LEFTY GROVE, FENWAY’S BLAST FURNACE

August 25, 2009

Dick Heller wrote in the DC Times about, “The star pitcher roared into the Philadelphia Athletics’ clubhouse at ancient Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis and began his own tour of destruction.
Robert Moses “Lefty” Grove shredded the wooden partitions separating lockers. Then he ripped off his uniform shirt and stomped on it. Finally he began hurling “everything I could get my hands on – bats, balls, shoes, gloves, benches, water buckets, whatever was handy,” he told author Donald Honig decades later.
The date was Aug. 23, 1931, and Grove had lost to the hapless Browns 1-0 in his bid to win an American League-record 17th consecutive game. Worse, he
lost because substitute left fielder Jimmy Moore misjudged a line drive hit by Oscar Melillo that allowed the only run to score in the third inning.
Moore, a journeyman known as “Handsome” because of his movie star looks, was in the second and final season of an otherwise unremarkable baseball career
He was playing only because star left fielder Al Simmons was in Milwaukee being treated for an infected ankle, and Grove’s postgame tirade targeted Simmons rather than his replacement.
“If Simmons had been here, he would have stuck that ball in his back pocket,” Lefty ranted. “What in the devil did he have to go to Milwaukee for?”
After his teammates took the field for the second game of a doubleheader, Grove proceeded to methodically rip out all the shower heads in the clubhouse.
Presumably, the chronically impoverished Browns sent the A’s a bill.
Grove’s temper was well-known around baseball. A dour Marylander whose nickname was “Old Man Mose,” he stood in dramatic contrast with Connie Mack, the team’s gentlemanly owner and manager. But Mack put up with “Robert,” as he always called him, because Grove was the best pitcher in baseball and this was his best season.
During the 16-game winning streak, which tied the AL mark established by Washington’s Walter Johnson and Boston’s Joe Wood in 1912, Grove pitched
complete games in 13 of 14 starts and won twice in relief. As the A’s won their third consecutive pennant that season, he finished with a 31-4 record and a
2.06 ERA. In the 78 years since, only two others have won 30 or more games: Dizzy Dean in 1934 and Denny McLain in 1968.
Over a 17-year career in the bigs, the fireballing Grove went 300-141 with the A’s and Boston Red Sox. He spent no fewer than six seasons with the minor
league Baltimore Orioles, not reaching the majors until he was 25. Starting in 1927, his third season, he won between 20 and 31 games for seven straight years until arm trouble turned him into a still-formidable once-a-week starter.
Nowadays it is almost inconceivable that a pitcher of Grove’s talents could have stayed in the bushes that long. But there were no farm systems in those days, and Orioles owner Jack Dunn turned down several offers for his star until Mack waved $100,500 in his face – at that time the biggest price ever paid for a minor leaguer.
As a rookie, Lefty was only 10-12 because of injuries. He first won 20 in 1927 and followed with 24 in 1928. Grove was only warming up. He was an
otherworldly 79-15 as the A’s collected three pennants in a row from 1929 to 1931.
And of the 141 games he lost in his Hall of Fame career, none was more painful than the one aided and abetted by Moore’s blunder. When that game ended, Mack – fully aware of Grove’s explosive nature, urged Moore to remain on the bench for a bit before going to the clubhouse.
“Now, James, you’re going to feel bad,” Mack told the culprit, “but I’ve seen [Ty] Cobb miss balls easier than that. … We’re going to be in the World Series, and I don’t want any fights or anybody getting hurt.”
Years later, Moore recalled the play in an interview with the Boston Globe.
“If I’d stood still, I’d have caught it,” he said. “If I’d been sitting on a chair, I’d have caught it. But I moved in two steps, the ball was hit harder than I thought and it just nipped off the end of my glove [for a double as a runner scored from second].”
That evening at the team hotel, Mack reminded Grove, “[Dick Coffman of the Browns] pitched a great game, and if we had played them all night we still
probably wouldn’t have scored.”
Grove, chomping on a cheap cigar, merely grunted. Which, for Lefty, amounted to good sportsmanship – or as close as he could come to it.
That winter, Grove even sent Jimmy Moore a Christmas card. But he never forgave Al Simmons.

