Rhoderick (Bobby) Wallace was born in Pittsburgh on November 4, 1873 at a time when Pennsylvania was supplying the United States with oil, coal, and baseball players. Learning to play as a child, he was signed to pitch and play outfield with some of the better semi-pro teams of the period, including a team from Franklin, PA that had to be the greatest semi-professional team ever assembled. The 1894 squad included Wallace, centerfielder Jimmy Slagle, infielder Claude Ritchey, former major leaguer Billy Alvord, and Al Lukens – a pitcher who got a very brief shot with the Phillies that year. Later in the season, the Pirates loaned Franklin two other major leaguers, Joe Sugden and George Nicol, who weren't being used by the club at that time.
Wallace was signed to pitch by the Cleveland Spiders in 1894, where he won two of his three starts in a late season tryout. In 1895, he was the third arm on a Spider staff that included Cy Young. Winning 12 of 26 decisions, what impressed his management was not so much his pitching but his athleticism. In his third year, Wallace played in the outfield as much as he pitched and by 1897 he was moved to a regular spot in the infield.
1897 was Wallace's break out year. That year, Rhody batted .335 and drove in a team leading 112 runs while manning third base full time. However, even his days at third would end shortly – he would be moved from third to second base and finally to shortstop, where he became perhaps the best fielding shortstop of his era.
Frank De Haas Robison – owner of the Cleveland Spiders – purchased the bankrupt St. Louis Browns franchise in 1899. Then, because St. Louis allowed Sunday baseball, he moved the best players on both teams to St. Louis and kept the leftovers on the Spiders. The Spiders went on to lose 134 games and were contracted from the National League during the winter between the 1899 and 1900 seasons. Wallace moved twice – first to St. Louis and then to shortstop where he finished second in the league in homers with 12 and fifth in RBI with 108.
When the American League barged its way into the Major Leagues in 1901, Wallace enjoyed another great season with the Cardinals, batting .324 and leading shortstops in assists, double plays, and total chances per game. However, St. Louis got a second franchise when Ban Johnson moved the Milwaukee club to the Gateway City in 1902. Robert Hedges, the new owner, signed a number of the Cardinal stars, including infielders Bobby Wallace and Dick Padden, outfielders Emmet Heidrick and Jesse Burkett, and the team's three best pitchers – Jack Harper, Jack Powell, and Willie Sudhoff. When De Hass Robison sued the players for breach of contract, a circuit court judge threw out the case and declared the players “free agents”, overruling the reserve clause that bound players to the teams that owned them. Wallace received a significant pay increase playing for the Browns and continued to produce on the field.
While Milwaukee had finished in last place, the 1902 St. Louis Browns – with a load of new talent - were an immediate contender. Wallace's contributions at short helped the team stay in the race until the final weeks of the season before falling behind Philadelphia. Such heady days for the Browns would be few, however. By 1907, the team had fallen from the top to the bottom of the league. In 1908, the Browns bolstered their team by signing a number of veterans including Rube Waddell, Bill Dinneen, Jimmy Williams, and Hobe Ferris and finished fourth in the greatest pennant race the American League ever had. However, the team aged quickly and Wallace's final seasons with the Browns were with teams that failed to contend.
Wallace was a good, but not great hitter. He showed flashes of power and could drive in runs, finishing his career with 1121 RBI. However, he was among the greatest fielders of his time. In terms of raw numbers, Wallace made more plays per game than any other shortstop who played at least 600 games during the first decade of the major leagues – including guys like Honus Wagner, Joe Tinker, and George Davis who are also in the Hall of Fame.
Wallace hung up his cleats for the last time at the age of 44, playing two years during World War I as a utility player with the Cardinals. He left with more than 2300 hits and 200 stolen bases in his 25 years of major league baseball. When Baseball's Hall of Fame was first created, Wallace received few votes toward his inclusion, but the Baseball Hall of Fame Committee on Baseball Veterans created in 1953 looked at Wallace and invited him to Cooperstown, along with owner Ed Barrow, pitcher Chief Bender, umpires Tommy Connolly and Bill Klem, and pioneer Harry Wright.
Wallace died one day shy of his 87th birthday in Torrance, California.