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: Connie Mack Stadium

On February 13, 1953, the Philadelphia Athletics renamed their stadium from Shibe Park to Connie Mack Stadium, in honor of the legendary manager. During his fifty-year career as manager for the A’s, Mack led the team to nine American League pennants, appearing in eight World Series and winning five World Championships.

baseball

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“Line-Up for Yesterday: An ABC of Baseball Immortals,” by Ogden Nash

I have a feeling that I have seen this particular poem before, though for the life of me, I do not recall where.  In any case, this piece by Ogden Nash was originally published in the January 1949 issue of SPORT Magazine.  Nash uses the letters of the alphabet to pay tribute to some of baseball’s most popular players.

You can find a chart listing the players each stanza stands for here.

*

A is for Alex
The great Alexander;
More Goose eggs he pitched
Than a popular gander.

B is for Bresnahan
Back of the plate;
The Cubs were his love,
and McGraw his hate.

C is for Cobb,
Who grew spikes and not corn,
And made all the basemen
Wish they weren’t born.

D is for Dean,
The grammatical Diz,
When they asked, Who’s the tops?
Said correctly, I is.

E is for Evers,
His jaw in advance;
Never afraid
To Tinker with Chance.

F is for Fordham
And Frankie and Frisch;
I wish he were back
With the Giants, I wish.

G is for Gehrig,
The Pride of the Stadium;
His record pure gold,
His courage, pure radium.

H is for Hornsby;
When pitching to Rog,
The pitcher would pitch,
Then the pitcher would dodge.

I is for Me,
Not a hard-hitting man,
But an outstanding all-time
Incurable fan.

J is for Johnson
The Big Train in his prime
Was so fast he could throw
Three strikes at a time.

K is for Keeler,
As fresh as green paint,
The fastest and mostest
To hit where they ain’t.

L is for Lajoie
Whom Clevelanders love,
Napoleon himself,
With glue in his glove.

M is for Matty,
Who carried a charm
In the form of an extra
brain in his arm.

N is for Newsom,
Bobo’s favorite kin.
You ask how he’s here,
He talked himself in.

O is for Ott
Of the restless right foot.
When he leaned on the pellet,
The pellet stayed put.

P is for Plank,
The arm of the A’s;
When he tangled with Matty
Games lasted for days.

Q is for Don Quixote
Cornelius Mack;
Neither Yankees nor years
Can halt his attack.

R is for Ruth.
To tell you the truth,
There’s just no more to be said,
Just R is for Ruth.

S is for Speaker,
Swift center-field tender,
When the ball saw him coming,
It yelled, “I surrender.”

T is for Terry
The Giant from Memphis
Whose .400 average
You can’t overemphis.

U would be ‘Ubell
if Carl were a cockney;
We say Hubbell and Baseball
Like Football and Rockne.

V is for Vance
The Dodger’s very own Dazzy;
None of his rivals
Could throw as fast as he.

W is for Wagner,
The bowlegged beauty;
Short was closed to all traffic
With Honus on duty.

X is the first
of two x’s in Foxx
Who was right behind Ruth
with his powerful soxx.

Y is for Young
The magnificent Cy;
People battled against him,
But I never knew why.

Z is for Zenith
The summit of fame.
These men are up there.
These men are the game.


Ken Burns’s Baseball: The Third Inning

3rd inning

The Third Inning of Baseball: A Film By Ken Burns explores the game during the 1910s.  This disc opens with a discussion of fan involvement, and how the setup of the field during this time period gave fans a greater amount of influence in the events of the game.  Fans often spectated standing in foul territory or directly on the field behind the outfielders, allowing them not only to yell at players more effectively, but also to potentially become physically involved in some plays.  And it wasn’t just fans rooting for their teams who sought to influence the outcome of games.  Gamblers during this time period were heavily involved in the sport.

Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics dominated the first half of the decade.  Meanwhile, the saga of Ty Cobb continues, from his 1910 race for the batting title against Nap Lajoie to Cobb’s suspension from organized baseball for beating the snot out of a fan in 1912.

