The Pitcher’s Wife Danced

Griffith Stadium is where Patti Waggin’s husband had his most success in the majors. (via Library of Congress)

Lefty Don Rudolph was not a particularly good pitcher, going 18-32 with a 4.00 ERA in scattered trials with four teams from 1957 to 1964. If his pitching was praised at all, it was for his quick habits on the mound rather than his stuff—he endeavored to work fast, in one start averaging just six seconds between pitches. And yet he had more notoriety than was commensurate with his status as a fringe big leaguer. It wasn’t any quality of his, but rather the fact of his home life, a detail the scribes could never forget, not for a second.

Consider one of the most common transactions in baseball, a pitcher being sent to the minor leagues. Here is an example from 2018, via MLB Trade Rumors. It begins, “The Astros have optioned righty Ken Giles to Triple-A, per a club announcement.” The details that follow that topic sentence tell the reader many things: who is replacing Giles on the roster, how the Astros acquired Giles, how he has pitched lately—all salient information.

Here is how an article on Rudolph being subjected to the identical transaction began: “The Reds have optioned Lefty Don Rudolph to [Triple-A] Havana. He’s the husband of Patti Waggin, the burlesque stripper.” Similarly, Rudolph game stories don’t read like any other pitcher’s game stories, then or now. Rudolph pitched for the White Sox against the Yankees during spring training in 1958. Patti Waggin entered the story before he did:

The day started with Sal Maglie’s reputation and dignity being rudely ruffled in a six-run first inning… The game ended with a stripteaser’s husband pitching for the Hose. The lad, lefthander Don Rudolph, was the best looking pitcher all day and wifey Patti Waggin (that’s her runway name) was quite proud of his perfect inning at the finish.

This was some of the coverage of Rudolph while he was pitching for the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League in 1959 during his brief time in the Reds organization:

Don Rudolph… limited the Salt Lake Bees to three hits, picked up two hits himself and scored twice as Seattle whipped the Buzzers, 3-1, at Derks. Rudolph, the husband of exotic Patti Waggin [sic], had a fastball that was moving…

Prior to being traded to the Reds that May, Rudolph had pitched four games for the White Sox. Though he was long gone by the time the team made (and lost) the World Series, his former teammates thought enough of his contribution to vote him a $250 share. The New York Daily News covered the award thusly:

Don [is] known as the husband of Patti Waggin, who sheds clothing for a living. He can now go out and buy Mrs. Rudolph a new set of fans.

And he pitched well for the Washington Senators against the Los Angeles Angels, earning both a win and a pun:

The baseball Senators silenced Angel bats, 3-2, with spokesman Don Rudolph and Ron Kline hurling a six hitter… The victory was Rudolph’s first since being recalled on May 20 from Toronto. Following the third, the husband of burlesque queen Patti Waggin stripped Angels bats of their effectiveness until the ninth…

Finally, a year after Rudolph’s retirement at the age of 34, future Spink Award winner Dick Young delivered a backhanded compliment regarding the pitcher’s speedy-delivery mound ethic:

The Mets were talking about pitchers who work quickly, and in such a gabfest the name of Don Rudolph always comes up. Don was the lefthander who married Patti Waggin, the stripper, and everybody insisted Don was in a hurry to get home.

Going back to the game’s earliest days, baseball players have always been celebrities who, due to the circles in which they moved, had romantic relationships with other celebrities. Rube Marquard had a notorious affair with the actress and singer Blossom Seeley and later married her; Leo Durocher wed Laraine Day, who had starred opposite high-caliber leading men such as Cary Grant, John Wayne and Gary Cooper. At no time did Marquard and Durocher lose their individual identities. Even in retirement, Joe DiMaggio was not subsumed by his 1954 marriage to Marilyn Monroe, and neither David Justice, nor Nomar Garciaparra nor Justin Verlander disappeared from view after exchanging vows with Halle Berry, Mia Hamm, and Kate Upton, respectively.

