis (one of best minor-league teams of all time) were a harbinger.
After one debacle, Perdue called a closed-door meeting and told his players to renew their efforts and not be so easily discouraged. Then the Vols boarded a train for Birmingham. Hub must have been suspicious when Sloan accompanied the team on the trip, a rare occurrence. Sensing his job was on the line, Perdue opened the series on the hill. A mistake! Barons batters jumped on him for four runs on four hits in the first four outs of the game. The rout was Hub’s farewell appearance in the Southern Association.
The Vols went through the motions in Mobile, New Orleans, and Atlanta, and Nashville sportswriters questioned their efforts with box-score headlines like “Ho, Hum!” and “SAME OLD TALE.”33 By the time the Vols limped home on June 25, they had dropped 19 of 25 games. The next morning Hub opened the sports page of the Nashville Banner to a shocking headline: “New Manager Coming to Vols.”34 The board of directors had voted to dismiss Perdue while the team was in transit from Atlanta, and someone had leaked the decision to the press before anyone had notified him.
Perdue was in a state of disbelief. Once he verified with Sloan that the report was true (the team president brashly requested that Hub manage the afternoon game), Hub announced: “I am done with ball forever.”35 Once his temper had cooled, Hub reflected on his former team: “That team of mine couldn’t beat an egg.”36 In reality, Perdue was the first managerial casualty in the Southern Association caused by the demise of the Deadball Era.37
After his release, Hub lobbied without success to fill several managerial vacancies in the Southern, Kitty, and Sally Leagues. When fellow Tennessean and former Atlanta manager Billy Smith offered him a player’s contract with Shreveport in the Texas League, Hub jumped at the opportunity. The Gassers were perennial losers, but Smith thought he might be able to tap Hub’s expertise as a tutor for his young pitching corps. Perdue debuted against Jake Atz and his powerful Fort Worth Panthers, and he baffled his opponent with a six-hit shutout to earn the Gassers’ first victory. But the Gasmen quickly descended into the league’s cellar. Many of the losses were one-sided double-digit affairs, and disgruntled patrons called for a managerial change. Perhaps Smith thought that Perdue was angling for his job. No matter. Hub was traded to Wichita Falls before the position became available. As it turned out, the change of scenery worked out well for Perdue because Walter Salm’s Spudders were contenders. He usually worked only once a week and mostly on the road. Yanked 12 times from starting roles, Perdue was eventually limited to middle-relief roles since his erratic tendencies increased. His biggest thrill in the circuit came when he started the first Texas League game ever broadcast live over radio. Perdue won ten games, but he was a mere shadow of his former self and Wichita Falls released him shortly after the season.
It is hard to image what possessed Perdue to sign with Charlotte in 1923. It is even harder to speculate on what was running though the mind of Hornets player-manager Dick Hoblitzell. Hobby had assembled a powerful roster that included second baseman Chick Knaupp, Hub’s managerial nemesis in Nashville. Perdue’s highlight consisted of four innings of relief in both games of a doubleheader against Augusta that earned him two victories on the same afternoon – the fifth and final time he accomplished such a feat in 19 years. The Hornets cruised toward a championship, Hub’s seventh, but he would not be aboard at the end. Instead of appearing on the mound for his 41st birthday, Hub was released. The Gallatin Squash was washed up.
In retirement Perdue operated the family farm but he itched for a job in the limelight. So he decided to run for Sumner County clerk on the Democratic ticket during the Great Depression. Asked why he filed for public office, Perdue replied in typical down-home humor: “I want to build me a new tobacco barn.”38 On August 2, 1934, Hub defeated Harvey L. Brown and one month later he was sworn into office. Re-elected twice, Perdue oversaw three significant projects during his tenure in office – a WPA project to rebuild the 100-year-old county courthouse on Public Square; the construction of several TVA power plants; and the extensive use of Sumner County by the Army in its preparations for the Normandy invasion. Losing his bid for a fourth term to an Army veteran in 1946, Hub retreated to his back porch and brooded for weeks, filling a brass kettle with an endless trail of cigarette butts.
At the age of 64, Perdue retired for good from public life but he never completely separated from baseball. He was a familiar fixture at Nashville’s Old Timers Baseball Association banquets beginning in the 1940s. At the same time he attempted without success to secure a salaried position as a scout for the Reds, Dodgers, Giants, Cardinals, and Pirates. Instead, he worked freelance throughout Middle Tennessee, and actually signed two pitching prospects.
It had been a long time since the early days of Rub, Dub, Hub, and Perdue’s health began to deteriorate in the early 1960s, possibly the result of his lifelong habits of smoking, drinking, and chewing tobacco in conjunction with the never-ending battle with his waistline. Yet he loved to reminisce about his playing days in the Deadball Era, and three specific memories stood out to him as his greatest baseball accomplishments: his back-to-back victories over future Hall of Famers Alexander and Mathewson to open the 1912 season, his 17-inning, no-decision game in Mobile (1908), and his miraculous 1.56 ERA mark in the Southern Association (1919). He also reveled in his unique nickname the Gallatin Squash, and a later moniker bestowed by Nashville newspaperman and confidante Elmer Hinton, who once called Perdue a “clown prince of the diamond.”39 On his deathbed Perdue proclaimed that he never threw a spitter because he did not know how to control it. A joker to the very end.
Herbert Rodney Perdue, the ex-ballplayer with “a million-dollar arm and a two-cent head,”40 died on October 31, 1968, on a date set aside for frolic. He is buried in the Perdue section of Lower Bethpage Cemetery, only yards away from his childhood stamping grounds.
