by West Coast Craig
GOOFBALL WING, COOPERSTOWN â€“ Baseball is a sport full of nutjobs, loonies, and characters, this much is true, though it seems like there are fewer true goofballs with each passing generation. Just ask anybody older than you. We were reminded of one when Mark â€œthe Birdâ€ Fydrich was tragically killed last week, and indeed he is the kind of character in mind with this postâ€¦though itâ€™s not about him. Maybe another one down the line, weâ€™ll see how this goes. In the meantime, see if you can guess who this player is: A team struggling in fourth place, hovering around .500, gets a player for practically nothing, a player with a history of wearing out his welcome at other ball clubs. He travels across the country and, after his arrival, goes on an absolute tear, dominating the league, propelling his new team to a championship. He becomes toast of the town. He is even an actor in the offseason, which helps promote his popularity. No, itâ€™s not Mannyâ€”unfortunately The Manny is not yet raking in the fat residual checksâ€”this all happened in 1902, in Philthydelphia, an era when it was probably extra-philthy.
Some thought Rube Waddell retarded. One manager released him immediately after hearing him talkâ€¦but a goony left hander who could strike batters out (something, in the deadball era full of wily slap hitters that, like the home run, was ahead of its time), Waddell was part of the shady deal that brought he and Honus Wagner and Fred Clark (all future HoFers) to the Pittsburgh Pirates when the National League contracted in 1900. Still, Clark was a stickler and Rube was a kookâ€”he was often late for games, having spent all morning partying in local pubs with his adoring public, or playing marbles with neighborhood kids, and a little matter where he apparently traveled with loaded pistols threatening to shoot Clark full of holesâ€”and cut him loose. Two years later, Connie Mack needs a pitcher for his Philadelpha Aâ€™s, of the upstart American League, and learns that Rube is out in California, having just stayed there after traveling with a barnstorming team. Rube was happy in California, where he indulged in his love of firetrucks, often spending days at a time in firehouses and helping on bucket brigades. But Mack knew Rube, he managed him for a stint in Milwaukee when the Aâ€™s were in the Western Division, and somehow succeeded where disciplinarian Clark could notâ€¦he once got Rube to pitch both ends of a doubleheader (after the first went extra innings), by letting him go fishing for the next four days (until his next start). Now he sends two Pinkertons to make sure Rube got on that trainâ€¦and in the Aâ€™s remaining 87 games, Rube went 24â€“7 and struck out 210 batters (against 64 walks, in 224 inningsâ€¦224 innings in half a season, which tells you what a different game that was).
For the next seven years, Rube played for Mack in Philadelphiaâ€¦when he wasnâ€™t wrestling alligators in Florida or touring the country with the melodramatic The Stain of Guilt. He struck out 349 hitters in 1904â€¦an American League record for a left hander that still stands. He was having an even better year in 1905 when, apparently, he tried to take a bite out of a teammateâ€™s straw hat, got into a wrestling match with him, and fell and hurt his shoulder. The Aâ€™s made it into the World Series without Rube, but got creamed by Christy Mathewson and the Giantsâ€¦while rumors flew that Rube had been paid off by gamblers to miss the series. Rubeâ€™s behavior became more erratic after that, but he was immensely popular, one of the first true superstar draws, but his off-field antics caught up with his on-field skills and, when Mackâ€™s magic with him had finally ran out, he was traded to the lowly St. Louis Browns. The first time he faced his old teammates, he struck out a then record 16 of them. Still, such successes became fewer and further betweenâ€¦but Rube stuck around the game, eventually ending up with a Minneapolis team in the American Association and, staying with a manager Joe Catillion on his Kentucky farm in the offseason, contracted pneumonia while standing in rising flood waters and setting sandbags to protect the town. He never really recovered, and died on April Foolâ€™s day, 1914, at 37.
Okay, that was longer than I wanted and still didnâ€™t tell nearly enough. Oh well, as a theme this may need some refiningâ€¦but I figure what better place to focus on the gameâ€™s goofballs than MTM? Any suggestions for other Goofball nominees? Good games this weekend, both NY teams are .500 at home in their new parks, everybody can take some tentative breaths again. I know thereâ€™s been some ragging on David Wrightâ€™s clutch abilities lately, and I know I donâ€™t have as much invested, but as an appreciator of third base, you have to give it up for this. It’s not just a diving stop, a ground ball like that, you want to keep your glove down close to the ground, but that ball skips up on him and he reacts. Also, completely apropos of nothing, this looks like the greatest movie everâ€¦I guess I can link it to baseball by saying it gives new meaning to the Giants win the pennant.
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