Only Don Rudolph seems to have met this fate. It would be facile to say that it was only because he was much less successful in baseball than any of the stars mentioned above; even fringe players don’t normally become appendages to their wives. Nor was it Patti Waggin’s own celebrity, which resided on a tier of stardom far outside the mainstream. It wasn’t who Patricia Artae Hardwick, a.k.a Patti Waggin, the Co-Ed with the Educated Torso was, but rather what she did—removing her clothes before an audience.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Waggin was, professionally, a sex object. In baseball, she was not just that but also an object of prurient curiosity, which is a little different, a little more obsessive. The baseball press treated her with a combination of the condescension they might have accorded a sideshow attraction and, as Young’s crack suggests, voyeuristic, adolescent leering: what Rudolph was rushing home to wasn’t any different than that which greeted any other player with a pretty young wife. The only difference was that by virtue of Waggin’s profession, Young felt he had license to think about it in appropriate detail.

It is inaccurate to say that Waggin is mentioned in every article about Rudolph, but she is in the majority of them. It is tempting to speculate how Rudolph and Waggin might have been covered had he been a more accomplished hurler. Had he been a Verlander, would he have been more notorious for his pitching than for his spouse? We’ll never know the answer, but the evidence argues strongly that in all likelihood, the answer would have been no. In 1962, Rudolph had his best year, spending the entire season in the majors with the Cleveland Indians and Washington Senators. In August he ran up a streak of 31 scoreless innings, going three starts and a good part of a fourth without allowing a run. Even the coverage of that streak, which included two complete game shutouts, found room to mention “exotic dancer Patti Waggin.”

Other articles from the same period make a point of mentioning her stats (36-24-35) before his. This was perverse: sports pages could show pictures of Rudolph pitching and they could report his game results, but they could not, due to the restrictions of the time, depict Waggin the way they could depict him, in the act. They could not show or tell the reader what the men who bought tickets to her performances saw when she had peeled off her last layer, even though they clearly longed to appraise her in far greater detail than they did him. She’s mentioned on the back of his 1959 Topps card. Even White Sox owner Bill Veeck couldn’t leave it alone. “Alas,” he sighed after Rudolph was traded away, “the wrong Rudolph has the good curves.” It was the very thought of her that deranged his coverage.

Rudolph was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1931 and pitched for nearby Sparrows Point High. Offered a scholarship to play soccer, he demurred and signed with the unaffiliated Jessup Bees of the Class D (equivalent to today’s Rookie League) Georgia State League. Eighteen years old in 1950, he went 13-10 with a 3.13 ERA in a league whose teams averaged nearly six runs scored per game. He was even better in 1951, going 28-8 with a 2.91 ERA (139 walks, 148 strikeouts). With the most wins in organized baseball, he was officially a prospect.

The White Sox purchased Rudolph for $1,000 that winter and assigned him to Colorado Springs of the Class A Western League (roughly equivalent to today’s High-A). He did not pitch well, with wildness a particular problem. Today we might infer that his arm was in a refractory period related to his throwing a staggering 285 innings the prior season. Before the matter could be definitively resolved, the military draft claimed Rudolph and his career was paused for nearly two years. He returned to the Sky Sox in 1954. It was there that, all at once, he became aware of, and fell in love with, Patti Waggin.

In the United States beginning in the 1930s there had been a relatively brief vogue for burlesque, a kind of low-theater variety show that interspersed bawdy comics and sketches with women who would dance to the point of nudity or near-nudity. By today’s standards, the act was not only far from pornographic, it wasn’t nearly as explicit as the films commonly available on cable television. Often the performers would conclude in pasties and G-strings rather than in the nude altogether, or draw the line at dancing topless. The act typically was over once the point of nudity or the last layer was reached, usually after a long, drawn-out build-up—there was no nude pole dancing, no explicit thrusting. These performers emphasized the “tease” in “striptease.” As Rudolph said of his wife’s act, “She’s billed as the Coy But Educated Torso.” (Emphasis added.) She wasn’t, actually, but this was close enough to the truth.

