“It was during this period [the early 1900s] that the nickname ‘Rube’ was attached to the young pitcher. Legend has it that his teammates began calling him Rube after he defeated George E. (Rube) Waddell and the Philadelphia Athletics, 5-2, in a game in New York.”
--Robert Peterson, Only the Ball Was White (1970), p. 107.
“By his own recollection, that’s the year [1902) he met and whipped the great Rube Waddell, who was 25-7 with the pennant-winning Athletics. Other reports say the Waddell game was in 1903 or 1905. No box score has yet been found. However, since there was no Sunday baseball in those years, the Athletics were in the habit of playing exhibitions outside the city every Sunday, and it is not unlikely that they played Rube’s club on one or more of those occasions.”
--John Holway, Blackball Stars (1988), p. 11.
“As a raw-talent rookie pitcher soon after the turn of the century, the big Texan was credited with 51 victories in 1902, including a win over the great Rube Waddell, the game in which Foster received his nickname.”
--James Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues (1994), p. 290.
“One postseason contest against the Athletics saw Foster go head-to-head against Connie Mack’s star southpaw, Rube Waddell. Foster won 5-2, and as a consequence, he later recalled, ‘they gave me the name of the colored Rube Waddell’. News accounts, starting in 1905, first began referring to the Philadelphia Giants’ ace as Rube Foster.”
--Robert Cottrell, The Best Pitcher in Baseball: The Life of Rube Foster, Negro League Giant (2001), p. 19.
Andrew Foster, it is said, acquired his nickname on the field of battle, defeating Rube Waddell and taking it from him in what sounds like some kind of ancient warrior ritual. As far as I can tell, nobody has identified the actual exhibition game against the Philadelphia Athletics, and accounts vary considerably about the year in which the legendary contest occurred, anywhere from 1902 to 1905.
I haven’t been able to find the game against the A’s either, though I wouldn’t rule it out (see Holway’s comment above). The earliest example I’ve found of Foster himself telling the story of his nickname appears in an article by Frederick North Shorey in the September 14, 1907, issue of the Indianapolis Freeman. Shorey quotes Foster saying, in part:
The order of the sentences kind of implies it took place in 1905, though I’d say it’s still more than a little ambiguous. Phil Dixon doesn’t record any exhibition games between Waddell’s A’s and Foster’s Philadelphia Giants in his thorough account of the Giants’ 1905 season, though there are lots of blank spaces in October, and again, I wouldn’t rule it out.
But Foster was called “Rube” before 1905. The earliest example I’ve found so far is from the July 26, 1904, issue of the Trenton Evening Times, in a story about a game between the Philadelphia Giants and the Trenton YMCA:
So perhaps it took place earlier in 1904, or possibly in 1902 or 1903. In 1902, Foster played for the Chicago Union Giants and a white semipro team in Otsego, Michigan; so far, I haven’t found any indication that either of these teams ever faced Rube Waddell, though my search has hardly been exhaustive. In 1903 Foster joined the Cuban X Giants on the east coast. I haven’t found them playing the Philadelphia A’s yet, but there is this, from July 28, 1903:
The Murray Hills were a fairly prominent Manhattan semipro team managed at the time by Nat Strong. And the following Sunday (August 2) they did indeed meet the Cuban X Giants at Olympia Field (see below), with Foster on the mound for the Giants, vs. “Wilson” for the Murray Hills.
It happens that Charles Dryden of the Philadelphia North American, one of the most famous baseball writers in the country, wrote up an account of this game. I haven’t seen the original, but a passage from it was quoted a couple of days later in the Pittsburg Press:
(Pittsburg Press, August 5, 1903, p. 10)
The Philadelphia Athletics were in town to play the Highlanders, but at that time Sunday baseball was illegal in New York, so Waddell spent the enforced day off pitching as “Wilson” for the semipro Murray Hills in an illicit game (although results were still reported in some newspapers) against Andrew Foster of the Cuban X Giants. Waddell struck out 12 but was dinged for 11 or 12 hits, while Foster scattered 7 hits and won, 6 to 3. At one point Foster hit Waddell in the head, to the apparent entertainment of the crowd. Later a foul tip from Waddell supposedly hit a fan and ignited a box of matches in his pocket, setting his clothes on fire.
On the top of that, this game appears to be the only documented instance of Foster pitching against Waddell. Even though it was against the Murray Hills and not the Athletics, and the score was 6 to 3 and not 5 to 2, it seems to me quite possible that this was the game that led to Foster being forever after known as Rube.
Some closing notes:
• I still think it’s not unlikely that Foster was really called Rube because he was a new arrival in the North from rural Texas, and that the story that it came from his victory over Waddell is a case of retconning.
• You’d think that Nat Strong and the Murray Hills would have wanted it known widely that Waddell was pitching for them that Sunday. This would be complicated by the blue laws, obviously, and by the fact that Connie Mack would probably have frowned on his star pitcher throwing nine innings on his off day. So I’m wondering what kind of guerrilla marketing techniques Nat Strong used to evade detection by the authorities but still pull in a good crowd.
• The address given for Olympia Field (135th St. and Lenox Avenue) was only a long block away from the address later commonly given for Olympic Field (136th St. and Fifth Avenue), eventually the home of the New York Lincoln Giants. I don’t know if they were really the same ballpark, or related in some way.