This article was written by Steven A. King
This article was published in the The National Pastime: From Swampoodle to South Philly (Philadelphia, 2013)
One controversial aspect of Rube Waddell’s career, while he was still playing and a century later, is what happened during the last month of the 1905 season that resulted in his missing the World Series. This was the first played by Philadelphia and would be his one opportunity to pitch on the grand stage. What really happened on September 8, 1905?
“Hugh Fullerton has a theory regarding left-handed pitchers that their left arms affect their hearts and that affects their brain which is why they’re all eccentric. Waddell is, of course, the synonym for eccentricity in baseball.”
— Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 21, 1906
One controversial aspect of Rube Waddell’s career, while he was still playing and a century later, is what happened during the last month of the 1905 season that resulted in his missing the World Series. This was the first played by Philadelphia and would be his one opportunity to pitch on the grand stage.
A story has been told about a bit of horseplay when Waddell tried to destroy the straw hat worn by Philadelphia Athletics teammate Andy Coakley at the train station in Providence, Rhode Island, on September 8, 1905, resulting in Rube injuring his shoulder, causing him to miss most of the last month of the regular season, and the whole World Series versus the New York Giants.
Whether Waddell was actually injured as he claimed, or was bribed to fake an injury, has remained at the core of the controversy. Biographies of Waddell and Connie Mack, his manager, have described it, and it has even been the subject of a mock trial staged at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.[fn]Roger I. Abrams and Alan Levy, “The Trial of Rube Waddell,” Seton Hall Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law 19, (2009): 1–30.[/fn] A majority of those who voted on the verdict in this trial acquitted Waddell of the charge of bribery and faking the injury and most writers on the subject have generally taken a similarly sympathetic view.
However, by returning to the newspapers of the period, it is apparent that important evidence has been overlooked that may offer a different view of Waddell and what occurred in 1905. This may burst many of the widely held myths about what is supposed to have happened.
Rube Waddell Before September 8, 1905
Before discussing the final month of the 1905 season, it is useful to review his career.
By 1905 Waddell had established himself as one of the finest pitchers in baseball in the eyes of most observers, second only to Christy Mathewson in terms of greatness. From the time he made his debut with the Athletics at the end of June 1902, he dominated American League hitters. He led the league in strikeouts in 1902 and 1903 and in 1904 he struck out 349 hitters, a post-1900 major league record that lasted until broken by Sandy Koufax 61 years later.[fn]Except as noted, player statistics are from Baseball-Reference.com.[/fn]
Although his strikeout total declined to a league-leading 287 in 1905, that season is generally considered the greatest of his career. He won the AL pitching triple crown. Along with Eddie Plank, he was one of the Athletics’ two most important starting pitchers and also the team’s top relief pitcher.[fn]Baseball-Reference.com names Jim Buchanan of St.Louis as the American League leader in saves in 1905 with two, and Waddell none. A review of the 1905 season indicates that Waddell had at least four. John Thorn, in his book The Relief Pitcher (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1979) also credits Waddell with four and a tie for the league lead. The only other pitchers since 1900 who appear to have won this unofficial quadruple crown are Christy Mathewson of the New York Giants in 1908, and Lefty Grove for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1930.[/fn]
Although Waddell’s pitching skills were apparent from the time he reached the major leagues, he was always a difficult person to handle. First the Louisville-Pittsburgh combination, and then the Chicago team of the National League gave up on him because of his behavior and undependability. Connie Mack, for whom Waddell had pitched in the then minor league American League in 1900, was willing to take another chance on him in 1902 and, for at least a few seasons, was able to tame Waddell’s behavior to a certain degree.
Mack was willing to put up with Waddell’s antics that he would not have tolerated in any other player because of his pitching greatness and his ability to bring fans to ball parks. In 1911 Alfred Spink, the founder of The Sporting News, described Waddell as the greatest crowd draw in baseball history.[fn]Alfred Spink, The National Game (St. Louis: The National Publishing Company, 1911), 160.[/fn]
However, even Mack could not always control Waddell. In 1903, Mack suspended him for the last month of the season for missing practice and pitching for semi-pro teams. Mack would attribute the Athletics’ failure to win the AL pennant that year and missing the chance to play in the World Series to Waddell’s absence.[fn]Paul Proia, Just a Big Kid: The Life and Times of Rube Waddell (Baltimore: Publish America, 2007), 155.[/fn]
Throughout most of the 1905 season, Waddell generally behaved himself. He had an incentive to do so because that season he was under indictment for assault with a deadly weapon.