For a while, this kind of performance was near enough to the mainstream that a striptease dancer could achieve a higher celebrity. In the ‘30s and ‘40s, names like Sally Rand, Lili St. Cyr and Gypsy Rose Lee were well known to most Americans. Lee was the most successful at crossing over; she appeared in films from some of the major Hollywood studios, published popular mystery novels and a memoir, and was eventually immortalized in the classic 1959 Arthur Laurents, Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim musical “Gypsy.”

It was a downwardly mobile art form, which is to say it started low and got lower as moralists, politicians, and moralistic politicians inveighed against it. Consigned to second- and third-tier theaters and clubs, burlesque maintained a nationwide touring circuit that no longer aspired to the cosmopolitanism of Lee but catered almost exclusively to men.

Patricia Hardwick (sometimes also spelled “Hartwick”) was one of the most successful dancers of burlesque’s declining years. Born in California in 1926 (professionally her birth year was 1934) to a mother who had been part of a Vaudeville dance act, she was a natural performer. “Mother always said that if there were any kind of neighborhood show or something going on, there I was,” she remembered. “I’ve been dancing since I was five.” She was a tomboy who raced motorcycles (and won some trophies for doing so) and played second base for the Welsh’s Golden Crust Bread baseball team.

The chronology of her life from there to 1954 is a little difficult to sort, but the high points seem to go something like this: First married at 16, she divorced within a couple of years and in 1948 headed to Chico State College. She studied ballet and drama, taught swimming, and discovered that when it came to working her way through college, a gyrating dance that ended with her undressed was more lucrative than a tour jeté that didn’t.

She was “discovered” by a manager named Lillian Hunt while dancing in a chorus line at a club managed or owned by her mother, or perhaps in a club that was adjacent to her mother’s restaurant. It was Hunt who came up with the Patti Waggin stage name and the “educated torso” billing. Waggin was not statuesque, but she was well-proportioned, possessed a wide, welcoming smile, and had dark bangs that gave her a superficial resemblance to the more famous (and more explicitly sexualized) pinup and bondage model Bettie Page.

In 1949, she married for a second time, to noted motorcycle racer Bill Brownell, and subsequently left college. That marriage also quickly ended in divorce. It was only then—and this says something about questions of personal economy that might drive a 24- or 25-year-old woman circa 1950 to embark on a career as an ecdysiast–that Patti Waggin became Hardwick-Brownell’s full-time pursuit. In 1953, ads began appearing in newspapers nationwide heralding her appearances at places like the Star Theatre in Portland, Oregon:


Town’s Talking


Bring the Ladies
They’ll Love It!

It was while Waggin was making one such stand in Colorado Springs in 1954 that Rudolph heard his teammates praising her show and making plans to see it again. “She was the talk of the team,” he said, “so I went to see her show.” Waggin did three performances that night. His teammates left after the first one. Rudolph stayed for all three. After, he asked Waggin out on a date. She said no, but that winter he noticed she was to perform in Baltimore, his offseason home. He went to see her, again asked her out, and this time she said yes.

They were married in October 1955, not that anyone knew it—Rudolph didn’t tell the White Sox for over a year. “I thought Mr. Comiskey mightn’t like it,” Rudolph said, [but subsequently] I asked for a raise [and] I told him it was embarrassing having to have my wife work.” It turned out that Comiskey appreciated the publicity value inherent in having one of his pitchers married to an “exotic dancer.”

Possibly Comiskey was already aware of Waggin, something that became more likely when Playboy covered a collegiate stunt she had been dragged into. In April 1955 she had been hired by two students running for class office at the University of Southern California to perform an “election dance” on the school’s closed-circuit television station. After she arrived, the school’s dean nixed the performance, saying, “This type of program is not in keeping with the dignity of an educational institution.”

