With the Minneapolis Little Millers and the Virginia, Minnesota Ore Diggers
There is a ton of Internet content on "forgotten" pitching great George Edward "Rube" Waddell. I personally never heard of Waddell until I was in my forties, and I only became interested to know more about him when I found out the Hall-of-Famer played his final seasons in Minnesota.
Which is odd because in his time his shit was legend.
Cy Young and Walter Johnson pitched against him and said he had the greatest pitching talent they saw, as did his manager Connie Mack, whose playing and managing career spanned seven decades. Waddell won a 20-inning complete game against Cy Young on the Fourth of July in 1905.
Waddell held the single season strikeout record until 1965 and dominated strikeout statistics in his prime. When he threw his record 349 strikeouts in 1904 the next best strikeout number was 239. (Robbie Ray led MLB in 2021 with 248.) This was the "dead ball" era, when men put the ball in play (or shortened up with two strikes anyway, I hope) because the baseball, the fielding equipment, the fields and the talent were more suspect.
Waddell was also a clowning entertainer at the park and a man-child with an alcohol addiction. He was a top draw across the major league; stories about him ran in newspapers around the country. His biographer gives credit to Waddell's athletic feats and publicity antics for clubs moving - around Rube’s prime - from wooden ballparks to bigger, sturdier parks.
Off the field Waddell did things that sound like silent movie plots, like going to the sites of emergencies to assist, including leaving ballgames to follow fire trucks. The Rube loved to fish and hunt.
These traits made it frustrating for club management, which is why Waddell was sold or dropped from four major league teams. Waddell went missing sometimes for days; he was occasionally spotted pitching for independent clubs while AWOL. His drinking was out of control. (There is a story relayed by his biographer that Waddell sold the Cy Young game ball to several Philadelphia saloons.) His showboating on the field was not always appreciated by front offices.
Waddell married and abandoned three women. He could not enter Massachusetts for two seasons because there was a warrant for his arrest for non-support of his second wife. Attorneys for the owner of the St. Louis Browns, Waddell’s last major league team, finally resolved the alimony lawsuits and divorce proceedings before the ‘10 season.
Waddell never made more than $3,000 a year. His reputation for being perpetually broke was widespread.
Waddell’s best years were with Connie Mack’s Athletics from 1902-1907. He was the Athletics' best pitcher in 1905 when they won the American League pennant. He was 27-9 on September 5 when he lost a complete 13-inning game in Boston, despite striking out 17. He pitched two innings and allowed two runs on Friday, September 8 before he was relieved. That night "the Rube" reportedly hurt his arm on a train station platform while he was trying to punch a hole in a teammate’s straw hat. He made a few more attempts to pitch, but his season was effectively cut short on September 8.
He did not pitch in the World Series and the A’s fell to the New York Giants 4 games to 1.
1905 A’s, taken at the Polo Grounds during the 1905 World Series. Injured Waddell kneeling at left. (Pinterest.)
After the St. Louis Browns released Waddell in 1910 he was hired by the Cantillon brothers who owned the Minneapolis Millers. The Millers were the best team in the American Association at the time.
In the off seasons while he was a Miller, Waddell lived and trained at the farm of Joe Cantillon near Hickman, Kentucky. Joe was the manager of the Millers.
The Rube pitched well enough in 54 games with the Millers in 1911, helping them to a league title. He had serviceable streaks again in 1912, although his skills began to show decline and he was "unable" to appear in the 1912 championship series.
1912 Millers. Waddell center middle behind sheep. (Christies.)
In February 1913 Waddell helped bag sand when a flood hit Hickman. Around this time, Waddell began to have chronic health problems. Still, he intended to pitch at Nicollet Park for the Millers in 1913 and came up with the team after training in Hickman and playing exhibition games in the South. When he was spotted on the day of his arrival, April 9, at his boarding house apartment on 329 East Franklin, he was making snowmen with children.
1913 Little Millers
When the American Association season began in April 1913 Waddell was recovering from pneumonia. On Monday, April 21 club president Milke Cantillon released Waddell from the Millers without Waddell having pitched.