During the winter of 1904–1905, Waddell lived with his wife’s parents in Peabody, Massachusetts (although, curiously, his wife was living with friends in nearby Lynn). Waddell did little work during that period, preferring to spend his time telling stories about his baseball feats to the locals at a general store. He did receive adulation for putting out a potentially dangerous fire.[fn]Boston Herald, February 9, 1905.[/fn]
One night in February, Waddell returned to his in-laws’ home and announced he was leaving. Newspaper stories of the time indicate that he had been drinking heavily during the previous few days and suggest that he was drunk that night. When his father-in-law inquired about the money for board that he felt Rube owed him, Waddell took a flat iron and beat the man about the head, knocking out several of his teeth. When his mother-in-law tried to intervene, he beat her over the head with a chair. The only family member who managed any blows against him was his in-laws’ Newfoundland dog who sunk his teeth into Rube’s pitching arm before he punched the animal, causing it to release him from its grasp. Waddell realized that he was in trouble, and almost immediately grabbed a train out of town before a warrant could be issued for his arrest. He did not stop running until he made it back to Philadelphia.[fn]Ibid.[/fn]
Initially, there was concern that if he tried to play in Boston once the season began he would be arrested, but it appears that some arrangement was made whereby any legal proceedings would be held in abeyance until the end of the season, and he pitched there several times in 1905 without hindrance from the law.[fn]It is possible that either Waddell or someone else eventually paid off his
in-laws. When the case finally went to trial in January 1906, they did not appear to testify against him and it was dismissed. (Wilkes-Barre Times, January 12, 1906).[/fn]
Although most descriptions of the 1905 season indicate that Waddell’s trouble began on the train platform on September 8, there were earlier signs that his behavior was again problematic.
In St. Louis in late August, Waddell, after spending the night at an amusement park, showed up at 1 a.m., knocking on Connie Mack’s hotel door. When the manager opened it, he found Rube standing there offering him what was called a “pazzazza” sandwich, consisting of limburger cheese and stale onions. Not surprisingly, Mack turned down the offer and went back to bed.[fn]Philadelphia North American, August 21, 1905.[/fn] Stories of the incident either implied or stated that Waddell had been drinking.[fn]Waddell’s drinking habits were sufficiently known that in late August 1905, Charles Dryden of the Philadelphia North American, upon learning that Rube had been asked to write an advertisement endorsing Coca-Cola as his favorite drink, reported; “We marvel much because a bolt of lightning did not enter the window and strike Mr. Waddell dead in the midst of his mendacious testimonial.” (Philadelphia North American, August 26, 1905.) The advertisement appeared in The Sporting News on September 16, 1905.[/fn]
From then on, Mack kept a close eye on Waddell, taking the berth below Rube’s on the Pullman car when they were traveling, and the adjacent room at hotels.[fn]Philadelphia North American, August 23, 1905[/fn] Mack also appointed the team’s trainer, Frank Newhouse, to be what the newspapers described as Rube’s “keeper.”[fn]Philadelphia North American, August 25, 1905[/fn] Newhouse had been appointed as trainer on the recommendation of Waddell, whom he had befriended when they met on the train when Rube came east from California to join the Athletics in 1902.[fn]Frank Newhouse is often described as the trainer of a boxer who fought under the name Young Corbett. In fact, he was more of a gofer. Corbett’s actual trainer when he was the featherweight champion was Harry Tuthill, the New York Giants trainer in 1905. When Corbett was no longer able to make weight as a featherweight his title was claimed by the boxer Abe Attell who would come to have a more infamous association with baseball of any professional fighter.[/fn] Newhouse’s job to keep Waddell out of trouble meant keeping him from drinking and thwarting attempts to keep him from pitching.
