In baseball lore, Walter “Rabbit” Maranville is known as much for his drunken shenanigans as he is for his fielding heroics.
The 5-foot-5, 155-pound shortstop was one of baseball’s true characters during his 23-year playing career that spanned from 1912 to 1935. Nicknamed “Rabbit” because of his floppy ears and the distinctive way that he bounced when he fielded ground balls, Maranville participated in 2,670 games, recorded 2,605 hits, 177 triples (19th all-time) and hit .258.
But it wasn’t his offense that earned him Hall of Fame enshrinement, the scrappy shortstop played with determination and enthusiasm and was revered by fans for his basket catches. The Ozzie Smith of his generation, Maranville still holds the big league record for most career assists (8,967) and putouts (5,139). A credit to just how good he was defensively is that he finished second in the 1914 National League MVP voting, despite hitting only .246. His golden glove would help propel the Boston Braves to an unlikely World Series triumph that same season.
What Maranville achieved on the field is even more remarkable when you consider that he spent many nights in a state of drunken, reckless abandon. There are stories of him walking along hotel ledges and jumping off bridges to evade the police. And on top of being inebriated regularly, Rabbit was also a devilish prankster. William Brown reports in his excellent book, Baseball’s Fabulous Montreal Royals, that Maranville once jumped into a hotel fountain fully clothed and surfaced with a gold fish between his teeth. In another legendary prank, Maranville had teammate Jack Scott chase him through Times Square in New York shouting “Stop thief!”. Before the charade ended several New Yorkers had joined Scott in pursuing Maranville. The diminutive Oklahoma native’s shenanigans weren’t restricted to off the field either. He would often turn the bill of his cap over his ear and he once slid threw an umpire’s legs while attempting to steal second base.
Eventually, however, his drinking would start to impact his performance, and after being a star with the Braves from 1912 to 1920, he was traded and discarded by several teams in the ’20s. Between 1921 and 1927, he toiled with the Pirates, Cubs, Brooklyn Robins and Cardinals. But after the Cardinals sent him to the minors in May 1927, he decided it was time to quit drinking.
In 1928, when he returned to the majors with the Cardinals, he was asked for his thoughts about prohibition. His response, as reported in Brown’s book, was: “There is a lot less drinking than there was before 1927 because I quit drinking on May 24, 1927.” Maranville would return to the Boston Braves in 1929 and compete with the club for parts of six seasons before retiring from the majors.
Maranville was toiling as a player/manager for the Class-A Elmira Pioneers in 1936, when the Montreal Royals offered him their field manager’s position. With Maranville at the helm in 1937, the Royals finished in second place, a significant improvement from their sixth-place finish in 1936. Unfortunately, Baltimore ousted the Royals in the first round of the playoffs.
As a manager, Maranville was generally well-liked by his players, writes Brown. Always a showman, Maranville bowed to his players after they hit a home run and often interacted with the fans. But when the Royals were 11 games out of a playoff spot in August 1938, Maranville was fired.
Maranville would spend the final years of his life as the director of a sandlot baseball program in Queens, N.Y. He died of a heart attack on January 5, 1954, just a few weeks before it was announced that he would be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He was 62.