Nevertheless, as documented by Playboy’s photographer, she seems to have entertained a few members of the Sigma Chi fraternity in chaste fashion, and then performed her usual show at a local theater. In none of the 11 pictures included with the article, “A Stripper Goes to College,” (which ran in the October 1955 issue) does she show much more skin than could be observed at the beach, then or now.

Don and Patti seemed to be a perfect match. She went to all of his home games and kept better statistics than were available in the newspapers at the time. That she was often ostracized by the other players’ wives doesn’t seem to have bothered her. She was his great advocate, even as his career took turns both good and bad. In every interview she gave she pushed him as a prospect. After he spent the 1956 season at Memphis of the Southern Association, she sniffed, “He should have won 21 and lost four. Actually, he won 11 and lost 10. His ERA was the second best in the league—3.19. He only gave 52 walks in 223 1/3 innings and he was third in innings pitched in the league.” On another occasion she added, “And I remember four one-run games he lost.”

In 1957 he went 8-20 with a 4.72 ERA (in a 4.18 ERA league) in a season spent primarily at Triple-A Louisville, and she argued that the 49-105 club had undermined him with poor defense (he received a September call-up to Chicago, which suggests the White Sox agreed with her assessment). After he rebounded in 1958, she went right back to touting him:

This is going to be Don’s year. I just know this will be it. Last season he was recalled from Indianapolis and helped the White Sox clinch second place… He’s really earned his chance. He’s been in baseball for six years and I feel that [White Sox manager] Al Lopez really considers him in his plans for next season. I hope so, anyway.

Her cheerleading was not a question of financial anxiety, but an expression of comradely spousal support: as many of the newspaper accounts of their marriage hastened to point out, she made a lot more money on stage than he did pitching in the big leagues. It was only fair, said one writer: He only pitched to one batter at a time, whereas she was “a gal pitching to a whole lot of batters at once.”

Rudolph returned Waggin’s support, becoming her manager and press agent. She had a regular dresser and catcher, but if the woman needed time off, Rudolph stood in the wings and caught Waggin’s clothes as she removed them. “I go out into the theater, too, and study the lighting effects, see that Patti’s make-up is just right, and listen to comments of the audience,” he said. His spare time was spent answering mail from her many fan clubs and sending out pinups. He made her act a Rudolph family business: his father helped build sets and his mother sewed costumes. It was entirely wholesome, far more wholesome than the world depicted in “Gypsy.” Yet, sometimes, as Rudolph was pitching in a pinch and the stands got quiet just as he was about to deliver the big pitch, he’d hear, “TAKE IT OFF!”

The tale of Don Rudolph and Patti Waggin raises issues that we’re still sorting through over 60 years later. Our confrontation of rape culture in the #MeToo era poses basic questions about the way men regard women that the pitcher and the dancer, through no fault of their own, tended to raise.

In the February 28, 1957 edition of the Omaha World-Herald, one Robert Phipps turned his sports column over to fantasizing about meeting Waggin. Under an ill-placed cartoon of a seal (credited to “Walt Disney’s True Life Adventures”) bearing the legend, “The males have a large bladder on their heads which they inflate when aroused,” lay his story, headlined, “Added Attraction for Scribes at White Sox Training Camp.”

We have at hand proof that those hard-working fellows, the baseball writers, should be dispatched to cover all activities in the training camps… You see, the White Sox will have a southpaw named Don Rudolph at Tampa… Don’s wife is known professionally as Patti Waggin [and] is known as “the coed with the educated torso.” She throws curves, in other words.

Let’s see, now. Omaha won’t be playing any exhibitions with Indianapolis this spring. But the Cardinals stop at Indianapolis April 20 and 21 on the way to the opening game at home.

Boss, I hope we’re planning to staff those games.

But why? Waggin wasn’t going to undress along the first-base foul line or cheer on her husband by flashing her breasts. Off stage, she was a woman attending a baseball game, just the same as any other person who might buy a ticket and sit in the stands. She was not a piece of folk art to be ogled as if on exhibition at the county fair, and her taking in a game neither stated nor implied that she was on display. She clearly wasn’t going to sleep with Robert Phipps right there in the press box or anywhere else for that matter. So why was she different from any of a hundred or a thousand or 10,000 women who might be in the park on any given day?