For the rest of the season, Mack gave Newhouse Waddell’s per diem travel money, requiring Rube to ask Newhouse to pay for anything Rube wished to purchase. Waddell made attempts to ditch Newhouse. While the Athletics were playing in Detroit, Mack gave Waddell time off to go fishing, which according to the manager was (along with drinking) the thing he loved most.[fn]Connie Mack, “The One And Only Rube,” Saturday Evening Post, March 14, 1936, 12–13, 106, 108–110.[/fn] Waddell tried to take off without Newhouse knowing it. However Newhouse tracked him down and visited as many places as he could in the area that served alcohol to warn them that Waddell had no money and therefore not to serve him. One hotel did serve Rube beer. When Newhouse found him there, Waddell told the owner to obtain the 30 cents he owed from Newhouse, who refused to pay, resulting in a fist fight that Newhouse, a former fighter, won.[fn]Philadelphia North American, August 27, 1905.[/fn]
Mack may have also been sending a message to Waddell in his treatment of Waddell’s friend, roommate, and favorite catcher, Ossee Schrecongost, whose last name was usually shortened in newspaper stories and box scores to “Schreck.” When, at the end of August, Schreck was in no condition to catch after a drinking binge, Mack decided to suspend him. It was only when the other players, knowing that Waddell did his best work with Schreck, begged Mack to change his mind that Mack relented.[fn]Philadelphia North American, August 27, 1905. Schreck caught almost every inning Waddell pitched in 1905 and when Waddell was called on to relieve, Schreck would enter the game with him.[/fn]
Despite his problematic behavior, Waddell continued to pitch well. On September 5 in Boston, he threw one of the best games of his career. He extended his scoreless inning streak to 43 2?3, and carried a one-hitter into the ninth inning before giving up two runs to tie the score. He ended up losing 3–2 in 13 innings, giving up three hits and eight walks while recording 17 strikeouts. (Cy Young was scheduled to oppose him but sat out due to a sore arm.)
Waddell next pitched on the day he was supposed to have been injured in his scuffle with Andy Coakley, September 8. Coakley had pitched and won the day before. He had been given permission by Connie Mack to spend that night and the next day with his family in Providence, Rhode Island, and to join the team when its train stopped there on its return to Philadelphia after the game.
What Happened on September 8, 1905
Virtually all discussions of Waddell and September 8, 1905, have focused on the purported incident with Coakley. However, another key event in the story, what occurred in the game against Boston that day, has largely been ignored. Biographies of Waddell and Connie Mack and most baseball histories either do not mention it at all, or note it only in passing.[fn]See Proia, Just a Big Kid; Alan H. Levy, Rube Waddell: The Zany Brilliant Life a of a Strikeout Artist (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2000); Fred Lieb, Connie Mack: Grand Old Man of Baseball (New York: G.P. Putnam’s, 1945); Connie Mack, My 66 Years In the Big League (Philadelphia: Winston, 1950); Norman Macht, Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2007). The SABR Baseball Biography Project biography of Waddell incorrectly states that Waddell defeated Cy Young in the game.[/fn]
Waddell started opposite Cy Young, and set Boston down in order in the first inning. In the Boston second, Jimmy Collins led off with a double, followed by a home run by Kip Selbach that went over the head of center fielder Danny Hoffman and rolled to the fence. Waddell appeared to recover, striking out Moose Grimshaw. Hobe Ferris followed with a single that most newspapers attributed to miscommunication between second baseman Danny Murphy and right fielder Socks Seybold.[fn]Philadelphia Inquirer, September 9, 1905.[/fn] Lou Criger then flied to center and Young struck out, ending the inning.
What happened next is a matter of controversy. It is certain that Waddell was pinch hit for in the top of the third, but why this occurred remains unclear. Most newspaper coverage of the game did not immediately offer any specific explanation for Waddell’s removal, choosing to instead focus on Jimmy Dygert’s excellent major league debut in relief. The next day, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Waddell had “demonstrated that he was not himself.” Horace Fogel of the Philadelphia Evening Telegraph briefly discussed what had happened, reporting that Waddell “had one of those off days which all pitchers have occasionally. He felt good but for some inexplicable reason could not reach any speed in practice” and that catcher Schreck had noted the problem, but that Waddell thought once he warmed up, he would be all right.[fn]Philadelphia Evening Telegraph, September 9, 1905.[/fn]
Several newspapers subsequently published stories that he was relieved in the September 8 game due to a sore arm.[fn]For example, see Associated Press report in the Richmond Times Dispatch, September 29, 1905.[/fn] Of course, this raises the question: if he already had a sore arm in that game, then how could he have developed it after the purported struggle with Coakley?
There was some difference of opinion as to whether Connie Mack took Rube out of the game or if Waddell removed himself. Newspapers did agree that after he left the game, instead of joining his teammates on the Philadelphia bench, or going to the clubhouse, Waddell sat in the bleachers. This behavior appeared curious even for Waddell. At least one newspaper attributed it to “being ashamed of being knocked out of the box,” certainly a strange explanation considering that Waddell was never noted for either being introspective about or ashamed of any of his behavior, no matter how bizarre, at any time in his life.[fn]Pawtucket Times, September 9, 1905.[/fn]
Some newspapers did comment that it was unusual for Waddell not to finish a game. The Philadelphia Inquirer noted the following day, “That Waddell, the man who always stood by in the hour of distress ready and willing to step into the breech [sic] after others have failed, should himself feel the need of succor is one of the rare incidences of the national pastime.”
