Monday, October 3, 2011

Wilbur 'Rawmeat Bill' Rodgers: Player, manager, amateur dietician

Pregame meals are well-documented among modern ballplayers: Team trainers and dieticians try to keep players looking like well-kept livestock in order to hit stratosphere-scraping home runs or to throw thousands of pitches each season.

But a little-known player/manager pioneered the base ballist's diet nearly 100 years ago. Wilbur "Raw Meat Bill" Rodgers played in the first half of the 20th Century, making appearances for three big-league clubs in 1915 and a few games for the 1916 Cincinnati Reds. I will decline to examine his career much, because NotGraphs has already collected some original footage of his rookie season (with period-correct soundtrack!1) here.

However, Raw Meat spent the majority of his career playing and managing in far-flung semi-pro leagues. His raw talent carried him in his early playing days with the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League. But his talent faded soon and he began to focus on managing clubs in the late 1910s and early 1920s while his batting lines fell into the mid-.200s.

However, a preseason trip to San Bernadino Zoo2 in 1929 changed everything. While visiting the zoological park, a bull bison was erroneously fed 14 pounds of raw chuck3. It rampaged and streamrolled several park visitors. During the tirade, the bull's bloodshot eyes locked with Rodgers'. Wilbur felt the raw power of the bull in the stare and returned its gaze. The bison snorted and rampaged off, crushing a pram or two on its way to a nearby butcher shop.

In an instant, Bill Rodgers knew how to find his swing again: Raw meat, and lots of it. He soon took to a diet of only raw beef and he saw immediate results4. Perhaps it was Raw Meat's bright-red skin, his blind rage, or some other secret unlocked by turning carnivorous, but Rodgers batted over .300 for three consecutive seasons while in his 40s and further intimidated pitchers by gnawing on rival first basemen's forearms, torsos and/or faces.

Wilbur Rodgers insisted that his players follow the Raw Meat diet. The resulting ravenous roster required Rodgers' undivided attention, resulting in his retirement as a player to contain his dugout's bloodlust. Despite the scarcity of affordable meat during the Great Depression, Bill managed a string of hardy 1930s ballclubs with varying degrees of success/heart disease5: the Chattanooga Lookouts, the Des Moines Demons, the Panama City Pilots, the Peoria Tractors, the Sanford Lookouts (twice) and the Charlotte Hornets.

He soon found meat rations largely unavailable during World War 2 and disappeared from the managing circuit until after the war, when he managed the 1946 Peoria Redwings of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. The Redwings, apparently unwilling to eat a diet of only raw meat, subsisted instead on a normal diet6. Unable to whip his players into a violent frenzy of bloodlust, Raw Meat was forced to attempt to actually manage the game. He was unsuccessful and the Redwings won a mere 33 games in their inaugural season.

Raw Meat seldom managed baseball thereafter (excluding a one-year stint in the Gulf Coast League in 1951). His whereabouts remained largely unknown, but rumor holds that he eventually turned to cooked meat and championed meat-with-meat-on-the-side meals and meat-inside-of-meat to the rest of America.

When he died in 1981 at 91 years old, an autopsy revealed that he had 113 pints of blood in his body.

1 May not be period-correct.

2 May not actually exist.

3 Bison are, of course, herbivores and typically only eat Herbert Perrys.

4 Like most ballplayers of the era, however, Rodgers' diet was supplemented by the finest meat tonics of the era. But the concentrated nutrimen of beef didn't create the same level of frenzy as raw cow.

5 Through means that were never adequately explained, Rodgers got his hand on 16 years' meat supply for the USS Montana during during his career in Peoria. His ballclubs consumed the rations in 13 months.

6 Rodgers' insistence on sticking with his all-meat diet and the subsequen meat-hangovers actually form the basis for Tom Hanks' character in 'A League of Their Own.'

1 comment:

  1. I had a fun time reading this! He's actually my great grandfather and I always enjoy hearing this like this about him