Rube Waddell is the greatest pitcher in baseball history.
Not necessarily in terms of statistics, though he is a Hall of Famer and still holds the AL record for most single-season strikeouts by a lefty (349) that he set in 1904. No, Rube is the official patron saint of Rumors and Rants because of his unusual personality, which included chasing after fire engines on foot, losing count of how many times he’d been married, missing starts because he was either drunk or playing marbles with kids in the street and a contractual clause prohibiting him from eating crackers in bed.
It’s all true. You can look it up.
Needless to say, there hasn’t been anyone quite like Rube since, much to the relief of every big league manager. Connie Mack once had to use Pinkerton detectives to deliver Rube to Philadelphia to play for the Athletics.
But there finally just may be a Rube Lite in the making — Aroldis Chapman.
The Reds closer did a pair of somersaults after striking out Martin “Don’t Call Me Candy” Maldonado on Tuesday night, almost directly borrowing a page out of Rube’s book. Following a 20-inning complete-game win over Cy Young on July 4, 1905, Waddell cartwheeled off the field.
On-field gymnastics are far from the only thing the two have in common.
Both are lefties who overpower opposing hitters. Three years into his career, Chapman has a WHIP of 1.07 and strikes out an average of 13.9 batters per nine innings. Rube’s career WHIP was 1.10 over the course of 13 seasons, while he struck out an average of 7 batters per nine innings in an era when every hitter was a contact hitter and every pitcher was expected to go the distance. In an era of specialized relief, one could imagine Waddell’s strikeout ratio being the same or better than Chapman’s — or Chapman’s coming down to his level had he pitched in Waddell’s era.
While Chapman still has a long way to catch up to Waddell off the field, he has at least found himself in some Rubesque scenarios this year.
In May, Chapman was arrested after police clocked him doing 93 MPH on a suspended license. If Rube had access to that kind of horsepower, he’d definitely do the same thing.
Things got even Rubier a week later when a stripper claimed to be tied up in Chapman’s Pittsburgh hotel room by unknown assailants who stole $6,000 in jewelry while he was at the ballpark. Police later charged her with falsifying a police report.
If all that wasn’t enough, Chapman is also getting sued for $18 million by a Cuban guy who claims Chapman is to blame for his false imprisonment and torture for human trafficking.
Aroldis Chapman has a long way to go to reach a Rube Waddell level — he has yet to save a town from a flood or spend an offseason wrestling alligators, for starters. But his 2012 season is giving us a glimpse of Rube-like potential on and off the field.
If he can keep it up, cracker-eating clauses may be the limit.