It was certainly “rare” for Waddell to be taken out of a game he started in 1905. Until that game, he had finished all but five of his starts:
- Against Boston on July 7, he was struck in his pitching hand in the seventh by a ball off the bat of Freddy Parent. He completed the inning and started the eighth, but swelling in his hand prevented him from continuing and he was relieved.
- In his next start on July 13, he appeared to still suffer from the effects of this injury. Although he gave up four runs in the first inning, Connie Mack did not take him out until the fifth, when he gave up two hits and a walk.
- On August 11 against Cleveland, Mack relieved him in the middle of the sixth inning while losing 5–3.
- On August 20 against St. Louis, Waddell went to field a bunt by Tom Jones. As he bent down, Jones ran into him, hitting Rube behind the ear with his knee and knocking him out.
Even when Waddell appeared to be on the ropes early in a game, Connie Mack always gave him the chance to right himself as in the game on July 13. On August 2 against Chicago, Waddell gave up four walks and a hit and hit a batter in the first inning, resulting in three runs. He proceeded to strike out the next three batters and went on to a complete game victory to put the Athletics in first place.
The most famous example of Mack’s patience with Waddell that year occurred in the second game of the July 4 doubleheader versus Boston when he gave up four hits and two runs in the first inning. Waddell settled down and pitched all 19 shutout innings, beating Cy Young, who also threw a complete game. Each would subsequently describe this as the greatest game of their careers.[fn]The Sporting News, December 16, 1905.[/fn]
If it was Mack’s decision to remove Waddell from the September 8 game, he would seem to have been taking a risk. Chief Bender, who together with Waddell, handled most of the relief duties for the Athletics that season, was ill, leaving the manager limited options. Mack turned to Jimmy Dygert, a spitballer who had joined the team on August 31 from New Orleans of the Southern Association, and had yet to pitch in the majors.[fn]Mack wanted Dygert to join the Athletics by August 31 so he would be
eligible to play in the World Series. This proved to be no easy task as New Orleans was under quarantine for a yellow fever epidemic, and Dygert reported he had to elude inspectors on the train enroute to join the Athletics. (Philadelphia North American, September 7, 1905).[/fn] Dygert gave up one run against Boston the rest of the game, and beat Cy Young in what would be his only win for the Athletics that season.
The Fight with Coakley: Fact or Fiction?
The story of Waddell’s fight with Andy Coakley over his straw hat has become widely accepted. There is much to suggest that it never happened.
Even before the alleged incident on September 8, there were suggestions that attempts might be made to keep Waddell from pitching in the World Series. An article in the September 2, 1905, issue of The Sporting News by a Philadelphia correspondent writing under the name “Veteran,” reported a story from someone described as a gambler and friend of John McGraw, the manager of the New York Giants, that if the Athletics won the pennant, friends of McGraw would finance a fishing trip for Waddell that would last until the end of the series, causing Waddell to miss it.[fn]The identity of “Veteran” remains a mystery. Other Sporting News correspondents at the time reported that it was unknown to them. I believe it was most likely Horace Fogel, who was noted to be its correspondent at various times during the first decade of the twentieth century, though I was unable to find specific evidence that he was “Veteran” in 1905. If it was Fogel, he was being disingenuous, for several times he praised Fogel’s writings. I thank Norman Macht and Steve Steinberg for their opinions on Veteran’s identity.[/fn]
Skepticism about the straw hat story is supported by the prominent identities of the reporters who expressed doubt about its veracity. Although Joseph Vila of the New York Sun is often credited as most vocal in doubting the story and raising the possibility that Waddell may have been bribed, in reality Horace Fogel of the Philadelphia Evening Telegraph and Charles Dryden of the Philadelphia North American were the most vociferous. Fogel and Dryden were traveling with the Athletics, and would have had first hand knowledge if a fight had occurred.[fn]Dryden, who only reported on baseball, had traveled with the team for most of the season, while Fogel only did so after September 1. Contrary to reports that it was Vila who initiated and spread the rumor about Waddell being bribed, in The Sporting News of October 7, 1905, he actually expressed skepticism about it, asking “does anybody believe the story that ‘Rube’ Waddell has been fixed to keep out of the world’s [sic] series?”[/fn]
Dryden and Fogel were also the first to report the straw hat incident. Dryden, in the Philadelphia North American of September 10, in explaining why Waddell had been unable to relieve Bender in the second game of a double header when the Philadelphia fans had called for Rube, wrote: “In a straw hat smoking tournament on the way here from Boston the noble southpaw jammed his pitching shoulder.” Fogel would fill in some details in the Philadelphia Evening Telegraph on September 13. In this initial telling, the event occurred on the platform at the Providence train station when Waddell tried to grab Coakley’s hat and bumped his shoulder against the side of the train.
