Sometimes Negro league history is written in such a way as to cut it off from the larger currents of baseball history, making it seem like black baseball took place in a completely isolated, alternate universe. A great example is the Tokohama affair, which in a Negro league context is almost always discussed only as a case of a great manager, tempted by the talents of a black player, concocting a bizarre scheme to pass him off as an Indian. Chronologically it often comes after Fleet Walker and Cap Anson, surrounded by various instances of John McGraw wishing some black player could be “whitewashed.” It’s generally looked at only in terms of the color line and attempts to cross or eliminate it, with almost no sense of why such a thing might have been conceivable in 1901 as opposed to any other time.
Paul Wendt is the one who (to my knowledge, anyway) first argued that McGraw’s attempt to sign Charlie Grant ought to be looked as part of two epic, interlocked struggles: the war between the National League and the upstart American League (and the consequent scramble for talent), and the gradually escalating war between McGraw and Ban Johnson.
When we were discussing the Rube DeGroff story, John Thorn also pointed out that it made perfect sense for the Waddell/Foster encounter to have happened in 1903, as Waddell was engaged in all sorts of extracurricular activities that season. Dan O’Brien (at the SABR BioProject) calls 1903 “the most tumultuous [year] in the erratic career of Rube Waddell.” He was married in June, and in July he was arrested for climbing into the stands to fight with a heckler. Frequently absent without permission, Waddell spent many of his off days pitching in unauthorized games for semipro or minor league teams like the Murray Hills. Yet somehow he managed to strike out 302 batters in 324 innings for the A’s, going 21-16.
Less than a week after pitching for the Murray Hills in New York against the Cuban X Giants, Rube was back on the mound for the Camden team, shutting out Norristown, New Jersey, on one hit. With two out in the ninth inning, he called in the whole team, leaving only himself and the catcher on the field, and struck out the last man.
Waddell spent the night locked up in Camden City Hall, as his troubles were starting to catch up with him.
Two days later, on August 11, he was in Boston pitching the “bean factory” game.
Having already overdrawn his A’s salary for the year and in trouble for not supporting his wife, there were real reasons for Waddell to find whatever work he could outside the majors, and probably outside Philadelphia, whether it was tending bar or pitching for semipro teams. And finally, on August 25, Connie Mack obliged him, throwing the too-distracted Rube off the team.
His release (or more accurately, suspension) freed him up to pitch wherever he wanted to. And pitch he did, striking out 18 members of the Harrisburg A.C. for Camden the day after Connie Mack cut him off.
Waddell didn’t stick with Camden exclusively; he was scheduled to pitch for the Hudson River League’s Poughkeepsie club against Hoboken on August 30, although it was rained out. Arriving at Hoboken, the first man to meet him was none other than John McGraw, hoping to snap him up for the Giants:
By mid-September Waddell had joined the cast of a traveling melodrama entitled The Stain of Guilt, playing the lead role as the production wended its way through the Midwest. During the tour he occasionally suited up to pitch for local clubs or for a team the actors themselves put together.
Acting was probably not in his future, and by 1904 Rube would find his way back to Philadelphia and the A’s. Whether or not Mrs. Waddell had any better luck with him after that, I don’t know.