Rube Waddell Was One Baseball's Greatest Pitchers And Wildest People

Imagine going to a Major League Baseball game with family and friends. You watch eagerly from the stands as the home team takes on a rival team. You grab snacks from the concession stand and settle in donning your favorite fitted cap. The game is a close one. The bases are loaded. The score is tied. The batter stands firmly planted at the plate waiting for a windup pitch that never comes.

In the distance, a fire engine blares, and the pitcher looks over his shoulder, visibly distracted. In the blink of an eye, he darts off the field and out into the city. Fans watch bewildered as the beloved pitcher abandons the game and proceeds to spend the rest of his day chasing said firetruck. In modern times, this scenario seems unfathomable. But back in the early 1900s, it was rather common, an occurrence that often took place whenever Rube Waddell took to the field (via Weird History).

According to Bleacher Report, the oddball Hall of Famer who pitched under the nickname Rube Waddell was once a leader in the American League. It may have been his fastball that brought him from the sandlots to the big leagues, but it was his antics that kept the fans coming back for more.

Rube Waddell was one of the first players to captivate crowds with his wild antics

If you're an avid MLB watcher, you might have noticed that some of the most favored players in baseball are as entertaining as they are talented. Perhaps you saw Mariners' catcher Tom Murphy cartwheel through the dugout back in 2019 (via or witnessed the gymnastic prowess of backflipping shortstop Ozzie Smith.

According to Weird History, pitcher Rube Waddell was the player who started this trend. He was known for celebrating strikeouts with unexpected stunts and would often cartwheel or summersault his way to the dugout on a whim whenever the feeling struck him. His wild ways garnered mass appeal, simultaneously fueling and hindering his career. When he wasn't busy winning the AL's pitching Triple Crown (per Baseball Hall of Fame) or leading his team to victory with consecutive strikeouts, he was known for wrestling alligators, wandering around in lion's dens, saving drowning damsels from certain death, and accidentally shooting his friends (per Factinate). You read that last part correctly.

While many historians attribute his off-hinged actions to binge drinking and alcohol abuse disorder, there are those who believe the legendary Hall-of-Famer might have experienced other undiagnosed mental illnesses. His behaviors certainly denote that possibility.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Undeniably talented in more ways than one

Britannica reports that the player who rose to fame as Rube Waddell (pictured standing fifth from left) was born George Edward Waddell in the rural Pennsylvania town of Bradford. According to Weird History, he is rumored to have developed his phenomenal pitching arm by chucking stones at animals, but the truth remains unclear. Over the course of his short career, he struck out 2,316 batters, earning himself a 1946 induction into the Hall of Fame and a coveted spot on the list of top 100 pitchers of all time (via Baseball Egg).

Weird History goes on to explain that Rube Waddell was well aware of his level of skill, often asking his fellow baseball players to clear the field so he could stand alone on the mound and pitch no-hitters. At 6 feet, 1 inch tall and 196 pounds, he pitched with his left hand but batted with his right, creating an atmosphere where fans and players alike never quite knew what to expect (per Britannica).

That arm landed him several spots in the big leagues. He played for the Louisville Colonels in 1897, as well as the Chicago Orphans and the Pittsburgh Pirates, to name a few. But according to the Baseball Hall of Fame, these accolades were only the beginning — Waddell also had a great reputation as a semipro footballer and a vaudeville actor (via The Atlantic). His broad range of talent spanned from pitching no-hitters to tackling alligators and just about everything in between.

Waddell died in 1914

Even a man of such talent and stature had his share of struggles outside the stands. While he was known for being unpredictable, one thing fans could always count on was the element of distraction that Rube Waddell naturally brought onto the field. According to Factinate, rival teams sometimes took advantage of Waddell's notoriously short attention span. As a strategy, they would intentionally try to draw him into the stands using shiny objects or lovable animals. Wailing firetrucks aside, he seemed to find puppies irresistible. It is said that if he spotted puppies in the stands, he would immediately leave the field to pet them. He was also known to abandon games in the middle to go fishing or to strike up a different game of marbles (via This Day in Baseball).

Given his track record for success, MLB managers were willing to overlook or even embrace his off-kilter antics and alcoholism. Rube Waddell died in 1914, at the tender age of 37, from tuberculosis. His larger-than-life legacy still endures.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).