Perhaps no player of the first decade of the 20th century mixed talent with tragedy more than George Edward “Rube” Waddell. Born in rural Pennsylvania in the nation’s centennial year of 1876 he made his debut with the Louisville Colonels in 1897, but it was not until he joined the Philadelphia Athletics in 1902 that he became a national sensation.
A remarkable talent was tarnished by his alcohol abuse and erratic behavior – including becoming distracted in the middle of a game and walking off the field. After leading the league in strikeouts six consecutive seasons beginning in 1902, he was dropped by the Athletics, signed by the perennially bad Browns, and was out of baseball by 1910. Plagued by pneumonia and tuberculosis he was dead in 1914 at only 37. He would be selected for the baseball Hall of Fame in 1946.
There are countless anecdotes about Waddell’s colorful playing career. His roommate had a clause in his contract that prevented him from eating in bed. He would wrestle alligators during spring training. He would chase fire engines and become easily distracted even during the most serious of games. These stories combined with his unmistakable talent and unspeakably tragic life have made him popular with collectors more than a century after his death. Here is a look at the Hall of Fame pitcher’s five best baseball cards.
In a decade where few baseball cards were produced, collectors must rely on cabinet cards redeemed from Sporting Life. The massive set was produced over ten seasons and collectors were allowed to select which players they wanted, which resulted in making stars more available with lesser players unique or not claimed at all. Rube Waddell was one of the game’s greatest stars of the decade, winning the pitching triple crown in 1905 by leading the league in wins, strikeouts, and ERA. He led the league in strikeouts each season from 1902 through 1907.
During the production of the set Waddell was pictured with both Philadelphia and St. Louis and in both a suit (called ‘street clothes’) and his uniform.
Rube Waddell played for five different teams over his thirteen year career, but it was with Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics team that he enjoyed his best seasons.
Unfortunately for collectors, those seasons were between 1902 and 1907 when few trading cards were manufactured. Therefore, collectors must pony up for the rare – and costly – 1903 E107 Breisch-Williams card.
The card features a black and white photo of a young Waddell and can be found in either a Type 1 or Type 2 configuration; the Type 2 features a thicker card stock. There are three backs found – blank, 150 (pictured), and a purple overprint of Breisch-Williams over the 150 back. PSA and SGC have both graded seven. A PSA 4(MK) sold for $7,110 in 2013 while an SGC 1.5 sold for $5,558 in 2012.
“The Monster” as it is aptly named included two Rube Waddell cards – a portrait and a throwing version. Although only 32 in 1909, he was past his prime due to alcohol abuse and now with the St. Louis Browns – one of the worst teams in the American League. By the time T206 production wound down in 1911, Rube was out of the major leagues.
For collectors looking to add a Waddell card the T206 in common back variations such as Piedmont and Sweet Caporal is plentiful and affordable in collector grade. There are a number of both the portrait and throwing versions of Waddell’s T206 frequently listed on eBay with lower grade examples available for under $200.
This 30-card E set from 1910 features several of the game’s great stars including the fading Rube Waddell. Although listed with the St. Louis Browns, he is pictured in a Philadelphia A’s uniform from earlier in his career. Waddell was sold to the Browns for only $5000.
While he set the league for a strikeouts in a game in 1908, his continued drinking and trouble with his wife caused his performance to quickly fade.
The solid green background offers a sharp contrast to the image of Waddell, ball in hand, staring intensely and preparing to throw. Examples of the E93 Waddell are easy to pick up as both PSA and SGC have each graded more than 60. You can own one for a few hundred dollars or more depending on grade.
Measuring 5-3/4 by 8 inches, the large, color lithographs found in the 1911 T3 Turkey Red set are considered some of the most attractive cards ever produced. The set featured a strong checklist with 25 Hall of Famers including Rube Waddell.
Once again featured with the lowly St. Louis Browns, the pitcher is shown in delivery from the mound with a brilliant golden sky in the background. Sportswriters of the era dubbed him the ‘sousepaw’ – a play on words given his alcohol abuse and left-handed delivery.
Turkey Reds are not rare and Waddell is one of a number of Hall of Famers and stars you can buy with prices for his card usually starting at around $500.