Again from the classic storytelling book of 20th century baseball, Lawrence Ritter's The Glory of Their Times: The Story Of The Early Days Of Baseball Told By The Men Who Played It.
More from Hall of Famer "Wahoo Sam" Crawford, this time on the infamous character Rube Waddell. Wikipedia: "Waddell was odd and unpredictable, including a bad habit of leaving the dugout in the middle of games to follow passing fire trucks to fires, and performed as an alligator wrestler in the offseason. He was also easily distracted by opposing team fans who used to hold up puppies and shiny objects which seem to put Waddell in a trance on the mound. He was an alcoholic for much of his adult life, reportedly spending the entirety of his first signing bonus on a drinking binge (Sporting News called him 'the sousepaw')."
You know, there were a lot of characters in baseball back then. Real individualists. Not conformists, like most ballplayers -- and most people -- are today. Rube Waddell, for instance. Boy, there was one of a kind. They never made another like him. I played on the same team with Rube back in 1899, the Grand Rapids club in the old Western League. We were both just starting out, but it wasn't hard to see even then that Rube was going to really be something. He won about 30 games for us that season and hardly lost any.
He used to pour ice water on his pitching arm. Yeah, ice water. We'd kid him, you know, tell him he didn't seem to have much on the ball that day, and ask him why he couldn't get it over the plate.
"Listen," he'd say, "I'll show you guys whether I've got anything or not. Fact is, I've got so much speed today I'll burn up the catcher's glove if I don't let up a bit."
And he'd go over to the water barrel -- we had a barrel filled with ice water in the dugout -- and dip the dipper in and pour ice water all over his left arm and shoulder.
"That's to slow me down a little," he'd say. And then he'd go out there and more likely than not he'd strike out the side.
Rube was just a big kid, you know. He'd pitch one day and we wouldn't see him for three or four days after. He'd just disappear, go fishing or something, be off playing ball with a bunch of twelve-year-olds in an empty lot somewhere. You couldn't control him 'cause he was just a big kid himself. Baseball was just a game to Rube.
We'd have a big game scheduled for a Sunday, with posters all over Grand Rapids that the great Rube Waddell was going to pitch that day. Even then he was a big drawing card. Sunday would come and the little park would be packed way before game time, everybody wanting to see Rube pitch. But half the time there'd be no Rube. Nowhere to be found. The manager would be having a fit. And then just a few minutes before game time there'd be a commotion in the grandstand and you'd hear people laughing and yelling: "Here comes Rube, here comes Rube."
And there he'd come, right through the stands. He'd jump donw on the field, cut across the infield to the clubhouse, taking off his shirt as he went. In about three minutes -- he never wore any undewear -- he'd run back out in uniform and yell, "All right, let's get 'em!"
Tags: The Glory of Their of Their Times, Lawrence Ritter, Sam Crawford, Rube Waddell, Baseball