- March 6, 1900
- 6' 3"
- 190 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 4-14-1925 with PHA
- Allstar Selections:
- 1930 TC, 1931 MVP, 1931 TC
- Hall of Fame:
Noted author and baseball historian Bill James suggests, "What argument, if any, could be presented against the proposition that Lefty Grove was the greatest pitcher who ever lived?"
Considered by many baseball historians to be the greatest lefthanded pitcher in the history of the game, Lefty Grove dominated his era the way few men have. Excelling during the 1920s and 1930s, a period known for its offensive productivity, Grove won more than two-thirds of his lifetime decisions, annually led his league in both earned run average and strikeouts, and posted the second-best adjusted ERA of all time (behind only Pedro Martinez). Armed with a blazing fastball and a fiery temperament to match, the tall, lanky lefthander accomplished all he did despite making his first major league appearance at 25 years of age.
Born in Lonaconing, Maryland on March 6, 1900, Robert Moses Grove received little in the way of a formal education while growing up in the nearby hills of Maryland and developing an early interest in baseball. While starring in sandlot ball around the Baltimore area during the second decade of the 20th century, Grove attracted the attention of Jack Dunn, the owner of the minor league Baltimore Orioles, and the man who had discovered Babe Ruth just a few years earlier. Dunn signed the 6'3", 190-pound Grove to his first professional contract, and the lefthander made his debut with the Orioles in 1920, posting a record of 12-2 in his first year with the team. He subsequently compiled marks of 25-10, 18-8, 27-10, and 27-6 over the course of the next four seasons, leading the International League in strikeouts each year, while also topping the circuit in walks in three of the four years. Grove's performance exceeded that of every other pitcher in the league to such an extent in 1923 that his 330 strikeouts almost doubled the total compiled by league runnerup Jack Wisner, who fanned only 167 batters.
Ordinarily, Grove's dominating performance at the minor league level would have earned him a trip to the majors after only one or two seasons. However, Baltimore owner Jack Dunn, who ran an independent operation with no major-league affiliation, repeatedly turned down offers for Grove until Philadelphia A's owner and manager Connie Mack finally convinced him to part with his star pitcher by offering him $100,500 for the lefthander's services. The exhorbitant fee was the highest amount ever paid for a player at the time.
After making his debut with the A's on April 14, 1925, Grove battled injuries and a lack of control as a rookie, compiling a record of only 10-12, an ERA of 4.75, and a league-leading 131 bases on balls, despite also topping the circuit in strikeouts for the first of a record seven straight times. Grove's sub-.500 mark turned out to be the only one of his career. Although he continued to struggle somewhat with his control during his sophomore campaign of 1926, placing among the league leaders with 101 walks, Grove began to right himself, posting a record of 13-13, leading all American League hurlers with a 2.51 ERA, completing 20 of his 33 starts, and finishing among the league leaders with 258 innings pitched. He evolved into one of the league's best pitchers the following year, winning 20 games for the first of seven consecutive times, while leading the league in strikeouts for the third straight season.
The A's became a contending team in 1928, finishing a close second to the Yankees in the race for the A.L. pennant, and Grove was at the core of their success. He finished 24-8, to lead the league in wins for the first of four times. Grove also placed among the league leaders with a 2.58 ERA, 24 complete games, and 262 innings pitched, while walking only 64 batters and topping the circuit with 183 strikeouts.
Philadelphia captured the pennant in each of the next three seasons, also winning the World Series in both 1929 and 1930. Grove was at his very best throughout that period, posting records of 20-6, 28-5, and 31-4, leading the league in earned run average and strikeouts all three years, and topping the circuit in complete games, shutouts, and saves once each. He captured league MVP honors in 1931 when he won the pitcher's triple crown for the second consecutive season. In addition to finishing 31-4, Grove led the league with a 2.06 ERA, 175 strikeouts, 27 complete games, and four shutouts. His 2.06 earned run average was more than two runs per-game lower than the league average. Although the A's failed to win the A.L. pennant in either of the next two seasons, Grove continued to excel, combining for another 49 victories to complete a six-year stretch during which he posted an amazing record of 152-41.
