Oldring in the Outfield

Rube Oldring

Rube Oldring

As mentioned earlier, the heart and soul of the 1910-14 Athletics was the infield, with a major nod to the pitching staff. The outfield, however, produced some quality play also. Amos Strunk was considered a superior fielder, Danny Murphy could play most anywhere, Briscoe Lord is almost totally overlooked today (but does have the best name of the lot. The best hitter was easily Rube Oldring.

Oldring was born in 1884 in New York. As with many of the players of the era, his dad was an immigrant (this time from Britain). Reuben grew up a baseball fan and a pretty good sandlot player. He played semipro ball in the New York-New Jersey area until he was noticed by the Montgomery, Alabama  minor league team. They picked him up, let him play third, short, and the outfield, and sold him to Connie Mack in 1905.  He got to Philadelphia in late September 1905 and was thus ineligible for the World Series (which Philly lost in five games). Mack sent him back to New York to play in the semipro leagues while waiting for the 1906 spring training. He played well in an exhibition game against the Highlanders (now the Yankees) and was signed for the remaining games of the 1905 season. He got into eight games, hit .300 with a home run and a triple, and was offered a contract with New York. Because of the existing contract with the A’s he couldn’t play in his home town. I have no idea how this double contract system worked. My guess is that the Yanks  and A’s didn’t play each other and Mack simply blew off the problem.

He made the 1906 Athletics as a third baseman. He could catch and throw. In fact he threw so hard that he frequently overthrew first base. In 156 chances he had 16 errors. They moved him to second and short. Same story. In 1907 they solved the problem by shifting him to center field. He remained there (with a shift to left as he aged) for most of his career (after 1906 he played 18 games in the infield). He was a solid outfielder with a strong, and still wild arm. He was quick and did reasonably well (again, for the era) in the field.

In 1915, Mack began dismantling his team. Olring remained with the A’s, hit six home runs (a career high), and retired at the end of the season. Desperate for players, Mack asked him back for 1916. He agreed. The 1916 team was an all-time clunker. Oldring played 40 games, was released and retired to his farm in New Jersey. The Yankees, also desperate for players, got him to play 43 games mediocre games for them. Then he retired again. He stayed away in 1917, but came back for one final partial season in 1918. With World War I going on, the Athletics were in need of players. Oldring got into 49 games, did some ball playing in the shipyards to entertain the ship builders, and finally hung up his uniform for good at the end of the season.

In retirement, Oldring played a little and managed a lot in the Minors. Between 1919 and 1926 he moved from team to team collecting two pennants as manager. He sold his farm in 1939 for a goodly sum and took a job with a canning company evaluating vegetables in the New Jersey area. It was a natural for an ex-farmer. He died in 1961 in New Jersey. He was 77.

He was a better hitter. After a good year in 1907, he had down years in 1908 and 1909, then at 26 found his stroke. He hit .300 for 1910, had four home runs, 57 RBIs, and scored 79 runs for the pennant winning Athletics. There was a couple of days off between the end of the regular season and the World Series, so Mack arranged an exhibition. Oldring sprained his knee chasing a fly and missed the Series (which the Athletics won).

The next four years, the heart of the A’s championship run, Oldring played center and hit between .277 and .301 each year, averaged three homers, had his career high in stolen bases with 40 (his only time at 30 or more), and managed to miss a lot of games. In 1912 he was  suspended for missing curfew (a woman was involved–and see below). In 1913 he got hurt, again in an exhibition game (Hey, Mack, will you sit Oldring out of these exhibition games? That’s twice he’s gotten hurt.). In 1914 he was injured again (this time in real games). The A’s won the World Series in 1911 and 1913. Oldring had a big homer in 1911 but was overshadowed by Frank Baker’s heroics. As a whole, Oldring didn’t do much in the World Series, managing to hit all of a buck-94 with the one home run and all of three RBIs (all on the home run). He did manage to score seven runs in the 15 games he played.

All of which brings me to Rube Oldring, lady’s man. In late 1914, Oldring announced he was getting married. This was immediately contested by a woman claiming to be his common-law wife. Oldring insisted she wasn’t, she insisted she was. The problem was the 1910 US Census showed the two living together as man and wife (and you wonder why census takers have a rough time). Ultimately the problem was solved out of court (and with a substantial loss of Oldring’s revenue from the World Series winner’s share) and he married the woman he loved (they stayed married 47 years).

Over a career lasting 1239 games Oldring had 1268 hits, 205 doubles, 76 triples, and 27 home runs for 1706 total bases. He scored 616 runs and drove in 471. His triple slash line in .270/.307/.364/.671 with an OPS+ of 64. His OPS+ peaked at 142 in 1910 (it was 145 in 1905, but only for eight games). He struck out about twice as often as he walked and managed 197 stolen bases.

Rube Oldring is one of those kinds of players that good teams must have in order to win. He was not a star but a solid, competent player that did a lot of things to help his team win. His injuries limit his usefulness some seasons, but when he’s healthy he’s good. His curfew problems and his woman trouble remind us that he, like a lot of ball players, really are just regular guys trying to make it in the world. That probably describes most of us.

Oldring's final home

Oldring’s final home

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3 Responses to “Oldring in the Outfield”

  1. Glen Russell Slater Says:

    Hey, nice article! I enjoyed that one particularly.

    Do you know who this guy Oldring reminds me of from reading your piece? A real life Jack Keefe, who was the star of the brilliant and hilarious (although bittersweet) fictional book, “You Know Me Al” written by the great sportswriter, satirist, and short-story writer, Ring Lardner at about the time that Oldring was playing. ( Oldring just sounds like a real character, kind of like the Keefe! Even though Keefe was a pitcher! Even his picture reminds me of the cover of the edition that I had as a kid, which was drawn by the great sports cartoonist, Willard Mullin.

    Some of those players from the early 1900s were real characters, all right. By the way, you’ve GOT to read “You Know Me Al” to know what I’m talking about.

    And Oldring sure seems like he was a character.

    I enjoyed what you wrote about Oldring a lot, V.

    Glen

  2. Glen Russell Slater Says:

    I meant he reminds me of Keefe, not “the Keefe”.

    Glen
    King of typographical errors

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