 

 

 

The Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy feels pretty badly and said, “Things we learned from the weekend of the Yankees’ final regular-season visit to Fenway:
■ Apparently Josh Beckett’s problems with command can’t be blamed on having Victor Martinez as a catcher. With Martinez playing first base, the aptly-named Bronx Bombers hit five homers off Beckett in last night’s 8-4 loss. It was the first time in Beckett’s career he’d given up five homers in a start. Beckett became only the second Sox pitcher to give up five homers in a Yankee game. Dennis Eckersley turned the trick in 1979. Gene “Plane Ticket to Jerusalem’’ Conley yielded four in 1961. Beckett never makes excuses and characterized this outing alternately as a “[butt]-whipping’’ and a “[butt]-whooping.’’ “Those are the only words I’ve got to sum it up,’’ he offered. “Today’s on me.’’                                                                                                                             
■ President Obama has summoned Jim Rice and Derek Jeter for a Beer Summit on the Vineyard today. Maybe Rice should go back to not talking to the media.                                                               
■ Something tells me Jonathan Papelbon isn’t the guy John Calipari hired to take the SATs for Derrick Rose (see his comments on Billy Wagner’s possible
unnecessary appearance in the Red Sox pen).                                                                                                                                         
■ Over a three-year span, CC Sabathia has won his last 11 August decisions.                                         
■ If you are a Red Sox fan, Hideki Matsui is the last batter you want to see with the game on the line. In three games over the weekend, Godzilla hit four homers and knocked in nine runs.                   
■Kevin Youkilis is the Red Sox MVP thus far this season. Youk doesn’t like questions about the division race or the wild card. He’s a day-to-day thinker
■ The second through seventh batters in last night’s Yankee lineup all have at least 19 homers and 62 RBIs. “Every time we made a mistake, they made us pay  for it,’’ said Sox manager Terry Francona.                                                                                                                                         
■ Michael Bowden’s stock is dropping. He was put in a tough position Friday night, but that wasn’t much of a showcase. It’s way too early to make any kind of call on young Bowden, but the Sox have demonstrated a tendency to overvalue some of their pitching prospects.                             
 ■ Francona is not afraid to tell you that he wants Jason Varitek catching Beckett and Jon Lester. He’s also not shy about benching David Ortiz against Sabathia even though Big Papi is on a tear and is 7 for 23 (.304 lifetime) against the big lefty. The manager looked like a genius with Rocco Baldelli and Varitek in the lineup last night. Baldelli and Varitek stroked back-to-back two-out RBI hits in the second inning.                                                                                                                  
■ Baldelli’s hitting music is Hendrix’s “All Along The Watchtower.’’ Gotta love that.                                
■ The irrational booing of Johnny Damon at Fenway will never stop.                                               
■ Good guy Tommy Harper jokes about going all Tonya Harding on us, but he’ll keep coming to the park and rooting for Jacoby Ellsbury until the kid breaks Harper’s club stolen base record (54). Ellsbury reached on an error in the first last night, but he was caught stealing when he misread Sabathia’s slide-step. Let’s  hope Ellsbury’s quest doesn’t drag out like the Yaz (3,000 hit) Watch.                                                                                                                                              
■ You can’t blame general manager Theo Epstein for lack of aggressiveness since the end of July. The Sox are still paying for not paying Mark Teixeira last winter, but that decision was made by owner John Henry. Theo’s been working overtime since the trading deadline.                                   
 ■ The Sox and Yanks are both tough to beat when they score 14 runs.                                            
■ We missed Bob Lobel last night. It would have been a good night for Lobie to air tape of John Smoltz smothering the Padres and ask, “Why can’t we get
players like that?’’                               
■ A.J. Burnett looks like a head case. Soft. Easily unraveled. And let’s not hear any more about a communication gap with catcher Jorge Posada. Mariano
Rivera seems to have done just fine with “Hip-Hip, Jorge.’’                                                                                                                               
■ Who’d have guessed Junichi Tazawa would outpitch Beckett in the series? Tazawa looks very hittable, but the kid is not afraid to throw any of his four
pitches on any count.                                       
■ “Sweet Caroline’’ jumped the shark about two years ago.                                                             
■The season series stands at Red Sox 9, Yankees 6, with three to play in Yankee Stadium next month. “Early on, we were the better team,’’ said Sox left fielder Jason Bay. “Sometimes, it’s just who is the better team at that moment.’’Right now, the better team is the Yankees. They’ve won six of the seven against the Sox since Aug. 6. It would be nice to see the Sox and Yankees face one another in the ALCS again. It hasn’t happened since 2004 (remember that one?), but if the season ended today, the Division Series would pit the Sox against the Angels and the Yankees against the Tigers. Detroit is clearly the weakest of the four prospective American League playoff teams and it’s hard to imagine the Yankees losing to the Tigers. The Angels are better than they’ve been in other years when they played the Sox in October, but Mike Scioscia’s guys always dissolve when they come to Boston for the playoffs.”

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