Lefty Grove

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Library of Congress

Some consider Lefty Grove to be baseball’s greatest pitcher of all time — or, at the very least, the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time.

Robert Moses Grove was born to John and Emma Grove on Tuesday, March 6, 1900 in Lonaconing, Maryland. Following in the footsteps of his father and older brothers, Grove initially began a career working in the mines. He quit after two weeks, however, declaring, “Dad, I didn’t put that coal in here, and I hope I don’t have to take no more of her out.” From there, he drifted between other forms of work, including a “bobbin boy” working spinning spools to make silk thread, as an apprentice glass blower and needle etcher in a glass factory, and as a railroad worker laying rails and driving spikes.

When he was not working, Grove played a version of baseball using cork stoppers in wool socks wrapped in black tape as a ball, and fence pickets when bats were not available. He did not play an actual game of baseball until the age of seventeen, nor did he play organized baseball until nineteen when Dick Stakem, the proprietor of a general store in a neighboring town, recruited him to play in town games on a field located between a forest and train tracks.

Grove put on such a good performance as a pitcher, the manager of the B&O railroad wanted the teenager on his team, and hired him to clean cylinder heads of steam engines in Cumberland, Maryland. Grover never got the opportunity to play baseball with B&O, however. A local garage manager named Bill Louden also happened to manage the Martinsburg, West Virginia team of the Class D Blue Ridge League and offered Grove an astonishing $125 a month, a sum $50 more than his father and brothers were making.

Grove took a 30-day leave from his job, going 3-3 with 60 strikeouts in 59 innings for the Martinsburg team. Word of Grove’s performance reached Jack Dunn, owner of the International League (Double-A) Baltimore Orioles, and Dunn proceeded to buy Grove for a price somewhere between $3,000 and $3,500 from Louden.

Grove won his debut, 9-3, over Jersey City, prompting Dunn to say he wouldn’t sell Lefty to anyone for $10,000. From 1920-24, Grove was 108-36 and struck out 1,108 batters for a minor-league record. Grove was often wild as well, however, and went 3-8 in the postseason. His final season in Baltimore, however, he went 26-6, struck out 231 batters in 236 innings, and reduced his walks from 186 to 108. Following the 1924 season, Dunn sold Grove to Philadelphia owner and manager Connie Mack, for $100,600. The extra $600 supposedly made it a higher price than the Yankees had paid the Red Sox for Babe Ruth after the 1919 season.

Grove was twenty-five years old when he broke into the big leagues on April 14, 1925 with the Philadelphia Athletics. He had a rough rookie season, going 10-12 and leading the American League in both walks (131) and strikeouts (116). “Catching him was like catching bullets from a rifleman with bad aim,” Athletics catcher Mickey Cochrane commented years later.

In 1926, Grove’s ERA dropped from it’s previous 4.75 to a league-leading 2.51, his walks dropped from 131 to 101, and his strikeouts increased from 116 to 194. However, Grove also didn’t receive much support, and he was shut out four times in the season’s first two months. He would finish the season with a 13-13 record.

His bad fortune would not last forever, though. Grove led the league in strikeouts the next five years and won twenty or more games for the next seven. In 1929, the A’s won the pennant. Connie Mack declined to start either Grove or Rube Walberg, another left-handed pitcher, in the World Series, but Grove made his mark in relief. Coming into Game Two in the fifth inning, he recorded six strikeouts, three hits, one walk and no runs allowed over 4 1/3 innings. Grove then pitched the last two innings of Game Four in relief as well. The A’s took the Series, four games to one over the Cubs, and Grove struck out ten batters in 6 1/3 innings.

In 1930, A’s went 102-52 to finish in first place, and Grove won the Triple Crown of pitching by leading the league in wins (28), strikeouts (209), and ERA (2.54). In the World Series, the A’s faced the St. Louis Cardinals, who had batted .314 as a team for the season. Grove won the opener, 5-2, throwing seventy strikes and a mere thirty-nine balls, striking out five and allowing nine hits. Grove then relieved George Earnshaw in the eighth inning of a scoreless Game Five and won it, 2-0, with the help of Jimmie Foxx’s two-run homer.