The answer is about permission and the acceptable boundaries of fantasy. Waggin understood what purpose she served for the audience. “When you’re out there on stage, you’re selling sex. That’s what the men come to see,” she said. Still, she placed limits on just how much sex she was willing to sell: “You know, you can be sexy without being vulgar just by suggestion and allusion.”

Most of her audience likely understood a suggestion is not a statement and allusion equaled illusion—whatever sexual availability Patti Waggin was depicting was purely performative. Most of her audience, but not all: Waggin had some uncomfortably creepy fans, but so do most, if not all, celebrities, female celebrities in particular. Some baseball writers chose to number themselves among the creeps. Just knowing that at specific places and times Waggin took off her clothes in public made them believe they had the freedom to take what would have been a covert concupiscence and surface it.

All their verbal wolf-whistling was a striptease of its own, the words concealing a base assumption derived from a series of false deductions: “This woman strips. There is only one valid way to respond to a performance with erotic elements, and that’s to confuse the actor with her character, the singer with the song. Her exhibitionism permits me to likewise expose my own schoolboy feelings of arousal. That’s the response she’s trying to get, right? I’m just rewarding her for a job well done.”

When Patti Waggin dared to place herself right in front of them, they felt entitled to drop the pretense that they read Playboy for the articles. Then, even if they couldn’t act out their true feelings about women, they could at least write them out. In doing so, they embraced a number of fallacies far more closely than they could embrace Waggin, which was not at all—that was reserved for Rudolph, a fact they were incapable of understanding or acknowledging.

It should have been obvious, and a matter of respect for the Rudolphs, that nudity is not automatically sexual or a prelude to a sexual act. (Indeed, Waggin’s act, at least as depicted in her “Parisian Pickup” routine, bears less resemblance to any sexual encounter between human beings than it does some kind of psychotic break.) Certainly nudity can be provocative, as it was in (say) Édouard Manet’s 1863 Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon on the Grass). Yet, as effective as that painting is, it can only do half the work of telling a story. Two-dimensional figures in a painting have no sex lives, no beginning, no end. What might or might not have taken place beyond the frame exists entirely in the viewer’s mind. So too with whatever a Patti Waggin might get up to off stage. The correct answer was most likely, “Get dressed again; it’s chilly in here.” The further one’s answer deviated from that, the less it said about Waggin’s morals and the more it betrayed a paucity of empathy.

In the classic 1972 BBC art series “Ways of Seeing,” critic John Berger makes a distinction between being naked and being nude: “To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by any other, but not recognized as oneself. A nude has to be seen as an object in order to be a nude.”

This was what happened with the sportswriters and Waggin. A non-objectified sexual relationship (whether it is real or lives only in the mind) exists when each person is real to the other, rather than one or the other (or both) serving merely as a vehicle on which to displace or act out one’s sexual desires.

When we see Tom Cruise play a spy, we understand that he is not really a gun-toting secret agent with a huge body count. We know that Meryl Streep is from New Jersey, not Poland or wherever she has sourced her current accent. If we see Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing together in an old movie, we understand that they didn’t move like that all the time, never broke into song mid-conversation; they were not really a couple, and quite often, probably on a daily basis, Fred stripped off his white tie and tails and sat around in his boxer shorts drinking a can of Schlitz.

Humans have, over the centuries, shown an understanding that nudity can be artistic end unto itself. Michelangelo’s David is an idealized sculpture of a young man about to go to battle, albeit with his tackle out. There is nothing sexualized about him except his lack of pants, which is not inherently sexual. A much older statue, the Discobolus, of an Olympian about to heave his discus into orbit, similarly invites the viewer to appreciate athleticism and potential action, not sex. Non-objectified visions of women in art are harder to find, in large part because the bulk of pre-20th century art was created by men for the consumption of men.