Waddell accepted a roster spot in Minneapolis’s Northern League (Level: C) club, the Bronchos, or Little Millers. The Cantillons also ran the Little Millers.
Waddell pitched in 4 games for the Little Millers. In his first game, pitching in relief, Waddell gave up 10 hits in a 15-3 loss to Superior, WI. He struck out 6.
In Waddell’s last game with the Little Millers on May 3 he pitched a complete game, a 3-0 win. Waddell struck out 11. Afterwards he became upset with his manager and was released by club president Mike Cantillon.
Newspapers reported that Waddell was going to play for an independent team in Marshall, Minnesota. Then on May 10, news broke that Waddell was fighting blood poisoning related to an injured knee that he hurt on May 3, the day of his last outing. There was speculation about amputation.
Just four days later, on May 14, the Minneapolis Tribune reported that Waddell was better and going to the Virginia, Minnesota Ore Diggers. The Ore Diggers were the weakest team in the Northern League.
Rube Waddell was able to be up and around yesterday and it will not be long before he is active as ever. The Rube still insists he is through with organized baseball, but it is understood he will be turned over to the Virginia club. Spike Shannon is in need of pitchers and Waddell would strengthen the staff.
The next day the Winona Daily Times wrote that Rube was willing to play for Virginia after being told the fishing was good. "'Well, it is me for Virginia. I have a new fishing outfit,' the rube announced."
In classic style Waddell did not turn up as expected while his club was playing the Superior Red Sox in Superior. On May 17 in Duluth he told reporters in his hotel "I am as good as when Connie Mack found me." The next day in Superior he relieved in the ninth inning when the starter "got in a tight hole." Waddell saved a 5-4 win. Waddell, reported the Duluth Herald, made the Red Sox "eat out of his big mitt."
Waddell pitched for Virginia until July 20. He was mostly ineffective, pitching for the worst team in a low-level league.
On May 25 Waddell was knocked out early at Grand Forks in a game that Perry Werden umpired.
In his first home game in Virginia, on June 1 against eventual league champion Winona, 2,000 people attended, "[b]y far the largest crowd of the season...Trolleys from early in the morning brought fans from Hibbing, Ely and other towns." (At 10.) Winona won the game 7-2. Waddell gave up 5 hits, walked 4 and was relieved in the 5th inning with the bases loaded.
On June 8, back at Nicollet Park in Minneapolis, Waddell pitched the 9th, saving a 6-5 victory. Waddell struck out his former Little Millers manager for the last out. The next day against the Millers Waddell substituted in for the center fielder in the second game of a double header. He batted 2-for-2 with a double and a single.
In a Friday, June 13 home game against Duluth Waddell started and "allowed six hits, gave a base on balls and made two errors with only one man out" when he was relieved in the 1st. He then played right field where he made 2 more errors. Duluth scored 9 in the first inning and won 24-3. 500 attended.
On Saturday, June 28, 1913 in Duluth, Waddell started the first game of a doubleheader. He pitched 11.1 innings, losing 2-1 on a walk off with 1 out in the 12th. Waddell gave up 9 hits. He struck out 12 and walked 1. The attendance was a reported 500 for Waddell's first game in Duluth.
For the Fourth of July, on the 8th anniversary of his 20-inning duel with Cy Young, Waddell started at home and pitched a complete game. Virginia lost to St. Paul 4-3. Waddell struck out 7 and gave up 7 hits. He was 2-for-4 at the plate with a double. Waddell walked 1 and made 1 error. The attendance was 2,000, "one of the largest crowds that ever attended a contest here."
Lake Vermillion recovery
The Duluth Herald reported on July 9 that Waddell "who is camping on Lake Vermilion yesterday dived into thirty feet of water in the lake and recovered the body of Emmet Gary, aged 22, who was drowned Monday when he jumped from the steamer Holland for a swim while towing logs and was taken with cramps."
