Baseball HOFer Rabbit Maranville and the Perils of Talking
The star shortstop loved to gab and struggled when MLB cracked down on fraternizing
Shortstop Rabbit Maranville was one of the most unique players in baseball history. Even though he was just 5’5” and struggled to reach 150 pounds soaking wet, he turned in a memorable 23-year playing career (1912–1933 & 1935) that ultimately led to his induction in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1954. In addition to his skills, he was well known for his energy and fast-talking style. It should then come as little surprise that he had a visceral reaction when Major League Baseball instituted rules that limited his ability to talk during games.
Although he was a relatively light hitter, Maranville was blessed with extraordinary ability in the field, which was enough to make him a star. The right-handed batter hit .258 with 2,605 hits, 28 home runs, 884 RBIs and 291 stolen bases. He never hit more than .300 or had more than five home runs in a full season, but he was an impact player with his dominant personality and slick glove. As such, he received MVP votes in eight different seasons, including 1933 when he was 41 and hit just .218 with no home runs and 38 RBIs in 143 games.
Everybody in baseball knew Rabbit. He loved to talk, joke and engage in any way that made him the center of attention. It wasn’t that he was necessarily vain. He was simply the life of the party. Therefore, when Major League Baseball cut back on fraternizing during games, including interacting with the crowd and opposing players, he was none too pleased.
He spoke at length about the ban on babbling in an article that appeared in the April 14, 1932 edition of the Boston Globe. It seemed he was as impacted as if he had been deprived of a favorite bat or his best glove:
“It’s the new rule the league put in — no talking to rival ball players, no anything friendly and pleasant anymore. What are they trying to do to baseball, anyway? It’s getting like office work, and you can’t even talk to the rest of the clerks.
“Just think of it: if I walk over to the stands and say hello to my wife, I get a $5 fine slapped on me. And can you imagine what would to me if I didn’t.”
The idea that Maranville had to ignore his wife in the stands during the game, thus earning her ire, is a funny one. However, the shortstop seemed sincere in how much impact he believed the rule change would have:
“Look what it does to baseball. You can’t sign scorecards for kids, or baseballs anymore, something that’s been making friends for the game for years. Even a manager can’t talk to his own club owner unless the owner is in the box next to the dugout. Suppose the owner was making a trade during a ball game and he yelled to the manager to come over from the sidelines. What then? Why, $5 fine, that’s what.
“No matter where we’re playing, we come out on the field and a lot of folks holler, ‘Hello, Rabbit,’ and try to get some fun started. And what do I do now? I can’t even turn and holler back. They look at each other and say, ‘Well, what do you think of that high-hat stiff?”
It’s true that Major League Baseball has gotten increasingly inaccessible over the years. Not only do players make exponentially growing amounts of money but they also frequently monetize opportunities to meet them or get their autograph. Clearly, some of the origins of this began with restrictions like these.
Maranville was apparently a baseball purist. He was a hardnosed player but also saw the game as a social opportunity to interact with players and fans alike. As the game tightened its grip on what players could say and do, or not say and do, he was not pleased with the direction it went. If he were playing today, he’d likely not be able to even recognize it from when he played his way into Cooperstown immortality.