Ed Reulbach, one of the absentees in Cooperstown

By Alfredo Alvarez

There are good players, there are good human beings. Ed Reulbach was one of the best pitchers in the history of baseball and one of the most respectable gentlemen who ever put his feet on a baseball diamond.

Reulbach, had an incredible windup on the mound, hiding the ball masterfully and lifting his leg up high something like Juan Marichal. His curveball is considered the best of its time. Edward Marvin Reulbach was born in Detroit on December 1, 1882. Ed, at eighteen, and already playing in the minor leagues with Sedalia of the Missouri Valley League, decided to enroll at the University of Notre Dame in the fall of 1901. Reulbach played football and basketball and was one of the team’s best hitters in a pre-season exhibition series against the Chicago White Sox, but the College declared him ineligible for the 1902 college season, not because it was a professional, but because he was a freshman. Pitching for Sedalia for each of the next two summers, Ed became Notre Dame’s baseball star. Either hitting or pitching, breaking the university’s single-season strikeout record in 1904 and never conceding more than six hits in a game. In June 1905, his teammates named him captain of the team.

Cupid would have a surprise to Ed Reulbach in that same year of 1905. One day while pitching for the Northern League, he met and fell in love with his future wife, Mary Ellen «Nellie» Whelan de Montpelier. To be closer to Nellie, Ed decided to quit his senior year at Notre Dame and enroll in medical school at the University of Vermont. By spring, Ed was the star of the college baseball team. He shined on the mound and playing left field. Newspapers and magazines of the time, called Reulbach, «the greatest of all college pitchers» and on May 12, after winning his fourth start, 1-0, against Syracuse, he received an offer from the Chicago Cubs and the rest is history.

Only four days later and at the legendary Polo Ground Stadium, he would make his Major League debut against the New York Giants, pitching a complete game and allowing just five hits in a 4-0 loss. Nine days later, he would get his first victory, entering as a reliever in the second inning, he dominated the rest of the game, allowing five hits and no runs in a victory of the Cubs against the Philadelphia Phillies by a final scoreboard of 9-4. One of his most unforgettable outings was on August 24, also against the Phillies, when he beat them 2 to 1, in 20 episodes, in a duel against Tully Sparks. He would finish his first season in the big leagues with an 18-14 record, a 1.42 ERA, and only 208 hits allowed in 290.2 innings.

Reulbach remained one of the most dominant pitchers in the National League until 1909. In 1906 he pitched 12 games with less than five hits allowed, not including the game he pitched against the White Sox in Game 2 of that World Series that year allowing only one hit. He would begin a streak of 17 personal victories that would not end until June 29, 1907, when Deacon Phillippe defeated him, 2-1. It was the record after 1900 of consecutive victories until Rube Marquard broke it in 1911-12, and it is still the fourth longest streak in history. Reulbach also set a National League record with 44 innings without allowing consecutive runs at the end of the 1908 season and led the league in winning percentage each season from 1906 to 1908, a feat matched only by Lefty Grove. Also in 1908, on September 26, he would put his name on one of the most difficult records to break in history, when he was the starter in both games part of a doubleheader that his Chicago Cubs team held that day against the Brooklyn Dodgers and in both he came out with the win pitching 2 shootouts. On May 30, 1909, Reulbach had a streak of 14 consecutive victories, becoming the only pitcher in the National League in the twentieth century with two winning streaks in 14 games. In an article published by the magazine: » Baseball » in 1913, Reulbach’s 1909 streak was considered the most impressive in history; in 14 games he only allowed 14 runs scored, giving up three on one occasion, while pitching five shutouts and five one hit victories.

Reulbach and his wife Nellie had a son, whom Ed adored, and for whom Ed missed part of the season to be by his bedside when he was diagnosed with diphtheria. In July of 1913, with a 1 and 3 record and a 4.42 ERA, the Cubs decided to trade him to Brooklyn, for cash and a mediocre pitcher named Eddie Stack. In his first six days with his new team, Reulbach showed he could still pitch by allowing only two hits in 16 innings. In the second half, he posted a 7-6 record and 2.05 ERA, but the strongest signal he had returned to normal was his hit rate for every nine innings: 6.30 (77 hits in 110 innings). The second half of Reulbach earned him the starting job on Opening Day in 1914, when he defeated the eventual World Series Champions that year, the Boston Braves. He remained a member of the Dodgers until the end of the 1914 campaign.

Off the field, Reulbach was the secretary and one of the founding members of the Baseball Players’ Fraternity. One of his ideas was for Major League players to sign a pledge of total alcohol abstinence. His efforts to raise players’ salaries were more popular among his colleagues, but it may have cost him his job with Brooklyn. One day during the 1914 season, owner Charlie Ebbets offered the team captain, Jake Daubert, an increase of $ 500 for next year. An enthusiastic Daubert told Reulbach while the team was on its way to Chicago, but Ed advised Jake not to sign immediately, thinking that the Federal League would offer even more when the train arrived in Chicago. Daubert refused to sign until Ebbets increased its offer to $ 9,000 per year for five years, a huge increase of $ 5,000 per year.

Reulbach himself received a large contract from the federals, possibly as an incentive to induce other partners to sign, but Ed declined. He ended up signing with the feds anyway because Ebbets freed him after learning that he was a ringleader in the movement to raise wages, and (perhaps not coincidentally) no other National League team offered him a contract. With the Newark Peps of the Federal League, Reulbach had an outstanding last season in 1915, with a record of 21-10 and a 2.23 ERA. Reulbach also pitched and won the final game in the history of the Federal League, defeating the Baltimore Terrapins, 6-0, in the second game of a doubleheader on October 3. The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired the rights of the great right-hander in the dispersal draft of the Federal League, but sold it to the Boston Braves just before the start of the 1916 season.  Reulbach pitched for the Braves during the next season and a half before finishing his career in baseball with the Providencia team of the International League in 1917. He finished with 182 games won and 2.28 ERA for life. He pitched 2632.1 innings and strikeout 1137.

One of the most dominant pitchers ever seen. The numbers don’t lie: In 1906 he allowed 5.33 hits for every nine innings thrown, which is still the third lowest ratio of all time. Reulbach also gave up fewer hits than innings pitched in each of his 13 seasons, a feat that never achieved any Hall of Fame pitcher (Christy Mathewson and Cy Young also did 13 times, but they threw 17 and 22 seasons, respectively) .  Despite having incredible statistics, he never received a single vote for the Hall of Fame. In my opinion one of the great absentees in Cooperstown. Maybe one of the reasons was that he did not have good control but there was a reason. Reulbach confessed to Hugh Fullerton a secret that he had kept for two decades: he could not see well from his left eye, which not only interfered with his ability to throw strikes but also suffered from dizziness that made him go crazy. Many times the sweat and heat would affect the good eye and so he would have to guess where he could throw it. However Ed never told this to any of his teammates.

The years after retirement for Reulbach’s were not happy. He spent a fortune trying to save the life of his son, who ended up dying in 1931, and an article in the Chicago Tribune the following year referred to Ed at age 50 as a «sad and lonely man». Considered one of the most intelligent pitchers in baseball during his days as a player. Ed Reulbach died at 78 years of age, on July 17, 1961, in Glens Falls, New York.

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