Friday, November 23, 2012

Big leaguer married Top 10 stripper

Don Rudolph and his wife, Patti Waggin are shown
in this 1957 photo while Rudolph was pitching
for Louisville.

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

In the mid-1950s a journeyman major leaguer named Don Rudolph attracted more media attention because of his wife than his pitching skills.

During much of the the period that he was bouncing up and down between the big leagues and the minors, Rudolph was married to a stripper whose stage name was Patti Waggin.

Patti Waggin (Mrs. Don Rudolph) in
a 1950s publicity photo.
Writing in The Sporting News of Feb. 27, 1957, Russ Schneider of Cleveland described her as “a burlesque queen with considerable – and well-tailored talent.

 “Miss Waggin has wiggled her 36-23-35 shape through burlesque’s big leagues for three years and was recently included on a list of the top ten strippers in the country.”

Rudolph met his future wife in 1954 when he was playing for Colorado Springs where she was dancing. They were married in 1955. Patti, whose real name was Patricia Artae Hardwick was five years older than Rudolph; her marriage to the ballplayer was her third.

Patti was often billed as “The co-ed with the educated torso.” She got her start in burlesque while a student at Chico State College in California. Her grandmother and mother were both in vaudeville, the former dancing under the name Maude Hillyer, the latter as Dale Adams.
Rudolph spent the off-seasons traveling with her as manager, publicity man and what Schneider called “clothes catcher.” Schneider said, “During performances, Rudolph stands in the wings and catches her clothes after she steps out of them on the stage.”

 The writer described Waggin as a “charming brunette who apparently knows baseball as well as bumps and grinds.”

The back of Don Rudolph's 1959 Topps card
makes note of Mrs. Rudolph's profession.
The article included the expected Fifties expressions of the wifely duty to put her husband’s career ahead of her own professional ambitions. “I plan to continue my career indefinitely,” she was quoted, “But Don’s comes first. If I thought I was jeopardizing his chances in the least, I’d quit right away.” She did eventually leave the stage around 1960.

Rudolph won 13 games in his first pro season, at the age of 18 at Jesup (Class D, Georgia State League). Remaining with Jesup in 1951, Rudolph was the winningest pitcher in Organized Baseball with a 28-8 record and 2.91 ERA. He walked only 52 batters in 223 innings, and nine of them were intentional.

With a year out for military service in 1953, Rudolph worked his way up the White Sox' ladder until he made his debut with Chicago in 1957. He had brief stays in the American League in 1957, 1958 and 1959. 

Chicago traded Rudolph to the Cincinnati Reds on May 1, 1959, and although he remained in the Reds' system through the 1961 season, he pitched in only 7.1 innings at the big league level.

The Indians claimed Rudolph in the 1961 Rule 5 draft, but he faced only one batter with the Tribe before being traded to Washington on May 3, 1962.

Rudolph played for the Senators until the end of 1964, then ended his pro ball career after two more years in the high minors. As a major league pitcher, Don Rudolph had an 18-32 record with an ERA of 4.00.

He was killed in a traffic accident in 1968. Patti never remarried and died in 1992.

By all accounts, the couple was well-liked in both the burlesque and professional baseball worlds.

Bob Brill, who wrote for us at Sports Collectors Digest years ago, is perhaps Patti's biggest fan. He maintains a website devoted to Patti and Don. You can read a lot more about the couple there at: . 

Once when he was asked if he wasn’t afraid that his wife’s vocation would provide too much ammunition for opposing bench jockeys, Rudolph merely grinned.

“‘At first it bothered me, but not anymore,’ he said. ‘When it gets too rough, a high hard one under the chin usually shuts them up pretty good.’”


1 comment:

  1. Bob I want to thank you very much for the kind words. We are shopping the screenplay about Don and Patti now, and I interviewed some former players in writing the script myself. "Major League Stripper" hopefully will be a hit someday. -- Bob Brill


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