Seventy years ago today, perhaps the greatest pitcher of the 20th century announced his retirement: Lefty Grove.
Grove had the nasty tendency to have circumstances beyond his control cause him get less attention than he deserved. It’s odd for that to be the case for a great player, but it was the case for Grove.
As a minor leaguer, he was by far the best prospect in the game, the sort of man that would normally create a bidding war among many teams. Except there was an oddity in Grove’s case. His minor league team, Baltimore, knew he was the best catch out there and figured they could use that to fetch the biggest price ever.
Baltimore demanded a huge price and refused to budge. Why should they? Either they made money by selling Grove for their high price, or they could make money by keeping Grove and watching the turnstiles click as fans turned out to see their great pitcher.
Eventually, Connie Mack’s A’s met the price by purchasing Grove on the installment plan. Instead of one lump sum, they sent “x” dollars to Baltimore each year every year for a decade or so.
Grove moved to Philadelphia, and he certainly did shine. He led the league in strikeouts each of his first seven years. He also claimed nine ERA titles, topped the league in wins four times and winning percentage five times. That’s the stuff legends are made of.
Aye, but circumstances beyond Grove’s control caused him to look less impressive than he was. Did he lead the league in ERA nine times? Yeah, but he also pitched in a high run-scoring era. Only once did his ERA drop below 2.50. Unless you know to adjust for era, he doesn’t look that impressive. And hardly anyone would adjust ERA for era for decades after his career’s end.
Seven straight strikeout titles? That’s great, except that it was a low period for strikeouts. He topped 200 punchouts only once. His 2,266 career strikeouts are far fewer than Javier Vazquez has. If Tim Wakefield pitches next year, he might pass Grove.
All those win titles? Well, Grove did join the 300 win club—barely. He ended his career with exactly 300 wins. That does put him in exclusive company, but it also underestimates his brilliance. Over 20 men are in that club, but there’s no way 20 men are as good as Grove. Had he started earlier, he could have Warren Spahn’s mark for the most wins by a liveball era pitcher.
In all, Grove was continually diminished by things beyond his control. Due to that, I supposed its appropriate what day he chose to announce his retirement. It was Dec. 7, 1941. When he announced it, dawn had not yet come to Pearl Harbor. Once it had—well, let’s just say the Grove’s retirement turned out to be by far the most overshadowed portion of his career.
Aside from that, many other baseball events celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is an event occurring X-thousand days ago) today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold for those of you who prefer to skim.
3,000 days since Gary Sheffield gets his 2,000th hit.
3,000 days since Albert Pujols bangs out his second walk-off home run.
3,000 days since Barry Bonds gets on base for the 57th consecutive game.
3,000 days since players on the Montreal Expos vote unanimously to play all their games in Montreal next year. They had played a fourth of them in Puerto Rico this season (2003).
7,000 days since the A’s top Toronto, 4-3, in Game One of the ALCS. Toronto ties it 3-3 in the bottom of the eighth, but Oakland scores once in the top of the ninth for the win.
25,000 days since Rico Petrocelli is born.
1847 Deacon White, star player of the 19th century, is born.
1876 The National League holds its first annual meeting. They expel the New York and Philadelphia teams for refusing to work with the rest of the league in a set schedule. Those two franchises wanted to continue barnstorming. Also, the NL elects William Hulbert to succeed Morgan Buckeley as league president.
1881 The NL rejects the application of star slugger Charley Jones for reinstatement. He’s a casualty of the installment of the reserve clause, but he’ll eventually be let back in the big leagues.