Grove finished the 1931 season 31-4 with an ERA of 2.06. He won his second straight Triple Crown with 175 strikeouts and was named the American League’s Most Valuable Player. The Athletics won the pennant again, finishing 13 1/2 games ahead of second-place New York. With a blister on one of his throwing fingers, Grove gave up twelve hits in the World Series opener, but he received good fielding support and won, 6-2. However, Grove allowed eleven hits and four earned runs in eight innings during Game Three, losing 5-2. Grove then won Game Five, 8-1, on five hits and one walk. However, the A’s lost the Series in seven games to the Cardinals.

Grove had a 24-8 record in 1932 and led the league with a .750 percentage and 21 complete games. In 1933, he finished 24-8 with a 3.20 ERA — the first time since 1927 that he finished the season with an ERA above 3.0. Following the 1933 season, facing the financial realities that came with the Great Depression, Connie Mack traded Grove to the Boston Red Sox.

Unfortunately, Grove was unable to contribute much during his first year in Boston, as an arm injury held him to an 8-8 record. He bounced back in 1935, however, finishing 20-12 with a league-leading 2.70 ERA. In the 1936 season, he pitched a 2.81 ERA to win his seventh ERA title while posting a 17-12 record and 130 strike-outs. He then won his eighth ERA title a year later, finishing with a 17-9 record and 153 strike-outs. Grove then finished with records of 14-4 in 1938 and 15-4 in 1939, but in 1940, he had a 7-6 record while recording a 3.99 ERA with 62 strike-outs. The 1941 season would be his final season, and he finished 7-7, winning his 300th game on July 25th.

Grove finished with a career record of 300-141, and his .680 lifetime winning percentage is eighth all-time. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1947, his first year of eligibility.

Lefty Grove died in Norwalk, Ohio, on May 22, 1975 at the age of seventy-five and was buried in the Frostburg Memorial Cemetery in Frostburg, Maryland.


This day in baseball: Roger Maris dies

Former Major League outfielder Roger Maris passed away on December 14, 1985, following a two-year battle with lymphatic cancer. Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, John Blanchard, Bill Skowron, Whitey Herzog, and Bob Allison served as pallbearers at his funeral.

Roger Maris

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This day in baseball: Feller is the MLBPA’s first president

A major league player association was formed on December 11, 1956 with future Hall of Famer Bob Feller named its first president.  Feller held the position until 1959, when he was succeeded by Frank Scott.  This organization followed up many previous attempts to create a labor organization in Major League Baseball.  It would eventually become successful ten years later when Marvin Miller was hired to be the MLBPA’s first executive director in 1966.

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Bob Feller (Wikimedia Commons)


History of Wrigley Field

Known as the “Friendly Confines,” Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois is Major League Baseball’s second oldest ballpark, behind only Boston’s Fenway Park.  The ballpark has been the host to many historic moments, from Babe Ruth’s called shot in 1932 to the 2016 World Series, in which the Cubs finally broke the 108-year-old championship curse.

Prior to moving into the ballpark now known as Wrigley, the Cubs played in West Side Park.  West Side was a double-decker park built with heavy timber, echoing the typical construction of baseball fields in the early twentieth century.  It was actually another baseball team altogether that played at the Friendly Confines in its inaugural season.

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Construction of Weeghman Park, March 1914

When it was first erected, Wrigley Field was originally dubbed Weeghman Field, named after Charles Weeghman.  The stadium was built for the Chi-Feds of the Federal League, also known as the Chicago Whales, who were owned by Mr. Weeghman.  The stadium was designed by architects Zachary T. and Charles G. Davis, who also designed the original Comiskey Park in 1910, and construction took place on Weeghman Field from March 5 (I’ve also seen as early as February and as late as March 14) through April 23, 1914, finishing up just in time for the Whales’ Opening Day.  The new ballpark only cost $250,000 to build.

When Weeghman Field was first built, it was just a one-level stadium — there was no upper deck — and it had a seating capacity of merely 14,000.  The original scoreboard was built in 1915, lasting until its replacement was erected in 1938.

Weeghman_Park_Panorama_1915

Weeghman Park, 1915

William Wrigley, Jr., the chewing gum industrialist, was a partner with Weeghman with the Whales.  As the Federal League folded, and the Whales along with it, Wrigley and Weeghman were given the option to buy the Cubs in 1915, an opportunity they took.  They moved the Cubs from West Side Park to Weeghman Field, renaming the stadium “Cubs Park.”  The Cubs played their first game in their new home on April 20, 1916, beating the Cincinnati Reds in eleven innings.  By 1919, William Wrigley bought out Weeghman’s shares in the team, and in 1926, the park became known as “Wrigley Field.”