Easily baseball's most dominant pitcher during that six-year period, Grove thoroughly intimidated opposing batters with his lengthy delivery and blazing fastball. Hall of Fame shortstop Joe Cronin later played with Grove as a member of the Boston Red Sox. However, he served as shortstop for the Washington Senators during Grove's peak years in Philadelphia. Cronin later said, "Just to see that big guy glaring down at you from the mound was enough to frighten the daylights out of you."
Detroit Tiger Hall of Fame second baseman Charlie Gehringer noted, "His (Grove's) fastball was so fast that by the time you'd made up your mind whether it would be a strike or not, it just wasn't there anymore."
Mickey Cochrane, who played against Bob Feller when the Cleveland Indian fireballer entered the league a few year later, was the A's regular catcher during Grove's time with the team. Cochrane later suggested, "Feller never saw the day when he could throw as fast as Grove. Lefty was bigger, more powerful, and had a smoother delivery."
Despite the incredible amount of success Grove experienced in Philadelphia, he frequently tested the patience of his manager and teammates with his fiery temperament and fierce competitive spirit. Known to shred uniforms, kick buckets, and rip apart lockers after a loss, Grove absolutely hated to lose, and he didn't hesitate to blame his teammates if he felt they cost him a game. While going for an A.L. record-breaking 17th consecutive victory in 1931, Grove became infuriated when a substitute outfielder allowed the opposing team to score the winning run by misjudging a routine line drive. The lefthander spent the next several years blaming starting leftfielder Al Simmons for taking the day off to visit a doctor.
Grove's lack of control on the mound during the early stages of his career also exasperated manager Connie Mack from time to time. Mack later explained, "Grove was a thrower until after we sold him to Boston and he hurt his arm. Then he learned to pitch."
As well as Grove pitched for Mack, dwindling attendance forced the A's owner and manager to trade his star hurler to the Boston Red Sox for two ordinary players and $125,000 on December 12, 1933. An arm injury limited Grove to 12 starts and an 8-8 record in his first year in Boston. The ailment also greatly reduced the velocity on Grove's fastball throughout the remainder of his career. Nevertheless, the tall lefthander bounced back the following season to compile a record of 20-12, hurl 23 complete games, and lead the league with a 2.70 ERA. Pitching more craftily than ever before, Grove learned to depend less on an overpowering fastball, and much more on guile. He continued to employ that philosophy the remainder of his career, excelling in each of his next four years with the Red Sox. Grove compiled an overall record of 63-29 for Boston between 1936 and 1939, winning the final two of his major-league record nine ERA titles. He spent two more years in Boston, retiring from the game at the conclusion of the 1941 campaign with a career record of 300 wins and only 141 losses, for an exceptional .680 winning percentage. Pitching exclusively during an outstanding hitter's era, Grove also posted a career ERA of 3.06, completed 298 of his 457 starts, and threw 35 shutouts. In addition to leading the league in earned run average nine times and strikeouts on seven separate occasions, Grove topped the circuit in wins four times, winning percentage five times, and complete games and shutouts three times each. He surpassed 20 victories a total of eight times, compiled an ERA below 3.00 on nine separate occasions, and also completed in excess of 20 games nine times. Grove appeared in six of the first seven All-Star Games, and he excelled during the postseason, compiling a record of 4-2 and a 1.75 ERA in the three World Series in which he appeared. After retiring from baseball, Grove returned to his home town of Lonaconing, Maryland, where he became a friendly townsman who learned to control his once-fierce temper. After being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1947, Grove eventually settled in Norwalk, Ohio, where he lived peacefully until May 22, 1975, when he passed away at the age of 75.
Although many current baseball fans might tend to overlook Lefty Grove when they begin naming the greatest pitchers in the history of the game, the men who saw the big lefthander on the mound realized how great he truly was. Despite occasionally losing patience with the ace of his team's pitching staff, Connie Mack stated in 1931, "All things considered, Grove is the best lefthander that ever walked on a pitcher's slab. He surpasses everybody I have ever seen. He has more speed than any other lefthander in the game."
Mack added, "(Rube) Waddell was a remarkable pitcher. We all know that. But he wasn't dependable. He didn't take care of himself. Grove isn't that way. Lefty's always in condition. He's as dependable as the tides...He's faster than Waddell too."
Meanwhile, noted author and baseball historian Bill James suggests, "What argument, if any, could be presented against the proposition that Lefty Grove was the greatest pitcher who ever lived?"
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