Both Fogel and Dryden began to express doubt about the story when they accompanied the Athletics to New York for a three-game series on September 19–20 and found its gambling and sporting circles awash with stories that arrangements had been made to ensure that Waddell would not pitch in the World Series. Bets were being taken on his not pitching.[fn]The Sporting News, September 30, 1905.[/fn]
In a September 20 article in the Philadelphia Evening Telegraph, Fogel wrote that Mack and most of the Athletic players “are beginning to feel a bit dubious about there being much if anything the matter with Waddell’s shoulder.” The next day, devoting virtually his whole column to it, he stated that Mack had never believed the Coakley fight story. That New York men without any apparent inside knowledge of Waddell’s health could be so certain that he would not be able to pitch in the World Series was especially unsettling to Fogel.
Waddell wrote a response to Fogel that was published in the Evening Telegraph on September 22, stating that his shoulder was injured, and emphatically denying that he had been bribed.[fn]Philadelphia Evening Telegraph, September 22, 1905.[/fn] Fogel expressed appreciation for Waddell’s willingness to address the rumors, but noted that Rube held the key to terminating them; all he had to do was to start pitching again. Mack did at least publicly defend Waddell and stated his belief in the straw hat fight story and that Waddell had perspired as a result of it and “caught a cold” in his shoulder.[fn]Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 28, 1905.[/fn]
What also troubled both Fogel and Dryden was that details of the incident with Coakley varied from telling to telling. In some, it was in the train station in Providence, in others, on the platform or on the train. Dryden even noted that some reports placed it in the station at New London, Connecticut rather than Providence.[fn]Philadelphia North American, September 21, 1905.[/fn]
Even more disconcerting was that they were unable to find any of the Athletics or apparently anyone else who reported witnessing a fight that supposedly had occurred in a public place. And, although Waddell stated that it had happened, there is no record of the one other person who could have verified it, Coakley himself, making any statement at the time. In fact he made no public comment at all about it until almost 40 years later when, in 1943, he did so in response to a letter from J.G. Taylor Spink, the publisher of The Sporting News, who was writing a series of articles on Rube Waddell, asking about the incident.[fn]J.G. Taylor Spink, “Rube Waddell,” Baseball Register (St. Louis, C.C. Spink & Son, 1944), 5–21.[/fn]
Spink could have saved the effort as Coakley’s rendition of the event was essentially the same as that provided by Connie Mack in his syndicated memoir My Fifty Years in Baseball, published in 1930, and in an article he published on his relationship with Waddell in the Saturday Evening Post in 1936.[fn]Connie Mack, “My Fifty Years in Baseball,” Albany Evening News, October 5, 1930; Mack, “The One And Only Rube.”[/fn]
Nowhere in contemporary accounts or in either of these remembrances did Mack explain why Waddell was removed from the game of September 8. Mack noted in the 1936 article that some reporters thought that he might have been behind creating a phony story so Waddell could sit out until the World Series to “throw the Giants off guard,” but denied there was any truth to this or to the rumors that gamblers had gotten to Waddell.
If Coakley lied in his response to Spink, he would certainly have had good reason. If he had given a significantly different story from Mack’s, he would have appeared to be accusing his former manager, who by 1943, was already considered the grand old man of baseball, of either being unaware of what was going on with his team, or of participating in a cover-up of a possible bribe.