In 1921, the newly-formed Bears of the National Football League moved to Chicago.  The Bears managed to work out a deal with William Wrigley, through which they were able to play their games at Cubs Park/Wrigley Field as well.  This agreement served as one of the motivating factors for increasing the size and the capacity of the stadium.  Zachary Davis, one of the original architects in 1914, also designed the 1922 version of Wrigley Field.  Davis expanded the size of the field by moving the grandstands towards the street so that it could also accommodate American football games.  This meant that the Cubs’ playing field was moved about sixty feet southwest, and the seating capacity of the stadium grew to approximately 20,000.  The Bears played at Wrigley Field from 1921 to 1970.

In 1927 to 1928, the upper deck was added to the stadium’s grandstands.  The architectural firm Graham, Anderson, Probst & White designed this expansion, which increased the capacity of Wrigley Field to about 38,400.

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Wrigley Field during the 1935 World Series

The outfield had some bleachers, though they proved insufficient whenever the Cubs made the World Series, which happened more often in those days.  Bleachers would be added using temporary scaffolding in these situations when additional seating proved necessary.  In 1937, however, the decision was made that it was time for permanent bleachers to be added to the outfield, a project taken on by the firm Holabird and Root.  This change boosted the stadium’s capacity to approximately 40,000.  Along with this, the Cubs’ famous hand-operated scoreboard was built, and the clock was added in 1941.  Also in 1937, the famous ivy was planted along the stadium’s outfield wall.

Minor changes were made to the stadium over the years.  Some features were added, other features were removed, but for the most part, Wrigley Field has remained largely the same since 1938.  The biggest change since that time took place in 1988.

A holdout from a bygone era, Wrigley Field was the last stadium in Major League Baseball to install a lighting system.  When the lights were installed, this was done so in a way that ensured the lights fit into the feel of the rest of the stadium, rather than trying to install a modern-style system on a century-old ballpark.  The Cubs’ first night game was played August 8, 1988, though it was cut short (ending after four innings) due to rain, getting postponed until the next day.

In 2006, the bleachers were expanded yet again.  This increased the capacity of the stadium to approximately 41,000 seats. Then, after the 2007 season, the entire field was removed and replaced with a new drainage system and a bluegrass playing field.

Following the 2014 season, a $575 million project, named the 1060 project, began at the ballpark, which essentially entails a complete overhaul of the facility. The project is expected to be completed in 2019 and includes a widening of the concourse to add more concessions, the addition of a 95-foot x 42-foot HD videoboard in left field, moving the bullpens to under the bleachers in left (Cubs) and right (visiting team) fields, and the west side entrance between Clark Street and Wrigley Field now features a new plaza known as the Park at Wrigley, which allows fans to gather before games and provides a new entry into the ballpark.

Wrigley field

Wrigley Field today

In 2004, Wrigley Field was named an official city landmark in Chicago, and a number of its features are now legally protected.  These features include all exterior elevations and roofs, the marquee sign at Clark and Addison Streets, the centerfield scoreboard, and the ballfield itself, including the brick wall and the famous ivy.  In the face of ballparks being demolished, including Comiskey Park, and new ones being built, the people of Chicago saw this as a way to protect their beloved Wrigley Field. Wrigley Field remains the only Federal League ballpark still in existence.


This day in baseball: Devil Rays Opening Day tickets go on sale

Individual tickets for went on sale for Opening Day of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ maiden season on December 6, 1997.  The game sold out in approximately seventeen minutes.  The Devil Rays’ Opening Day would take place on March 31, 1998.

tampa bay devil rays


Joe Medwick

Joe Medwick

Medwick (Wikimedia Commons)

Joseph Michael Medwick was born on November 24, 1911 in Cateret, New Jersey. His parents, John and Elizabeth Medwick, were Hungarian immigrants, having immigrated to the United States in 1893.

He attended Cateret High School, where he was a star athlete in track, baseball, basketball, and football. In fact, Medwick was offered scholarships to play football at the college level. He turned down the scholarships, however, in favor of pursuing a career in baseball, signing with the St. Louis Cardinals.

