“When I was a kid, George M. Cohan used to sing a song that I’ve never forgotten. It ended with: “Life’s a pretty funny proposition...after all.”
Rube Bressler, as told to Lawrence Ritter; The Glory Of Their Times
While the 1914 season was an outstanding debut for Bressler, Philadelphia’s joy at finding “another Eddie Plank” would be short-lived.
No less than the famed Eddie Collins, late of Philadelphia by 1915, proclaimed that “Bressler will be the best southpaw in the American League, next season.” He went on to say that “He has everything that goes to make a great pitcher, and I really believe that he will be as good as Rube Waddell.”
High praise, indeed, and with his 1914 stats behind him, it seemed like a safe bet. Keep in mind that Bressler was all of nineteen years old in 1914; why this is important is explained by the man himself.
From The Glory Of Their Times:
“Well, you know what happened. It wasn’t just my arm went bad. After losing the 1914 World Series, Connie broke up the whole team. Eddie Collins was sold to the White Sox for $50,000, Jack Barry and Herb Pennock were sold to the Red Sox, Home Run Baker and Bob Shawkey to the Yankees, Jack Coombs to the Dodgers, and so on. Bender and Plank jumped over to the Federal League. The whole team was scattered to the four winds, and the A’s ended last seven years in a row after that.”
There was more to it than that.
Bressler had, by his estimate, pitched in nearly 600 innings before he turned 21 years old, a large amount over such a period of time, by any standard. Combine this with Bressler’s newfound taste for the nightlife and the loss of mentors Plank and Bender, and it was a recipe for disaster.
Connie Mack, somewhat surprisingly, didn’t take a hard-line approach to his players’ off-field, nighttime dalliances. He felt the players could work under the “honor system” and comport themselves properly without the institution of a curfew.
The 1915 season began for Bressler with a 6-6 tie with the Red Sox, as the game was called to avoid a rainstorm. Bressler went five innings, gave up six runs on five hits (only three earned), walked four, and struck out one. It was a less-than-auspicious beginning for the new year, and the beginning of the end for Bressler as a pitcher.
He would end his year in the majors with a 4-17 record, a 5.20 ERA, and an abysmal 118 walks in 178 1/3 innings. He was nothing special at bat, either, finishing with a .145 average in 55 at-bats. Bressler was noted for having put on weight during the season, perhaps a side effect of his love of the high life. In what it seemed would be his swan song as a major-league pitcher, Bressler one-hit the Tigers on August 16th at Philadelphia, allowing no runs, though he walked five in the process.
As the 1916 season rolled around, Mack decided that he had had his fill of the once-promising lefty, and in May he sent him to the Newark Indians of the Double-A International League. Bressler did show up in better shape for the new year, but the old problems persisted, and Bressler’s left arm was shot. He would attribute it to his having pitched a great deal in the second half of the 1914 season, as well as the aforementioned hundreds of innings he had tallied before his 21st birthday.
Mack had actually tried to convert Rube to an outfielder, something for which he had previously shown promise, but Bressler steadfastly refused. It may have been the fact that he was still pitching very well in training camp that convinced him to stick with pitching, but each time he played in a regulation game it all fell apart for him.
It took all of two games in Newark, one in which he walked twelve batters, for the team to send him back to Mack and the A’s.
Mack would then ship him off to the New Haven Murlins, who managed to talk Bressler into working in the outfield as well as on the mound. He was unimpressive at both, finishing 7-9 in 158 innings while batting only .232 for New Haven. That would be enough for Mack, and he released Bressler in January 1917.
Whether it was rest or off-season work, or even divine providence, Bressler was in top-flight form both as a pitcher and hitter the next year. He signed with the Atlanta Crackers of the Class-A Southern Association for the 1917 season, going 25-15 with a 2.62 ERA while batting .277 in 137 at-bats. He was even occasionally used as a pinch-hitter and the Crackers won the pennant.
Bressler hit an absolute bomb on July 24th at Atlanta’s Ponce De Leon Park said to be the longest ever hit at that location, and held visiting Little Rock hit-less until the seventh inning. Three days later, he would triple and score a run in shutting out the Travelers again. That game lasted all of an hour and ten minutes.
Bressler then entered in relief on July 28th and shut down the Memphis Chicks in a game that was called due to a time limit. In the final home game for the Crackers, Bressler pitched twelve-plus innings while giving up four runs on nine hits, all after he took a hard liner off his pitching hand in the first inning. He also went 2-5 with two doubles in what was eventually a 7-4 loss for Atlanta. He followed that up with a four-hit shutout of the Birmingham Barons at Rickwood Field.
On August 29th, Bressler beat Birmingham 8-3, going 3-4 with two homers in the process On the final game of the season, Bressler pitched a beauty, giving up only one run to the Barons in the seventh inning, but took the loss as the Crackers’ bats were silenced.
All this was enough for Cincinnati Reds manager Christy Mathewson to draft Bressler in September 1917. The prevailing thought was that Bressler would resume mound duties in the big leagues. He pitched his first game for Cincy on Sept 25th, giving up 8 runs (only three earned) in 3 innings in a 13-0 loss to the Boston Braves, then going 6 innings on the 30th against the Giants, allowing three runs on seven hits and picking up the win. At this point, it was hard to say which Bressler would show up in 1918.
Bressler would end the 1918 season with an 8-5 record and a 2.46 ERA, showing the promise that once prompted high praise from the Athletics. He also batted .274 in 62 at-bats, with five doubles and six RBI. Not world-shattering numbers, but very good for a pitcher. But would he continue forward as a pitcher in the big leagues? Or would his hitting prowess lead to a position change? As it happened, the decision would be made for Bressler.