My long ago post on favorite baseball nicknames concluded:
With further apologies to Turkey Mike, Dr Strangeglove, Gavvy, Dazzy, Noodles, Chili, Cookie, Big Six, Gettysburg Eddie, The Duke of Traless, all the Rubes - Marquard, Bressler, Waddell, Benton, Schauer, Foster, Parnham, Walker, Oldring - Tomato Face, Bubbles, Piano Legs, Wahoo Sam, Tom Terrific, Arky, Schoolboy, Sliding Billy, The Commerce Comet, and The Freshest Man on Earth.Now it's time to get serious about ALL the Rubes.
Rube is no longer heard as an American nickname and its heyday and decline can be traced through baseball.
Merriam-Webster defines rube as an awkward unsophisticated person or a naive or inexperienced person and its synonyms include bumpkin, churl, clodhopper, cornball, hayseed, hick, hillbilly, rustic and yokel. The peak years for the nickname were during the period of America's rapid urbanization in the early 20th century, decades when many baseball nicknames, apart from the star players, often contained a mocking or mean tone. Rube was a name often given by teammates to mock rural or naive youngsters.
Twenty nine major leaguers and two Negro League players bore the moniker as their primary name (research done via baseball-reference.com, though it also lists another seven with different first names but with Rube as a nickname; for more on them see end of post) The first, and probably most famous, was Rube Waddell, who debuted in 1897. The last to reach the majors was Rube Novotney in 1949 and the last to be active was Rube Walker who retired in 1958. Of the 31 Rubes, twenty six made their debuts between 1902 and 1924. Three are enshrined in the Hall of Fame, Waddell, Rube Foster, and Rube Marquard (who many, including Bill James, consider the worst starting pitcher to achieve this recognition).
A surprising 22 of 31 were pitchers. That says something, but I'm not sure what.
Rubedom peaked in 1910 when eleven players wore the name, followed by 1914 and 1924 with seven each.
The Rubes hail from 14 states with Pennsylvania (8) being the Kingdom of Rubes followed by Ohio, Illinois, and North Dakota with three each, along with two born in foreign lands (Canada and Russia). Baseball was still predominantly a northern and midwestern game so the lack of Rubes from the deep south (Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida) and the Rocky Mountain and Far West states (only Rube Ellis, a leftfielder with the Cardinals from 1909 through 1912 hailed from this area) is not surprising.
Here are the Rubes in chronological order with their active major or negro league player career dates.
Waddell (1897-1910) - The most famous and a Hall of Famer. Held the season strikeout record for many years. Known for his erratic behavior and may have been mentally impaired. Died in 1914.
Vickers (1902-3, 1907-9)
Foster (1902-17). Known as the father of black baseball. Perhaps the best pitcher in the Negro Leagues during the first decade of the 20th century. Organized the Negro National League and was a manager and executive. In the Hall of Fame.
Vinson (1904, 1906)
Oldring (1905-18) A Rube born in New York City! Starting outfielder on the great Philadelphia Athletics teams of 1910-14.
Kroh (1906-12) Played a pivotal role in the Merkle Boner game in September 1908. With the Giants apparently winning a crucial contest against the Cubs (for more on that astonishing pennant race read Finishing The Season Strong: The 1908 Pennant Races) it was Kroh who forcibly grabbed the ball from a Giants fan and passed it on to Johnny Evers who tagged second (the base Merkle failed to touch) leading the umpires to call the game a tie, necessitating a replay which the Cubs won.
Dessau (1907, 1910)
Marquard (1908-25) Won 201 games including 19 in a row. In the Hall of Fame.
Benton (1910-21, 1923-25). Won 150 games in the big leagues for the Reds and Giants and another 126 in the minors, pitching until he was 43 years old.
Peters (1912, 1914)
Schauer (1913-17) Born Dimitri Ivanovich Dimitrihoff in Russia, Rube Schauer was the most famous minor leaguer and subject of an intense bidding war in 1913, a war won by John McGraw of the Giants by paying a record amount of money for a Class C player. Unfortunately, Schauer was a bust compiling a 10-29 record during his brief major league career.
Foster (1913-17) The "other" Rube Foster had a brief, but successful stint with the Boston Red Sox, assembling a 58-33 record and winning two games in the 1915 World Series before succumbing to arm trouble.
Bressler (1914-32) An intriguing career. Bressler started as a pitcher with the Athletics, winning 26 games but hurting his arm. With the Reds in 1921 he converted to an outfielder and ended up with a .301 career average including consecutive seasons of .347, .348, and .357.
Parnham (1916-17) Rube Parnham went only 2-2 for Connie Mack's pathetic teams of 1916 and 1917 but went on to great success with Jack Dunn's famous Baltimore Orioles team in the International League, winning 28 games in 1919 and 33 in 1923 (pitching alongside future star Lefty Grove). Known as a "character" it was also said he was the "dumbest man off the field – and the smartest on" demonstrating why he was known as Rube.
Currie (1920-32) Negro Leagues pitcher for several team, including the Kansas City Monarchs. Played in all 4 Negro League World Series and later became a manager.
Yarrison (1922, 1924)
Walberg (1923-37) Babe Ruth's favorite pitcher. The Bambino swatted 17 homers off Rube. Won 155 games and was a regular starter on the great Athletics teams of 1927-32.
Ehrhardt (1924-29) Whiffed only 128 batters in 587 innings.
Melton (1941-44, 1946-7) Twenty game loser for the 1942 Philadelphia Phillies, a genuinely awful team, while also leading the league in walks and wild pitches.
Fischer (1941, 1943-46)
Walker (1948-58) Catcher and pinch hitter for the Cubs and Dodgers. Not good in either capacity with career WAR of -0.9. Had a twenty five year career after retiring as a player, primarily as coach with Mets (he was pitching coach for the 1969 and 1973 pennant winners) and Braves.
Novotney (1949) The last of the breed, appearing in 22 games as catcher for the Chicago Cubs.
The secondary Rubes, all seven of whom were pitchers:
Ed Taylor (1903)
Ed Kinsella (1905, 1910) - From Illinois, not Iowa.
Harry Suter (1909)
Hank Robinson (1911-18) - Won only 26 in his major league career but added 227 in the low minors, pitching until 1929.
Dan Marion (1914-15)
Dan Adams (1914-15)
Ed Albosta (1941-46)