"He had more stuff than any pitcher I ever saw," legendary manager Connie Mack once said about Rube Waddell.
Mack knew that as well as anyone. As Waddell's manager with the minor league Milwaukee Brewers in 1900 and later for six seasons with the Philadelphia A's starting in 1902, Mack helped the young left-hander harness his electric fastball and devastating curveball. Waddell posted the first of four consecutive 20-win seasons that year and led the American League in strikeouts each year from 1902-07. On July 1, 1902, Waddell became the first pitcher in American League history to strike out the side on nine pitches.
In 1903, Waddell struck out 302 batters – 115 more than the AL runner-up. The following year, he fanned 349 to lead the league by 110. No other pitcher would post back-to-back 300-strikeout seasons until Sandy Koufax in 1965-66.
In 1905, Waddell won the AL's pitching Triple Crown, leading the league with 27 wins, 287 strikeouts and a 1.48 ERA. Waddell was instrumental in the early growth of the game, as one of its first honest-to-goodness celebrities.
As dominant as Waddell was on the mound, he might have been just as notorious for his unpredictable behavior off the field. Born Oct. 13, 1876, in Bradford, Pa., Waddell earned the nickname "Rube" because he was a big, fresh kid. He broke into the big leagues with the National League's Louisville Colonels in 1897, and he spent parts of two years with the Pittsburgh Pirates and another with the Chicago Orphans (soon to become the Cubs) and some additional time in the minor leagues before arriving in Philadelphia.
Waddell once performed as an alligator wrestler, and he also played semipro football. Newspapers of the time referred to Waddell as "eccentric."
Waddell also battled alcoholism for much of his adult life. Waddell's drinking led to constant battles with his managers and scuffles with teammates, and after the 1907 season the A's sold his contract to the St. Louis Browns. He posted another strong season in 1908, and Browns owner Robert Hedges hired him as a hunter over the next two winters to try to keep him out of trouble.
But after winning a combined 14 games in 1909 and 1910, Waddell was released and never pitched another major league game. He finished his career with a record of 193-143 and a 2.16 ERA, with 2,316 strikeouts. He died of tuberculosis at the age of 37 on April 1, 1914.
"In my opinion," pitching great Walter Johnson once said, "and I suppose if there is any subject that I am qualified to discuss it is pitching, Rube Waddell had more sheer pitching ability than any man I ever saw."
Waddell was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1946.