Also, if Coakley had admitted to knowledge of such a cover-up, he might have faced his own problems. Kennesaw Mountain Landis was still the commissioner of baseball at the time, and anyone closely associated with the game would have been well aware of his banning of Buck Weaver from organized ball for life for not reporting knowledge of the 1919 World Series game fixing, although there was no evidence Weaver had participated in it. When he replied to Spink, Coakley was already 60 years old and was not going to play again, but he was the baseball coach at Columbia University (where he coached for another nine years before retiring after 37 seasons), and had an insurance business that might have also suffered.[fn]If Coakley was willing to go along with Connie Mack on perpetuating a
falsehood, it would not have been the first time he did so. In September 1902, a pitcher named McAllister made his debut with the Athletics. After the season, it was revealed that he was really Coakley, then one of the top collegiate pitchers in the country. When the college he was attending, Holy Cross, learned of his playing professional ball, it terminated his collegiate athletic eligibility. Mack admitted he had known McAllister’s true identity all along and was trying to protect Coakley’s eligibility through the use of the pseudonym. That Mack had no compunction about participating in future falsehoods is indicated by his similar willingness to have Columbia University student Eddie Collins play under the name Sullivan in 1906. For details on Coakley’s post-major league career, see his obituary in The New York Times, September 28, 1963.[/fn]
Perhaps the most suspicious of all events occurred at the end of September. By then, Mack had publicly stated that he had become disgusted with Waddell who, instead of taking care of himself, was spending most of his time drinking. Determining that Waddell was no longer of any benefit to the team that season, Mack informed him: “I won’t need you anymore Rube. You can spend the rest of the season among the breweries or any where you want.”[fn]Philadelphia North American, October 1, 1905.[/fn]
Within one to two days, Waddell suddenly announced that while he was shaving, he had heard something click in his left shoulder, and he was able to move it freely without any pain. He immediately rushed to the Athletics’ ball park to convey the good news, bringing his wife with him so she could confirm that she had also heard the click.[fn]Philadelphia North American, October 1, 1905. Some newspaper stories reported that Waddell went to his doctor first.[/fn]
Despite the reports that Waddell had regained his health, Mack remained skeptical. It appears that this may have less to do with how Rube was throwing the ball and more that his manager had lost trust in him. Waddell’s teammates believed he was physically able to pitch in the World Series. Team captain Lave Cross, on the opening day of the series said: “I’d like to clock him [Waddell] on the head with a bat. His work out yesterday on the quiet had both speed and curves. There is no reason why he should not pitch. He’s jeopardizing our chances of getting the bulk of the money, and is not there for the team.”[fn]New York Evening World, October 9, 1905.[/fn]
One final factor suggests the straw hat story was false. In September 1920, in the wake of the indictment of the eight White Sox players for fixing the 1919 World Series, Horace Fogel filled in more details of his story about 1905. He told of how a New York politician with significant financial interests in the gambling business, “Little Tim” Sullivan, and two New York gamblers met Waddell in a Boston hotel during the September road trip and offered him $17,000 to fake an injury and sit out the World Series.[fn]Philadelphia Inquirer, September 30, 1920.[/fn] Because the Athletics left Boston following the game of September 8, if such an episode had occurred, it would have had to take place before that game. Thus, if Waddell faked an injury to force his leaving the game that day, it would have fit in with the timeline provided by Fogel, and not the story involving Coakley and the straw hat.
That Fogel did not reveal these details until 1920 raises questions about the veracity of the claims. However we might understand this better in light of an account from 1908. The New York Giants and Chicago Cubs tied for the National League lead on October 7, 1908, at the end of the season. The teams met on October 8, 1908, in New York for a scheduled make-up game that would decide the pennant. It was later revealed that the game’s umpires were approached and offered a bribe. Fogel reported in 1908 that he consciously had withheld details from 1905 stories to prevent him or his paper from being sued for libel. Fogel wrote in 1908, “Let’s wait and see what the present investigation will show, and if I deem it necessary to take a hand in it for the good of base ball, I’ll tell a few things I know, later.”[fn]The Sporting News, December 17, 1908.[/fn]
It was not only the writers, Mack, and his teammates who grew skeptical that Waddell was in fact injured. Despite Waddell being the most popular of all the Athletic players, Philadelphia fans also began to voice disbelief about Waddell’s injury. During the third game of the World Series in Philadelphia, one fan mocked Waddell by throwing a straw hat onto the field.[fn]New York Sun, October 13, 1905.[/fn]
Two Vexing Questions
There are two questions that have troubled those who believe Waddell was bribed to sit out the World Series:
- If he was bribed, why have him sit the last month of the season, before the Athletics had captured the AL pennant and were still engaged with the Chicago White Sox?
- Gamblers benefit by keeping private inside information they have. If Waddell was on the take, what was gained by pretending he was injured which would have prevented him from pitching the Series as well?
While we can never know with any degree of certainty the motives of those who bribed Waddell, if there was a bribe, it is possible to speculate on several that would provide answers to both questions.
