- SS, 2B, 3B
- November 11, 1891
- 5' 5"
- 155 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 9-10-1912 with BSN
- Hall of Fame:
He was known as one of "baseball's most famous clowns" due to his practical jokes and lack of inhibitions.
If Walter Maranville wasn’t one of the kind, the other must have been left on a deserted island at a young age. Well established as the game’s top defensive shortstop when the Pirates acquired him for three players who had outhit him the previous year and $15,000, Maranville was also one of baseball’s most notable characters. He is one of very few men enshrined in Cooperstown due to his achievements with the glove and the only Hall of Famer who was banished in the middle of his career to the minor leagues, a situation due to his unruliness and alcoholism.
Maranville was nicknamed Rabbit by a seven year old child acquaintace who said he “hopped around likeone” while playing for New Bedford in the New England League in 1912. The name also fit him well on the field as he was uncommonly quick and very agile. After joining the Boston Braves later that season, Maranville quickly became their everyday shortstop and helped lead the Braves to their miracle World Championship in 1914. He played “small ball” in large fashion, fielding well, hitting and stealing in key situations and mastering bunt plays. He certainly had a sense of the theatric and entertained crowds with his vest pocket catches and performed in vaudeville acts in the offseason.
The Braves, however, slowly sank in the standings and when Dreyfuss offered Boston outfielders Billy Southworth and Dave Nicholson, infielder Walt Barbare and the substantial cash, Maranville hopped over to Pittsburgh. The move raised some questions as Maranville had never hit .270 with the Braves, but the Pirates needed a serious upgrade at short to help their solid pitching and Maranville filled the position with a skill that had been missing since Honus Wagner’s play had started to decline several years before.
With Maranville playing up to expectations in the field and exceeding them at the plate for most of the summer, the Pirates led the National League well into August. A late season slump by Rabbit coincided with theteam’s slide. In a key five game series against the eventual pennant winning Giants in late August, Maranville went only three for 18 as the Bucs dropped all five games. Maranville’s fun loving ways were at first entertaining to Pirate fans as he and teammates Possum Whitted, Charlie Grimm and Cotton Tierney serenaded the faithful prior to games.
They also performed comedic antics such as invisible pepper games for pregame enjoyment. However, Maranville continued to party heavily off the field and his average fell 64 points after a .357 start into early July. Fans began to question his devotion to his craft, but Manager George Gibson gave the Rabbit a vote of confidence and assured people that once on the field, Maranville played hard, winning baseball. Dreyfuss cut lose Whitted from the musical quartet in spring training, 1922, but the more valuable Maranville escaped unscathed.
Maranville continued to play well in 1922, but he also continued to engage in an active nightlife. One could say “an active daylife,” too, as years later he wrote about a time when the Pirate infielders surrounded the pitcher on the mound after the pitcher demanded a drink before he would throw another pitch. Someone produced a flask and Maranville and the other conference members all took a drink. When the manager, Maranville did not specify if Gibson or his replacement, Bill McKechnie, was skippering the team at the time, asked what had transpired on the mound, Maranville told him that the pitcher’s fly had opened and he did not want to be too obvious in correcting the problem, so the infielders had screened him from the public.
McKechnie apparently knew he would have to keep a close eye on his hard-living shortstop and when he took over the team he decided to room with Maranville and Chief Moses Yellowhorse, another heavy drinker.
During one road trip, McKechnie returned to the room to find both players uncharacteristically in bed early. The manager quietly walked to a closet, but when he opened the door, he was bombarded by pigeons. The players convulsed with laughter and Maranville warned him not to open the other closet as his pigeons were in there. Maranville’s .295 in 1922 bested his 1921 figure by a point and represented the high mark of his career and established a new major league record with 672 at bats while shining, as usual, in the field.
But Maranville’s drinking started to have serious consequences for him in 1923. He was convicted for drunk driving following an incident in Boston and Dreyfuss began to stock up on minor league shortstops even though Rabbit was in the process of leading the league in fielding. Following a .277 season, Maranville’s name was mentioned prominently in trade talk.
When Dreyfuss and McKechnie were unable to move Maranville during the offseason, McKechnie informed his infielder that Glenn Wright, an incredibly talented rookie, would be the Pirate shortstop and moved Maranville to secondbase. The move, even with Wright considered a “can’t miss” player, was perhaps the Pirates way of trying to show Maranville he was not bigger than the team despite being the NL’s top defensive shortstop. Or did McKechnie simply realize that the transition to second would be easier for the veteran star than for the strong-armed, wide ranging Wright? Either way, the move proved successful as Wright, although at times erratic, displayed great natural ability and Maranville led NL secondbasemen in fielding and double plays while setting a record with 933 total chances. He, at least in print, did not get into trouble in 1924, and Dreyfuss was able to include him in a blockbuster trade following the season. The owner sent Maranville, Grimm and Wilbur Cooper to the Cubs for Vic Aldridge, George Grantham and minor leaguer Al Neihaus. After the trade, Dreyfuss exclaimed, “I just got rid of my two banjo players!”
In a move which surprised just about everyone, Maranville was named manager of the Cubs during the season, but went only 23-30 before he was replaced. His drinking was said to lead to him being moved to the Brooklyn Robins in 1926 and he eventually was released to the minors. Realizing his drinking was ruining his career,
Maranville decided he had taken his last swig. He looked back later, happily saying, “The national consumption of alcoholic beverages took a sharp downturn after May 24, 1927. That’s the day I quit drinking.”
Late in 1927, the Cardinals purchased the now sober shortstop to help their injury depleted infield down the stretch. He helped St. Louis into the World Series in 1928 and played five more years as he triumphantly returned tothe Braves before severely breaking a leg in 1934. His comeback, in 1935 at the age of 41, lasted only 23 games, but it is said his sobriety lasted for the rest of his life and permitted him to successfully manage in the minor leagues for several years. Maranville retired from the majors with records for total chances, put outs and assists by a shortstop. He was elected the Hall of Fame shortly after his death in 1954, but it was hardly a sentimental vote as many of the voter shad already returned their ballots prior to his passing.
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