Adventures in Baseball Archeology: the Negro Leagues, Latin American baseball, J-ball, the minors, the 19th century, and other hidden, overlooked, or unknown corners of baseball history...with occasional forays into other sports.
Here’s another contemporary mention of the Cuban X Giants’ defeat of Rube Waddell and the semipro Murray Hills at New York’s Olympia Field on August 2, 1903—the game that may have been the source of Rube Foster’s nickname. From the Jersey Journal (August 13, 1903, p. 7):
The relevant sentence is this one:
Typically copy like this, retailing the victories of a traveling team, originated with the traveling team itself, there not being any easy way for reporters (or the manager of the local team) to keep track of black or semipro teams and all their doings. So, eleven days after the August 2 game in New York, it seems quite likely that E. B. Lamar was using the defeat of Waddell to advertise his Cuban X Giants.
In the meantime Scott Simkus has been able to add to the discussion by finding an instance where Rube Waddell was advertised as pitching for the Murray Hills against the Philadelphia Giants, albeit in 1905:
(New York Evening World, June 24, 1905, p. 7)
This is what Scott says:
Phil Dixon [in his book on the 1905 Philadelphia Giants] has the Giants rallying for ten runs in the ninth to defeat Murray Hills 14-13 on June 25. Phil was mystified by why Rube Foster, the Giants pitcher, had trouble getting anybody out. No mention of Rube Waddell, no mention of players in the Murray Hills line-up. The Athletics had a played at home a day or so earlier, were off on Sunday and then went to Washington DC for a series. Could Waddell have been joined by his mates (or some of them, anyway) in New York, to make a couple quick bucks? If the Philly Giants were losing 13-4 going into the 9th, did Waddell tire or get taken out of the game?
For my own part I haven’t uncovered any accounts of this game. But it’s interesting that we now twice have Waddell linked to a game that featured Rube Foster vs. the Murray Hills. Anybody who feels like jumping in with additional information, please do!
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.
(Philadelphia Inquirer, August 9, 1903; thanks to John Thorn for this article)
Waddell spent the night locked up in Camden City Hall, as his troubles were starting to catch up with him.
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.
(Wilkes-Barre Times, August 26, 1903; thanks to John Thorn)
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.
(Harrisburg Patriot, August 27, 1903; again, thanks to John Thorn)
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:
(Cincinnati Post, September 11, 1903, p. 6)
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.
The president of the National League, HarryPulliam, caught one of Rube’s performances:
(Kansas City Star, September 9, 1903, p. 3)
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.
When Charles Dryden of the Philadelphia North American reported on the meeting between Rube Waddell and Andrew Foster in New York City, August 2, 1903, he used half his space to talk about a bizarre incident involving a foul ball off the bat of Waddell that supposedly ignited a box of matches in a spectator’s pocket, setting the poor guy’s suit on fire and causing an uproar.
Ten days later, Dryden wrote about another Waddell start, this one for the A’s against the Boston Americans, in Boston. Here’s the last part of his account, which you may have seen before:
PRODIGAL WADDELL PITCHED AND LOST
As a Side Issue, ‘Rube’ Caused a Bean Factory to Blow Up.
In the seventh inning, Rube Waddell hoisted a long foul over the right field bleachers that landed on the roof of the biggest bean cannery in Boston. In descending, the ball fell on the roof of the engine room and jammed itself between the steam whistle and the stem of the valve that operates it. The pressure set the whistle blowing. It lacked a few minutes of five o’clock, yet the workmen started to leave the building. They thought quitting time had come.
The incessant screeching of the bean-factory whistle led engineers in neighboring factories to think fire had broken out and they turned on their whistles. With a dozen whistles going full blast, a policeman sent in an alarm of fire. Just as the engines arrived, a steam cauldron in the first factory, containing a ton of beans, blew up.
The explosion dislodged Waddell’s foul fly and the whistle stopped blowing, but that was not the end of the trouble.
A shower of scalding beans descended on the bleachers and caused a small panic. One man went insane. When he saw the beans dropping out of a cloud of steam, the unfortunate rooter yelled, ‘The end of the world is coming and we will all be destroyed.’
An ambulance summoned to the supposed fire conveyed the demented man to his home. The ton of beans proved a total loss.”
Although Dryden otherwise reported what actually happened in the Boston/Philadelphia game, it probably won’t come as a great shock to learn that he made up the stuff about the bean factory. If you have any doubt, check out Bill Nowlin’s article, “Consider Your Sources: Baseball and Baked Beans in Boston,” in the Baseball Research Journal (volume 34, 2005, pp. 110-112; unfortunately not online yet).
I should check the Philadelphia North American itself for other, similar stories. Maybe Dryden made a running joke that year out of Rube’s foul balls causing slapstick mayhem.
Incidentally, I don’t think Dryden’s foul-ball fabulations call into question the veracity of the Murray Hills/Cuban X Giants game, or the truth of Foster facing Waddell that day; that the game happened is firmly established by other sources than Dryden, and his usual operating procedure was to add funny stories into otherwise factual accounts of real games. Given that he had no problem making up stuff about regular, high-profile American League games that were lavishly reported on in other papers, there’s no particular reason for him to have inserted Waddell into an obscure semi-pro contest in New York unless the Rube was actually there.
NOTE: The image of Dryden above is taken from the BJR article by Bill Nowlin.
A few months ago I finally found the long-sought game (suspected by some, including me, to be mythical) in which Andrew Foster pitched against, and defeated, Rube Waddell, thus earning the right to be called “Rube” himself. This contest, with Foster hurling for the Cuban X-Giants and Waddell (under the pseudonym “Wilson”) for Nat Strong’s New York City semipro club, the Murray Hills, took place on August 2, 1903, at New York’s Olympia Field.
The other day John Thorn tipped me off about a sequel to this story (which he wrote about here). Six weeks after the Murray Hills game, the X-Giants were barnstorming in upstate New York. On September 21 (as John describes) they met the Kingston Colonials of the Hudson River League and edged them 3 to 2. Foster was on the mound for the X-Giants. His opponent, the Kingston pitcher, was one Art DeGroff, who went on to a long career as a minor league outfielder and made some appearances in the big leagues with the Cardinals in 1905 and 1906. “It may be coincidence,” John says, “but by the time [DeGroff] reached Rochester for the 1904 campaign, and forevermore thereafter, he too was known as ‘Rube’.”
So (perhaps) Foster beat Waddell to take the name Rube, then DeGroff came close to beating Foster to gain the nickname himself. Whatever the case with DeGroff, Waddell was the indisputable godfather of Rubes. Richard Marquard, the third in the trinity of baseball’s most successful Rubes, also supposedly got his nickname because he reminded a minor league sportswriter of Waddell.
“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:
(New York Evening World, July 28, 1903, p. 8)
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.
(New York Sun, August 3, 1903, p. 6)
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.