“FENWAY'S BEST PLAYERS”


 
BOSTON BRAVES
1913-1927
at Fenway Park
1914-1915
#25   DICK RUDOLPH

Though he stood only 5'9.5" and weighed just 160 lbs., Dick Rudolph was a large component of George Stallings' "Big Three" that helped lead the 1914 Boston Braves to their miraculous pennant and World Series sweep. "He was the bellwether of the pitching staff," said Braves coach Fred Mitchell, "and being a little fellow, I believe his success had much to do with big Bill James and George Tyler putting out that little extra effort to keep pace with the cocky kid from the Bronx." Unlike the hard-throwing James and Tyler, Rudolph was a "pitching cutie" who relied on his great curveball and spectacular control. He also threw a spitball, but "about the best you could say for it was that it was wet," recalled his catcher Hank Gowdy.

Ed Barrow signed Rudolph to a 1907 Eastern League contract with Toronto. "Baldy" was a fine minor-league pitcher, posting 13, 18, 23, and 23 wins in 1907-10. Back in New York, his brother, who worked at the old New York Press, kept his name in the local papers by planting stories of the "It's a crime that Rudolph doesn't get called up" type. At the close of the 1910 season the New York Giants gave him a shot, probably at the behest of Toronto manager Joe Kelley, John McGraw's old Baltimore Orioles teammate. "He has terrific speed, good control, is a quick thinker and mixes up his 'assortment' as well as any twirler in the big leagues," Kelley said. "I look for him in a few years to be even or as great as Mathewson."

As it turned out, Matty had no immediate worries. Rudolph mopped up in two Giant wins, and then got the starting assignment of which he had dreamed. It was a nightmare. The Phillies pounded him for 15 hits and the Giants lost, 8-2. The Press was forced to change its tune: "Dick Rudolph, from the wilds of the Bronx, found his path strewn with base hits when he made his first local appearance [in a major-league uniform]." Rudolph was again hit hard in an April 1911 appearance, and that was enough for McGraw. Back in Toronto Dick posted 18- and 25-win seasons, good enough to lead the International League in victories and winning percentage in the latter season. It has been said that Rudolph's size and prematurely thinning hair (making his real age appear suspicious) contributed to McGraw's decision not to bring him up again, despite his great success in Toronto.

Convinced that he had to get back to the majors soon if he was ever to get back at all, the 25-year-old Rudolph returned to his old strategy of self-promotion. He found a sympathetic ear in Fred Mitchell, third-base of the Boston Braves. Rudolph became an immediate success in Boston, posting a 14-13 record and 2.92 ERA in 1913. Mitchell attributed the rookie's solid performance to his brains and cunning. "He was one of the smartest pitchers who ever toed the rubber," said the Braves coach and future manager. "He wasn't fast but had a good curve ball, which he mixed with a spitball, and he could almost read the batter's mind. I've often sat on the bench with him and heard him tell whether a batter would take or hit. He made a real study of the profession." During the miracle season of 1914 Rudolph won a total of 26 games, including 12 consecutive victories. On Labor Day he beat Mathewson, 5-4, in the first game of a morning-afternoon doubleheader to move the Braves into first place, which they locked up for good after a loss in the afternoon game with a win the next day. In the World Series Rudoph beat Chief Bender, 7-1, in Game One, and Bob Shawkey, 3-1, in Game Four.

Over the three-year period 1914-16, Rudolph was one of baseball's best and most durable pitchers, hurling over 300 innings each season. His performance in 1916 may have been even better than 1914; though he won seven fewer games, he lowered his ERA from 2.35 to a career-best 2.16 and led the NL with 8.9 base runners allowed per nine innings. Dick developed arm trouble in 1918, when he pitched just 154 innings. Though he bounced back with one more workhorse season in 1919, he pitched in only 25 games over the next eight years, when he was more of a coach than a pitcher. Rudolph left the Braves after the 1927 season, retiring with a career record of 121-108 and a 2.66 ERA.