Nevertheless, even something that was intentionally, insistently prurient, like Gustave Courbet’s infamous 1866 L’Origine du monde (The Origin of the World) only has as much erotic power as we are willing to ascribe to it. So scandalous that it was not publicly exhibited until 1988, often kept behind curtains by its owners as if it were a shameful secret before that, we are capable of seeing it for what it literally is—an incredibly high-quality painting of a woman’s lower nude form. That is, it’s a picture of a part of the human body, one which, like a finger or an arm, has no ineluctable sexual qualities in isolation.

The mere revelation of Courbet’s work in the public square does not mean it is inviting you to have sex with the woman depicted in it. A person who chooses to go through life sans culottes (or sans any other garment) is not necessarily a slattern. When humans adopted the use of clothing, it likely said more about climate than modesty; nature no more furnishes people with pants than it does a cat with cargo shorts, but in most parts of the globe it still tests them with autumn and winter. Where those seasons are mild or non-existent, as in the equatorial regions, humans have been desultory about their use of clothing. The idea that to be uncovered is intrinsically sexual is learned, not biological.

Even our skittishness about certain parts of our own anatomy—what Monty Python referred to as “the naughty bits”—is likely more learned than intuitive. What makes nudity “dirty” is the possibility of seeing something one is normally prevented from seeing (perhaps someone else’s wife, perhaps a pitcher’s wife).

All of the foregoing is not to say that we have to regard Courbet’s L’Origine as a mere anatomy class, and if we look at his Le Sommeil (The Sleepers, 1866) and see nothing more than a couple of very close friends having a nap, we’re failing to comprehend its purpose. In his 1956 monograph The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form, the British art historian Kenneth Clark quotes disapprovingly an earlier critic who wrote, “If the nude is so treated that it raises in the spectator ideas or desires appropriate to the material subject, it is false art and bad morals.” On the contrary, Clark argues, nudity should at least hint at arousal:

[I]t is necessary to labor the obvious and say that no nude, however abstract, should fail to arouse in the spectator some vestige of erotic feeling, even though it be only the faintest shadow—and if it does not do so, it is bad art and false morals. The desire to grasp and be united with another human body is so fundamental a part of our nature… the amount of erotic content a work of art can hold in solution is very high.

Which is to say that if what we experience in art is true to reality and to our nature, sex will be in some way a part of it. That’s true no matter if we classify the art as low or trivial.

When the baseball scribes ooh-la-la’d Waggin and pretended that her life with Rudolph must be one long sexual encounter, they took all of the above, laid it aside, and went with a far more base analysis that is very similar to that timeworn excuse of so many rapists and rape apologists: Dressed like that, they reasoned, she’s obviously asking for sexual attention. The only difference was that Waggin’s version began, “Undressed like that…”

When Waggin took off her clothes, she was actually putting on another costume, that of a false exhibitionism and pretended sexual availability. In both cases she was dressed by the viewer. “I enjoy myself when I’m performing,” she said in 1957. “And that’s a big thing. If you establish an empathy with your audience and they know you’re happy they very likely will be, too.” That was as far as her contribution to the relationship went. She showed her audiences some surface version of herself, but only Rudolph got to see her truly naked, to experience her intimate self by her choice. Thus her performances, and by extension her presence at the ballpark, could only be provocative if she was completely objectified by a sportswriter. A burlesque dancer offstage is no more a sex object than an athlete outside the stadium should be expected to, say, run a 400-meter race in the aisles if spotted shopping at Home Depot. Baseball writers failed to accord Waggin a courtesy they freely gave to every ballplayer in the majors.

Don Rudolph spent most of the first 11 seasons of his career in the minor leagues. A two-pitch pitcher (fastball/slider), today he would be sent to the bullpen and asked to work as a lefty spot reliever. That role had yet to evolve, so he had to keep trying to make it as a starter. He got his one big chance in May 1962, when the Cleveland Indians, who had grabbed him from the Reds in the 1961 Rule 5 draft, swapped him and fellow left-hander Steve Hamilton to the Washington Senators for outfielder Willie Tasby. Just one season out from expansion, the Senators were doing their best to put together a roster strong enough to lose only 100 games. Manager Mickey Vernon used him in a swing-man role, giving him 23 starts and also calling him out of the bullpen on 14 other occasions.