This biography is included in “The Miracle Braves of 1914: Boston’s Original Worst-to-First World Series Champions” (SABR, 2014), edited by Bill Nowlin.
1 For a full-length biography of Perdue, see John A. Simpson, Hub Perdue; Clown Prince of the Mound (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland Press, 2013).
2 Sumner County, Tennessee, Marriage Records, County Clerk’s Office, 1899-1900; Gallatin Examiner and Sumner County Tennessean, May 26, 1960; Sumner County News, May 26, 1960. Also see John David Collier, “Herbert Rodney ‘Hub’ Perdue,” Precious Memories (n.p.: 1999), 41.
3 The concept of “cow pasture games” appears in Elmer Hinton, “Gallatin Squash,” Nashville Tennessean Magazine, October 7, 1945. Also see Collier, “Herbert Rodney ‘Hub’ Perdue,” Precious Memories: 41; John Bibb, “It’s All in the Juice,” Nashville Tennessean Magazine, August 9, 1959.
4 Paducah Sun, January 6 and 30, 1905.
5 Paducah Evening Sun, May 9, 1905. It is not known whether Hub was enrolled in South Kentucky College as a student.
6 Gallatin News, May 6 and 27, June 10, 1905.
7Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff, eds., The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, 1st ed. (Durham, North Carolina: Baseball America, Inc. 1993), 110.
8 Paducah Evening Sun, July 13, 1906.
9 Paducah Evening Sun, August 24, 1906; Vincennes Daily Sun, August 25, 1906; Vincennes Capital, August 21, 1906; Vincennes Morning Commercial, August 25, 30, 1906. Notice to the reader: all of Perdue’s season-ending statistics found in the narrative from this point forward are gleaned from two websites: baseball-reference.com and Retrosheet.org.
10 Chicago Daily Tribune, March 6, 1907. Also see Cindy Thomson, Three Finger Brown: The Mordecai Brown Story (New York: Bison Books, 2009), 100.
11 Nashville Banner, May 11, 1907.
12 Nashville Tennessean, July 3, 1908.
13 Fred Russell and George Leonard, Vols Feats: Records, History, and Tales of the Nashville Baseball Club in the Southern Association, 1901-1950 (Nashville: Banner Press, 1950), 40; John A. Simpson, “The Greatest Game Ever Played in Dixie,” The Nashville Vols, Their 1908 Season, and the Championship Game (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland Press, 2007), 88, 112.
14 Boston Daily Globe, May 20, 1911.
15 Boston Daily Globe, July 28, 1912.
16 Boston Daily Globe, June 26-28, 1912; Sporting Life, July 6, 1912. Also see Nashville Tennessean, January 20, 1913.
17 Sporting Life, September 7, 1912. Also see Harold Kaese, The Boston Braves, 1871-1953 (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2004), 131.
18 Boston Daily Globe, January 13, 1913.
19 Boston Daily Globe, April 11, June 26, 1913; New York Times, April 11, 1913. Harry Coveleski is generally considered the first “Giant-killer” after defeating New York three times in five days in 1908.
20 The story first appeared in the St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat, September 12, 1914. Also see Baseball Magazine, August 1945, 308; Simpson, “The Greatest Game Ever Played in Dixie,” 220-21.
21 Sporting Life, February 7, 1914. The tour visited 27 American cities before heading overseas to visit 13 countries in 34 days. See James E. Elfers, The Tour to End All Tours: The Story of Major League Baseball’s 1913-1914 World Tour (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003); Boston Daily Globe, September 30, 1913.
22 See caption in Photographs, Baseball Magazine, May 1914, frontmatter.
23 For a complete account of the Gessler affair, see Boston Daily Globe, March 19, 21, 22, 1914; Atlanta Constitution, March 21, 1914.
24 St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat, September 12, 1914.
25 Russell, Vols Feats, 32; Russell, Bury Me in an Old Press Box (New York: A.S. Barnes and Company, 1957), 100.
26 St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat, September 25, 1914.
27 Louisville Courier-Journal, April 1, 2, 17, 18, 1916; New York Tribune, March 26, 1916.
28 New Orleans Times-Picayune, July 25, 28, 1919.
29 Marshall D. Wright, The Southern Association in Baseball (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2002), 199. Wright entitles his chapter on the 1919 season “Hub Perdue.” Also see Johnson and Wolff, eds., The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, first edition, 149.
30 Nashville Tennessean, June 6, 1920.
31 Nashville Tennessean, October 10, 1920. The Sporting News announced the hiring with a headline: “THIS IS NO JOKE WITH SQUASH.” See The Sporting News, November 11, 1920.
32 Nashville Banner, May 16, 1921; Nashville Tennessean, May 16, 1921.
33 Nashville Banner, June 24, 25, 1921; Nashville Tennessean, June 24, 25 1921.
34 Nashville Banner, June 26, 1921. The evening newspaper contained a similar headline: “Hub Perdue Relieved As Skipper of the Vols.” See Nashville Tennessean, June 26, 1921.
35 Nashville Tennessean, June 27, 1921. Sloan picked second baseman Chick Knaupp to run the team for the second half of the season.
36 Nashville Tennessean, June 30, 1920.
37 For a detailed analysis of this hypothesis, see Simpson, Hub Perdue; Clown Prince of the Mound.
38 Collier, Precious Memories, 42.
39 Hinton, “The Gallatin Squash,” Nashville Tennessean Magazine, October 7, 1945.
40 The quote is attributed to Hub’s grandson. See Jimmy Perdue, “Gallatin from Kerosene to Nukes,” (unpublished paper),1; in Jimmy Perdue Family Collection, Gallatin, Tennessee.