Buck O’Neil, who has contributed to the commentary of the documentary series in the first two innings, was born in 1911, and now discusses his experience with baseball as a boy.  Baseball’s “gentleman’s agreement,” however, continued to exclude black players from the game, though teams at times undermined this agreement with light-skinned minority players.

The 1912 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Giants became an unusual eight-game Series when the second game was called due to “impending darkness.”  Game eight of this Series was the one in which Fred Snodgrass dropped an easy fly ball, which allowed hitter Red Sox Clyde Engle to make it all the way to second.  Engle would later score, tying the game at 2-2, and Red Sox went on to first load the bases, then score the winning run.  Poor Snodgrass joined the ranks of dubious fame with Fred Merkle as a result.

The clouds of scandal appear early with the figure of Hal Chase.  His willingness to throw games was so well-known that even fans took to chanting, “What’s the odds,” whenever Chase took the field.  Players throughout baseball expressed their own discontent with the reserve clause and the complete control of owners over their contracts.  The formation of the Federal League attempted to address this discontent in promising players the opportunity for free agency.  The new league only lasted two seasons, however, and the players found themselves still without a voice.

On this disc, we meet pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander, and we see more of the progression of Branch Rickey’s baseball career.  The 1916 World Series went to the Boston Red Sox over the Brooklyn Superbas.  The 1917 Series went to the Chicago White Sox over the New York Giants, then Boston returned to win the 1918 Series, this time over the Cubs.  When World War I broke out, Major League Baseball as a whole seemingly turned a blind eye.  Some players did serve during the war, including Grover Alexander, Ty Cobb, and Christy Mathewson, and Branch Rickey joined the effort as well.

The last half hour of the Third Inning went into detail covering the 1919 Black Sox scandal.  I particularly found it fascinating that Burns managed to find a Chicago fan who had been fifteen years old at the time of the scandal.  This fan recalled his disbelief that the White Sox had managed to lose the Series, being too young to understand the world of gambling at the time.  His shock and disappointment no doubt reflected the feeling of baseball fans everywhere at the time.  Though as Buck O’Neil describes at the very end of this disc, while the scandal turned a lot of folks away from the game at the time, it wouldn’t be long before a new hero would draw them back — a man named Babe Ruth.


This day in baseball

On August 19, 1900, Milwaukee pitcher Rube Waddell pitched two complete games in both contests of a doubleheader against the Chicago White Sox.  He threw 17 innings in the first game, then was coaxed (with a promise of a few days off to go fishing) by manager Connie Mack to pitch the nightcap, in which Waddell threw a five-inning one-hitter.  Milwaukee won both games, 2-1 and 1-0.

 

WaddellRubePlaque182_NB

National Baseball Hall of Fame

 


This day in baseball: No interest in Cobb

On March 17, 1907, the day after Ty Cobb had quarreled with a black grounds keeper and with teammate Charlie Schmidt, Tigers owner Frank Navin makes an all-out effort to trade Cobb.  Indians manager Nap Lajoie turned down a straight trade for Elmer Flick, a former batting champion, stating that Cobb was a problem player.  Connie Mack of the A’s showed little interest as well, given that he already had a strong outfield.

Ty Cobb

Ty Cobb (International Film Service)


This day in baseball: American All-Stars face Eiji Sawamura

Seventeen-year-old Japanese pitcher, Eiji Sawamura, took the mound against a team of touring All-Star players from Major League Baseball on November 20, 1934.  He came into the game in the fourth inning and pitched nine innings, striking out nine batters and giving up only one run.  At one point, he successively struck out Charlie Gehringer, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Jimmie Foxx.  The only run came on a home run by Gehrig as the American team won, 1-0.

American team manager Connie Mack was so impressed by the young man’s performance that he tried to sign him to a contract.  Sawamura declined, however, as anti-American sentiment was strong in Japan at that time.

Eiji_Sawamura

The Japanese Book