After spending a few seasons in the minor leagues, Medwick made his Major League debut on September 2, 1932 at the age of twenty. He had an unusual waddle, earning himself the nickname “Ducky” or “Ducky Wucky,” though Medwick (understandably) preferred his other nickname, “Muscles.” With the Cardinals, he earned a reputation as a hard-nosed and mean-spirited player. Fortunately for Medwick, he also proved to be an excellent hitter, producing a batting average of .300 or better for most of the seasons he played as a major leaguer, finishing with a lifetime average of .324.

During the early 1930s, the St. Louis Cardinals became known as the “Gas House Gang,” a nickname that reflected not only their enjoyment in playing baseball, but also the aggressive style with which they played. Their uniforms, always dirty, came to resemble the grease-stained clothing worn by car mechanics — hence the nickname. Besides Joe Medwick, prominent members of the Gas House Gang included Frankie Frisch, Ripper Collins, Leo Durocher, Pepper Martin, and brothers Dizzy Dean and Paul Dean.

Joe Medwick was perhaps the most aggressive of the aggressive Gas House Gang members, not hesitating to brawl even with his own teammates. He was known to punch his own teammates for infractions such as scolding him for a lack of hustle (Ed Heusser) or walking in front of him too many times while being photographed (Tex Carlton). Pitcher Dizzy Dean once commented, “Dawgonnit. That Medwick don’t fight fair at all. You argue with him for a bit and then he beats you before you’ve even had a chance to speak your piece.”

The most infamous display of Medwick’s demeanor came during the 1934 World Series between the Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers — a Series that went into Game Seven. In the sixth inning of that deciding game, Medwick hit a triple into centerfield, sliding into third base with his spikes high. Medwick then proceeded to start kicking at Tiger third baseman Marv Owen, resulting in punches being thrown. Umpire Bill Klem broke up the scuffle, though neither player was ejected. However, when Medwick jogged out to left field in the bottom of the inning, Detroit fans made their feelings known by throwing fruit and pop bottles in Medwick’s direction. From his box at the ballpark, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis called a meeting with the umpires, the two managers, and Medwick. When it became evident that Medwick felt no remorse for his actions, Landis decided to remove Medwick from the game. The Cardinals went on to win the game, and the Series, 11-0, but the incident did nothing good for Medwick’s reputation.

In June 1940, Medwick was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers in a multiplayer deal, as the Cardinals were no longer willing to tolerate Medwick’s temper. Just days after the trade, the Dodgers and the Cardinals faced off against one another, and St. Louis pitcher Bob Bowman beaned Medwick in the temple. Brooklyn players rushed the field, believing the beaning to be intentional, as Bowman and Medwick had exchanged words in the hotel elevator just that morning. Bowman ended up being escorted from the game by policemen. Medwick, meanwhile, was carried away on a stretcher.

Medwick was found to have a concussion as a result of the beaning, though he stubbornly made his way back into the Dodger lineup just four days later.  The beaning, however, would reignite interest throughout the league in the use of batting helmets, and Spalding Sporting Goods took advantage of the incident to start advertising a batting helmet with ear flaps.

For the rest of the career following the beaning, Medwick displayed a noticeable drop in power at the plate, though he did continue to rack up multiple seasons with a .300 or better batting average. He bounced around between teams, including the Dodgers, the New York Giants, and the Boston Braves, before finishing his major league career where he started, with the St. Louis Cardinals. Medwick played his final Major League game on July 25, 1948, though he continued to play minor league baseball until 1951.

Over the course of his career, Medwick was named to the National League All-Star team ten times. In 1936, he set a National League record with 64 doubles. In 1937, won the National League’s Most Valuable Player award, as well as the Triple Crown.

Joe Medwick was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1968. He died of a heart attack on March 21, 1975 in St. Petersburg, Florida.


This day in baseball: Musial named NL MVP

On December 2, 1948, Cardinals outfielder Stan Musial was named the National League Most Valuable Player.  Musial led the NL with a .376 batting average and 131 RBIs.  He narrowly missed the Triple Crown, however, as his 39 home runs were one less than the totals by Johnny Mize and Ralph Kiner.

musial