Rudolph rewarded the Senators. Beginning on June 5 and spanning appearances through June 10, he retired 30 consecutive batters. At that point he walked Detroit’s Bill Bruton but retired three more batters to run his hitless streak to 33. On July 16, he and Angels pitchers Ted Bowsfield and Dean Chance raced through a game (a 4-1 win for Rudolph) that was completed in just an hour and 32 minutes, one of the fastest contests of the era. In August came the back-to-back shutouts of the Twins and Orioles. The former was notable because with tough right-handed hitters such as Vic Power, Bob Allison and Harmon Killebrew, left-handed pitchers were rarely used against the Twins at all—southpaws got just 16 starts against them all year, by far a league low.

Rudolph pitching well meant he got more attention, and that meant more “the husband of” mentions. The irony was that Mrs. Rudolph was by this time no longer a dancer. On at least one occasion Don and Patti had gotten up to what the sportswriters liked to think they were doing and conceived a daughter, Artenia (in some sources called “Artanya”or “Julena Artanya”), born in 1961. Patti was now no more a burlesque dancer than any other full-time mother.

Nevertheless, the sportswriters proceeded as if she were still on the stage and continued to mention her. A further irony is that Rudolph had become so conditioned by the coverage that he did as well. “I’ve always had confidence, what I’ve wanted has been security. Now I think I have it,” he said during spring training in 1963. “So much so that I’m experimenting with a knuckleball that flutters the way Patti used to on the stage.”

Neither his career nor his marriage would last long, the former due to the simple reason that he was a thirtysomething with limited ability, the latter due to tragedy. He stuck on the Senators’ roster through all of 1963, but he wasn’t the same, going 7-19 with a 4.55 ERA. He was particularly ineffective down the stretch, with a 5.98 ERA over his final 43.2 innings. He was farmed out on the last day of spring training 1964. He had pitched his way back to the big leagues by late May, but didn’t show enough to merit another season. He spent the next two seasons pitching for Reds Triple-A teams, then retired.

Waggin was now 40. Her age wouldn’t have been an impediment to her returning to the stage—Sally Rand kept doing her feathered fan dance well into her Social Security years—but she stayed retired. She and Don moved to Granada Hills, California, where he started a contracting business, the Underground Utility Company. On September 12, 1968, he was driving his pickup truck up a steep grade. He lost control of the vehicle and was thrown from it, after which it rolled over and fell on him. He was only 37 years old.

Incredibly, the AP and UPI articles that reported his death do not mention his wife or his daughter. Reporters loved Patti Waggin as a subject when she was a burlesque dancer. They valued her less as a mother or a mourner.

Patricia Rudolph never remarried. She remained in Granada Hills and died in February 1992. Despite the fact that Don showed off his physical talents on pitchers mounds from Havana to Toronto to Los Angeles before crowds numbering in the tens of thousands, no one ever acted as if he were an exhibitionist. No one has ever asked if, in subordinating his identity to his arm, he had allowed himself to be objectified. Although Waggin’s “curves” were intended to titillate in a way that Rudolph’s were not, it’s also true that Waggin’s gyrations had been contextualized as sexual for millennia, whereas Rudolph’s had not. There was nothing inevitable about this, except that in human history the male gaze has dominated and set the terms of conversation. Thus we praise the pitcher and ban the burlesque dancer, even if the human body is just the human body in all its many activities and postures. Rudolph was a journeyman hurler. Waggin was a dancer. If not for American society’s overweening prurience, she would have been just as uninteresting as he was.

