Bad To The Bone

Lefty Grove

    Lefty Grove is generally considered the greatest left-handed pitcher in American League history. Although he did not reach the majors until the age of 25, he still won 300 games, earning eight 20-win seasons.

    Grove developed arm speed by throwing rocks as a youngster, and he led the American League in strikeouts seven consecutive seasons. With a temperament as mean as his fastball, he was 31-4 for the 1931 Athletics, compiling a 16-game winning streak in the process.

    In 1931 Lefty Grove was en route to his seventeenth straight victory, which would have broken the AL record then shared by Walter Johnson and Smoky Joe Wood. Al Simmons had taken the day off, and the rookie outfielder subbing for him misjudged a fly ball, leading to an unearned run; Grove lost, 1-0. He said, "After that game I went in and tore the clubhouse up. Wrecked the place. Tore those stall lockers off the wall, giving Al Simmons hell all the while."

    Grove recovered his composure, won another eight straight, was named MVP, and ended the season 31-4, possibly the single greatest season enjoyed by any hurler. The dominant pitcher of his era, he was the AL's strikeout leader his first seven years, led in ERA a record nine times, and went on to compile a won-lost record of 300-141, a winning percentage of .680. Normalized for league average and adjusted for home park, his 3.06 ERA is, quite simply, the best in baseball history.

    Though Lefty was known to throw at batters, one player he learned to stay away from was Lou Gehrig. "You can never tell what that big fellow will do if you get him mad at you". Lefty also had an unknown softer side when it came to kids. He "adopted" a sandlot team that he used to drive past on his way home from games. He bought the kids new uniform and equipment with no fanfare!

    He started in Organized Ball with Martinsburg, West Virginia, of the Blue Ridge League and joined the International League Orioles when Baltimore bartered for him, paying cash for Martinsburg's new center field fence. Owner Jack Dunn knew what he had in Grove and delayed his entry to the big leagues until the southpaw was twenty-five; he sold Grove to Connie Mack's A's for $100,600?$600 more than the Red Sox had paid for Babe Ruth in 1914.

    Like Sandy Koufax after him, Grove had his troubles initially, winning 10 and losing 12 in 1925, his rookie year; however, the following year his ERA improved from 4.75 to 2.51, good enough to lead the league for the first time. By 1927, he was ready for his first 20-win season and tied George Pipgras for the league lead in wins (24) while losing only 8.

    From 1929 to 1931 Grove was an awesome 79-15, and the A's won pennants every year as well as the Series the first two. By the time he was sold to the Red Sox for $125,000 in 1933, he had won 20, 24, 20, 28, 31, 25, and 24 games in seven consecutive seasons. Yet success didn't mellow him; in batting practice a Boston teammate once hit a ball back through the box; on the next pitch the batter hit the dust. Grove was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1947 and died from a heart attack on May 22, 1975.