1898 The Phillies sign center fielder and on-base specialist Roy Thomas.
1911 Denny Galehouse, pitcher, is born.
1927 Dick Donovan, pitcher, is born.
1935 Don Cardwell, pitcher, is born.
1942 Alex Johnson, troubled baseball hitter, is born.
1947 Johnny Bench, maybe the best catcher in baseball history, is born.
1962 Bobo Newsom, rubber armed 200-game winner, dies.
1962 J. G. Taylor Spink, publisher of The Sporting News, dies at age 74.
1963 Shane Mack, outfielder for the Twins’ 1991 world champions, is born.
1967 Atlanta trades a young Bobby Cox to the Yankees.
1967 Tino Martinez, first baseman, is born.
1969 Lefty O’Doul, pitcher turned outfielder considered the Father of Japanese Baseball, dies at age 72.
1973 Boston purchases Juan Marichal from the Giants.
1973 Texas purchases Cesar Tovar from the Phillies.
1977 Baltimore trades pitchers Rudy May and Byrn Smith along with another player to the Expos for Gary Roenicke, Joe Kerrigan, and Don Stanhouse. Roenicke will become one of Earl Weaver’s more effective role players, while Smith will be a rotation stalwart for the Expos throughout the 1980s.
1977 Atlanta sells Andy Messersmith, the original free agent, to the Yankees.
1977 The Mets purchase Tim Foli from the Giants.
1977 Eric Chavez is born.
1978 Boston parts way with veteran flake pitcher Bill Lee, trading him to the Expos.
1979 Montreal trades for speedy outfielder Ron LeFlore from the Tigers.
1980 St. Louis signs free agent backstop Darrell Porter.
1983 The Angels trade shortstop Tim Foli to the Yankees.
1983 The Reds sign free agent Dave Parker. With Cincinnati, Parker will regain his hitting stroke.
1984 Atlanta signs free agent relief ace Bruce Sutter.
1988 The Phillies cut veteran reliever Kent Tekulve.
1988 Seattle signs free agent Jeffrey Leonard.
1988 Texas signs free agent Nolan Ryan, where he’ll end his career.
1989 Cleveland signs free agent first baseman Keith Hernandez, who is nearly done as a player.
1989 Detroit signs outfielder Lloyd Moseby, once a well-regarded player with Toronto who got old quick.
1990 New York Times reporter Murray Chass says the Players Association will get $280,000,000 in compensation for collusion. MLB will acquire the money by expanding. The Rockies and Marlins expansion fees pay for collusion.
1992 Owners vote 15-13 to reopen the collective bargaining agreement with the players.
1992 Seattle takes Fernando Vina from the Mets in the Rule 5 draft.
1992 Toronto signs free agent Paul Molitor.
1995 Cleveland signs free agent Julio Franco. It’s a return to the team he first came to prominence with.
1998 Baltimore signs veteran free agents Will Clark and Delino DeShields.
2000 It’s one of the signature deals from the Moneyball book: Oakland sends catcher Miguel Olivo to the White Sox for underrated relief prospect Chad Bradford.
2000 The Yankees sign free agent pitcher Mike Mussina.
2001 MLB releases financial information revealing that the most profitable club in 2001 was the Milwaukee Brewers.
2001 Seattle signs free agent Bret Boone. This move will be a good one for Seattle.
2005 Cleveland signs free agent pitcher Paul Byrd.
2005 The Dodgers hire Grady Little to manage their squad.
2005 Pittsburgh trades Mark Redman to the Royals.
2005 San Diego officially gives up on their third baseman of the future, trading Sean Burroughs to Tampa.
2005 Toronto signs free agent pitcher A.J. Burnett.
2006 In the Rule 5 draft, the Cubs claim Josh Hamilton from Tampa Bay. That same day, Cincinnati purchases Hamilton from the Cubs.
2007 Barry Bonds pleads not guilty to charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in federal hearings dealing with the BALCO investigation.
2009 The Nationals sign catcher Ivan Rodriguez.
2009 St. Louis signs pitcher Brad Penny.
2010 Arizona signs free agent reliever J.J. Putz.
2010 The divorce of the Dodger-owning McCourts muddies, as the judge invalidates a 2004 marital property agreement. The invalidated agreement said the Dodgers belonged solely to Frank McCourt.