In 1996, 22 years after Rudolph had left the majors for good, the Pittsburgh Pirates made right-handed pitcher Kris Benson the first-overall pick in the amateur draft. In 1999, the same year he made his major league debut, he married Anna Warren. His new wife was, as The New York Times put it in 2005, an “actress, model, television and tabloid personality, mother of three and former stripper.” The description was occasioned by a Mets Christmas party for children at which Kris, who had been traded to New York at midseason 2004, was appearing as Santa Claus. Anna appeared with him as a provocative Mrs. Claus, wearing a strapless red dress heavy on the décolletage. Kris was frequently referred to as “Anna Benson’s husband,” and that was the way she liked it: “Please categorize us differently because I’m known for being outrageous and offensive,” she told the Times. “That’s part of my personality. I’m trying to be entertaining.”

Patti was actively stripping during her husband’s career, while Anna was not, but from posing for cheesecake pictures to appearing on the Howard Stern show and stating that if Kris were unfaithful to her she would sleep with everyone else on the team, she was just as much a performer. “Kris is the absolute epitome. He doesn’t drink much, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t kick or scream or cuss,” she told Lillian Ross, “and he married a harlot.” She played up her sexuality as much as Patti played it down, and yet she had arguably less claim to attention. In contrast to Patti, Anna had a number of public (some might say notorious) incidents following her divorce from Kris, but the most significant difference between them was that Anna spoke and acted in the way that the writers imagined Patti did. That was enough to make Kris, a good pitcher prior to 2001 surgery, as much her satellite as Don was Patti’s. Not much had changed.

References and Resources

  • Joe Abramovich and Paul A. Rickart, eds. The Sporting News Baseball Register 1964.
  • John Berger, “Ways of Seeing,” episode 2 (video).
  • Bob Brill, “Fan Letters to a Stripper: A Patti Waggin Tale” (video).
  • Kenneth Clark, The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form
  • Mike Hasse, “Don Rudolph” (SABR Biography Project).
  • Panhead Jim, “The Legend of Patti Waggin: Burlesque Dancer and Motorcycle Racer.” (Yahoo)
  • Dan Raley, Pitchers of Beer: The Story of the Seattle Rainiers.
  • Lillian Ross, “Thy Pitcher’s Wife,” The New Yorker, June 6, 2005.
  • Dusty Sage, Burlesque In a Nutshell: Girls, Gimmicks & Gags.
  • Ben Shpigel, “Anna Benson Stands by Her Man, and Then Some,” The New York Times, December 15, 2005.
  • John Stoltenberg, Refusing to Be a Man.
  • Newspapers: The Baltimore Sun, The Boston Globe, Chicago Defender, Chicago Tribune, Indianapolis News, Los Angeles Times, Long Beach Independent, Louisville Courier-Journal, Miami News, New York Daily News, Omaha World-Herald, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Salt Lake Tribune, Washington Evening Star.

Steven Goldman is the author of Forging Genius: The Making of Casey Stengel, the editor and coauthor of numerous other books including Mind Game, It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over, and Extra Innings: More Baseball Between the Numbers, and hosts The Infinite Inning baseball podcast. A former editor-in-chief of Baseball Prospectus, his writing on the game, its history, and sundry other topics have appeared in numerous publications. He resides in New Jersey, which is not nearly as bad as you've been told. Follow him on Twitter @GoStevenGoldman.
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5 years ago

Don’t forget Ray Knight & Nancy Lopez.

5 years ago

Even more recent is Kris and Anna Benson. She was a stripper and is a terrible person. Seriously, read her Wikipedia page! She was thrown out of the World Series of Poker for excessive swearing, and that’s about the mildest thing she’s infamous for.

Jetsy Extrano
5 years ago

Is her stage name a play on “paddywagon”, the police van? I don’t get it.

I love that she was highly aware of the flaws of pitcher win-loss record.

5 years ago

Small but important point … Rudolph never pitched at Griffith Stadium as a member of the Senators. DC Stadium (later RFK) opened in April 1962 and he was traded to Washington in May that year.

Interesting article! This is why I come to The Hardball Times. Thank you for the thought provoking article Steven.