As it turned out, the Athletics did not need Waddell to win the American League championship. His sitting out the last month did not markedly imperil its chances. Even when Waddell was out of action, most observers still felt that the Athletics were going to win the pennant. The team was never out of first place during the rest of the season, although for one day, September 27, Philadelphia fell into a virtual tie with Chicago. Furthermore, in mid-September, there were some who thought that while both the Athletics and Giants were the betting favorites to win their respective league pennants, the latter might have had a tougher row to hoe as they faced an extended road trip. It was also noted that Pittsburgh, the Giants’ chief competitor for the pennant, was playing better ball than the White Sox, who were chasing the Athletics.[fn]Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 17, 1905.[/fn]
As to the timing of a possible bribe, baseball historian Steve Steinberg has suggested that one possible explanation is that bets may have been placed on the Giants winning the World Series before the season and that gamblers were making sure that Waddell would not be available to pitch against them.[fn]Steve Steinberg, “Horace Fogel: The Man Who Knew (and Talked) Too Much.” Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game, 6 (2012):33–50.[/fn] If this was all bribers cared about, obviously it would not have made any difference when Waddell stopped pitching. Furthermore, having several weeks to observe that he did so would have given them some degree of assurance that he intended to keep his agreement.
An alternative and not necessarily contradictory explanation regards the fact that for gamblers it is not only who wins that is important, but also the odds gamblers will accept. Anyone who could manipulate these would clearly have a significant advantage.
It is important to remember that Waddell was not shut down completely after September 8 and did pitch in three more games that season. On September 27, he relieved Weldon Henley, but was taken out after having difficulty putting the ball over the plate and giving up a hit to the only Detroit hitter he faced. However, in his next appearance on October 6, when the Athletics captured the pennant due to a White Sox loss, he did better, pitching six innings in relief of Andy Coakley versus Washington, although he did give up six runs, while walking five and throwing two wild pitches.
On the surface, Waddell’s performance in that game appeared to be quite poor, but observers actually felt that, apart from diminished control attributed to his being rusty, he pitched well. In its coverage of the game, the Philadelphia Public Ledger the next day noted “he demonstrated that he is the same wonderful mechanism of speed and curves that has gained him a reputation second to none as a pitching marvel. But his work clearly showed his absence from the diamond. He not only lacked confidence, but was as erratic as an unbroken yearling.”
On October 7, the last day of the regular season, Mack started Waddell in the first game of a double header and relieved him after he gave up two runs in the first inning.
Until the World Series began, the public was uncertain whether Waddell would pitch at all. Some newspapers warned their readers against bets on the Series until they knew whether Waddell would be available. On October 9, the opening day of the series, the Cleveland Plain Dealer warned, “To those who wish to wager money on the result of the series or on a single game this is good advice: wait until the teams are lined up before you bet. This is based on the admitted fact that the Athletics will be at least 20 percent stronger if Rube Waddell is able to pitch two or three of the games.” The Philadelphia North American of October 7 would note that after the Athletics had won the pennant the day before, gamblers considering backing the team in the World Series were hesitant until they knew whether Waddell would be able to pitch.
There is also another possible sinister explanation for why Waddell might have been bribed to not only sit out the World Series, but also the final month of the season. If Waddell had pitched effectively in his regular spot in September, the Athletics most likely would have run away with the pennant. Sporting Life expressed an opinion after the season that if Waddell had not sat out during that time, the Athletics would have clinched the pennant at least one to two weeks before the end of the season.[fn]Sporting Life, October 21, 1905.[/fn]
The Giants had won the National League pennant a week before the season end and were rested for the Series. Even before he knew whether the Athletics or the White Sox would win the AL pennant, John McGraw noted that it did not matter. No matter the winner, the players would be worn by the pennant race and the Giants would “just walk in” to the world championship.[fn]Sporting Life, October 7, 1905.[/fn]
The details of the 1905 World Series are beyond the scope of this paper. Many observed at the time the poor play of the Athletics both in the field and at bat. There were undertones that things might not be on the level in the Series, although most observers attributed the poor performance to exhaustion from playing the next to last day of the season before clinching the American League pennant.
