The four old newspaper guys were sitting in the Beef O’Brady’s on Palm Beach Boulevard at lunchtime last Friday.

Bill Kilpatrick, sitting to my left, handed me a gift, a book titled, “Base Ball, The History, Statistics and Romance of the American National Game.”

It was published in 1972 and is a reprint of a 1902 book. Mark Stephens and Roger Williams were across the table as I began leafing through the pages and when I reached page 16 said something like, “Hey, cool, a picture of Rube Waddell.”

Roger didn’t know about the Legend of Rube Waddell, one of the most talented and eccentric players ever.

From the dim recesses of my memory, I mentioned a few things. That Rube was very good and not very bright, that he was fascinated by fire engines and, according to legend, would bolt from the mound in the middle of games if a fire engine passed the ballpark while he was pitching.

That he was married more than once and had a drinking problem and died young.

I had to find out more. So I’ve had time this morning and Googled Rube Waddell, whose given name was George Edward Waddell.

Below is some of what I found out:

Fittingly, for such a character, he was born on Friday, October 13. That happened in 1876 in Bradford, Penn.

He died, sadly and appropriately, perhaps, on April Fools Day. In his case, that was 1914. He was 37. So we’re approaching the 100th anniversary of the death of this beguiling character.

The title of a Rube biography by Alan Howard Levy is this: “Rube Waddell: The Zany, Brilliant Life of a Strikeout Artist.”

There are at least two websites that bear Rube’s name.

I found a screenplay has been written for a movie based on his life. It was written by Dan O’Brien and information about the screenplay can be found at rubewaddell.net.

Then there’s rubewaddell.org, a website devoted to a band called Rube Waddell, which describes itself as mixing together “cast-off parts, twisted scraps, and rusty hinges of Blues, Gospel, Country, American and Irish Folk, Punk, Rock, comic Vaudeville, German theater, Mexican Banda, Mid-Eastern and Asian ditties.”

The original Rube Waddell was an original and a gifted left-handed pitcher. He won more than 20 games for the Philadelphia A’s in each season from 1902 to 1905.

He led his league in strikeouts seven times in an eight-year stretch from 1900 to 1907. Two of those years he struck out more than 300 in a season when strikeouts were rare.

The statistics, though, don’t bring alive this singular fellow.

On rubewaddell.net, he is described as the “boy who couldn’t grow up.”

He was impetuous and easily smitten by pretty girls and burdened with a drinking problem. But he was also apparently a good-hearted fellow.

He would miss games because he felt like going fishing or playing marbles.

During his best years, Rube played for Connie Mack, who could handle his eccentricities. Mack said Rube had the best combination of speed and breaking pitches he ever came across.

People who knew Rube liked him. Even more than like, in some cases.

Ruth Mack Clark, daughter of Connie Mack, said her father loved Rube.

A’s first baseman Harry Davis said this, which I found on rubewaddell.net: “Too much was made of his eccentricities and too little of the other side of his nature. Waddell had a kind and lovable disposition.”

The stories of his running from the pitching mound to chase fire engines have been exaggerated.

But he was colorful. He wrestled alligators and tried his hand at acting and liked to help firefighters.

Historian and baseball analyst Bill James has suggested that Rube had some sort of developmental disability. That’s possible, I suppose.

He was also, it seems, a nice guy.

The rubewaddell.net website includes an anecdote about the time when a teammate was hit by a pitch and knocked unconscious. There was fear the player, Danny Hoffman, would not survive.

As Hoffman lay on the field, a concerned Waddell, at 6-foot-1 and 196 pounds, picked up the outfielder over a shoulder and ran across the field with him. According to this story, he flagged down a passing carriage in the street to carry them to a nearby hospital.

Then, Rube stayed by his teammate all night, holding ice to his head.

Let’s not forget the pitching. In 1905, he and Cy Young engaged in an epic 20-inning duel. Both went all 20 innings, something that would not happen today.

When the A’s won 4-2, Rube did cartwheels on the field. If a 21st century pitcher celebrated that way he would be pilloried and criticized all over new and old media for showing up his opponent.

But that was Rube. Cartwheels on the field. Drinking off it.

His drinking became worse as his career progressed.

In 1911, the year after he won his final game, Rube was living in Hickman, Ky., on the Mississippi River. With floodwaters threatening, he spent hours in very cold waters stacking sandbags.

That was the beginning of the end. According to rubewaddel.net, he contracted a severe cold. That led to pneumonia and with his once robust system weakened, he picked up tuberculosis, which led to his death at 37.

He was fondly remembered, as these quotes on rubewaddell.net attest:

Connie Mack: “He was the greatest pitcher in the game and although widely known for his eccentricities, was more sinned against than sinning. He was the best-hearted man on our team…”

Harry Davis: “…. A fine-hearted athlete and a much misunderstood man.”

Washington Post: “Baseball was more joyous because of him. He was a fun-maker extraordinary. He drove away gloom like the sun dispersing the fog. He made everybody happy. Millions smiled at his antics.”

Now, here we are closing in on the 100th anniversary of his death there are still people who know about his feats and eccentricities and want more to know about the Legend of Rube Waddell.

RIP, big fella.