His catcher with Virginia at the time later wrote that Waddell struggled through his final games with the Ore Diggers, "his constitution undermined," constantly coughing, his exerted efforts being hit by "bushers." After a loss and a win Winona returned to Virginia where Waddell pitched his final games. On Saturday, July 19 Waddell relieved in a 19-5 loss. He gave up 6 hits and 1 walk and struck out 1. The next day Waddell started the 2nd game of a doubleheader. He gave up 8 hits and a walk and struck out 2 before being relieved in the 4th in a 9-0 Virginia loss.
Waddell passed out after the game, his last. He was diagnosed with an attack of pleurisy.
Northern League standings on July 21, 2013.
On July 25, 1913 the Virginia Enterprise reported that Waddell was released and was intending to return to Hickman, Kentucky. On August 1, the Enterprise, hearing that Waddell had gone to Minneapolis, looked back on the preceding two months:
Waddell made a good many friends in Virginia. He is an enthusiastic Elk and spent a good deal of his time here at the Elk's club rooms, where he was always a welcome visitor and where his baseball reminiscences were always entertaining to the boys. The big portsider doesn't believe his days of usefulness as a baseball player are over by any means.
People began to report seeing Waddell at Tower on Lake Vermillion. He was staying as a "guest of friends." He made friends with the bears in the local zoo. "Waddell has told his nearest friends that he hopes to come back. He does not believe his days as a baseball player are ended by any means and if he continues to improve as he has since going to the lake and takes the same care of himself that he is taking at present there is no reason why he shouldn't."
Tower, Minnesota - 1913 (Lakesnwoods.com.)
Waddell told friends he was gaining weight in Tower at "Alderman Boylan’s cottage." ("Rube Waddell is Growing Fat and Sassy at Tower")
Waddell was apparently helping his friend in return for lodging. In August Waddell "was laying some sewer pipe to Alderman Boylan’s cottage on St. Mary’s Island." He had hired a man named Homer LeQuire, "woodsman, riverman and teamster," to assist him. Waddell picked up LeQuire at LeQuire’s camp at Wadman’s Point "to take LeQuire back with him to the island in a launch."
LeQuire was staying in a tent with Louis Fernie when Waddell visited them to pick up LeQuire. The next day someone murdered the "homesteader" Fernie by cracking his skull in the tent. The murderer then tried to burn the tent.
LeQuire insisted he was innocent, while also saying "he was in an advanced state of intoxication and remember[ed] nothing." He testified that he was "roused" by the fire.
Waddell was subpoenaed to Virginia as a witness to the grand jury investigation and again in September as a trial witness. On "a fabric of circumstantial evidence" LeQuire was convicted of first degree murder.
Last days in Minnesota
Waddell remained upbeat as his health failed. He was in Minneapolis on Halloween when the Enterprise reported that Waddell might have tuberculosis. Waddell was going to spend the winter on a North Dakota farm to live "the simple life." "He does not think his pitching days are over and he thinks that next year he will be back in the Class B league and going almost as good as ever."
Instead, Waddell went to San Antonio Texas on November 15.
Despite his belief of a week ago that he was only suffering from bronchitis, George E. Waddell, famous all over the world as one of the greatest pitchers who ever wore spiked shoes, leaves Minneapolis tonight to begin a battle with tuberculosis in San Antonio, Texas...He is growing weaker and for the last week has spent most of his time in bed at his home on East Franklin avenue.
Winona Daily News, November 15, 1913
On December 5 the Enterprise brought hopeful news from San Antonio:
Rube is with his parents and is now located in the country in San Antonio and is living in the fresh air and on a diet of milk, eggs and other country fare. His relatives write that by spring they expect him to be as strong as ever and entirely over his indisposition.
The secretary of the Virginia baseball club mailed out contracts, including one to Waddell in San Antonio. "Advices from Rube Waddell," wrote the Enterprise on December 19, 1913, "are that the big man is in a very fair way to come back."
In March 2014 Rube’s family sent him to a local sanitorium. Several former major leaguers who were trying to start a baseball school visited him there to say their good byes. Waddell told them "I’ll be over tomorrow and show you bums how to run. My weight is down to fighting trim now. I’m in shape."
Waddell died at the age of 37 on April Fool’s Day, just before the start of the 1914 season.