After the Series, Ban Johnson, the disappointed president of the American League, said, “It seems to me that the Athletics did not play up to the excellent form they showed toward the close of the American League season. They played with lightning speed then, but there was a noticeable diminution in the rapidity of play this week. Perhaps the defection of Rube Waddell discouraged the players.”[fn]Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 15, 1905.[/fn]
Suspicions that the World Series might not have been on the level were heightened when it was revealed later that the Athletic players and most of the Giants had agreed beforehand to split the players’ share of the receipts 50–50, instead of abiding by the official split of 75 percent for the winners and 25 percent for the losers. The Sporting News felt the need to publish an editorial denying that this should be interpreted as indicating that the players might have not done their best.[fn]The Sporting News, November 11, 1905.[/fn]
Postscript: After the 1905 Season
Despite Waddell’s phenomenal pitching record in 1905, reports appeared during the off-season that Mack was trying to move him to another team. There were stories of him being traded or sold to the Boston Americans or to Cincinnati, but how plausible any such deal might have been is unknown.[fn]Baltimore American, November 21, 1905; Boston Daily Globe, December 31,
1905.[/fn] Mack may have been unable to find anyone willing to give anything close to the value that a star pitcher would warrant if he was able to find any takers at all. Alluding to Waddell’s diminished reputation, Frank Navin, the then secretary and later owner of the Detroit club, stated after the series that he “wouldn’t give 30 cents for Waddell.”[fn]Grand Rapids Press, October 27, 1905.[/fn]
After the season, there were reports that Ban Johnson was trying to have the National Commission, the then ruling body of organized baseball, initiate a formal investigation of the bribery charge, perhaps scaring potential buyers or trading partners away.[fn]Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 8,1906. Johnson may have had suspicions about Waddell’s honesty and tried to distance himself from Waddell even before September 8. In August 1905, at a meeting of the National Commission, he and National League president Harry Pulliam chose all-star teams of the best players at each position in their own leagues. At pitcher, Johnson chose Jack Chesbro over Waddell. Although Chesbro had gone 41–12 in 1904, it is doubtful that by August of the following year many knowledgeable people would have rated him as superior to Waddell. New York Press, September 3, 1905.[/fn]
In his defense of Waddell, Mack stated many times over the years that followed that Rube did not care about money, and that what was most important to him was winning. Many never believed this.[fn]Lieb, Connie Mack, 93.[/fn] Even before the 1905 World Series, Charles Dryden wrote that “Rube Waddell does not care so much for the pennant but he would like to get one of the $50 diamond studded buttons [that the National Commission had promised to members of the World Series winning team]. It can be soaked [a synonym for pawning].”[fn]Philadelphia North American, September, 17, 1905.[/fn] Throughout Waddell’s career there were stories of schemes he invented to wrangle money out of others. That he was chronically short of money is indicated by the fact that even though he received well over $1,000 as his share of the money from the 1905 World Series, by December of that year, he was already asking Connie Mack for money.[fn]Washington Post, December 9, 1905.[/fn]
In later writings, Connie Mack forgave Waddell for being unable to play in the World Series, but Mack’s response afterward was to punish him the only way he could without hurting himself. In 1906, after Waddell’s wife sued him for non-support and desertion, a court required that he show his contract for that season so the amount he had to provide to her could be decided. It showed that the Athletics were paying him a mere $1,200, half of what he had earned in 1905.[fn]Trenton Times, May 4, 1906. For Waddell’s 1905 salary see Proia, Just a Big Kid, 147.[/fn]
Despite the reduction in salary, Mack continued to use Waddell in 1906 much as he had the previous season. For most of the season, Waddell pitched well, starting 6–2 with four shutouts before injuring the thumb on his pitching hand in a carriage accident on May 22. He missed most of the next month, but returned to his pre-injury form until the last month of the season, when he again let his teammates down, going 2–6, a major factor in the Athletics’ failure to challenge for the pennant. He lasted one more season with the Athletics before Mack sold him to St. Louis before the 1908 season, explaining, “While I still consider Waddell a great pitcher, I figure my team has been considerably strengthened by his sale. There was not the best of feeling between Waddell and several of the players, and as harmony is the chief essential to success he was disposed of to St. Louis.”[fn]Chicago Inter Ocean, April 12, 1908[/fn]
It is unlikely we will ever know for certain whether Rube Waddell was bribed to sit out the last month of the 1905 season or that year’s World Series. However, there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that the whole story of his fight with Andy Coakley over a straw hat, and an injury resulting from it, can itself be knocked into another type of hat, the proverbial cocked one.
STEVEN A. KING is a physician specializing in pain management and a clinical professor at the New York University School of Medicine. The primary focus of his baseball research is New York City baseball at the beginning of the twentieth century. His most recent baseball publication was on the myth of the Amos Rusie-Christy Mathewson trade that appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of “Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game.”