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All-Time A's #1

All-Time A's #1:
Lefty Grove

Robert Moses Grove is almost unquestionably the best lefty pitcher ever and, probably among the three or five best of either hand. His 300 wins and 2,266 strikeouts are impressive - but would have likely been considerably higher, except his major league debut was delayed by Jack Dunn, the owner of the minor league Baltimore Orioles who was not moved to sell his star pitcher until the Philadelphia A's paid a then record $106,000 for the rights to his services. Without ever having thrown a Major League pitch, Grove was met with expectations of instant stardom when he joined the team for the 1925 season.

Coming off an exemplary minor league career, in which Grove led the league in strikeouts in all four of his full seasons, Grove was more than ready to dominate. Dominate he did. From day one, Grove met and exceeded every expectation ... well, maybe not quite from day one. Groves, as he was incorrectly listed in the New York Times box score lasted only four innings that day - and, true to the form he would display that year, he was wild - walking four, to allow five runs. The A's would go on to win that game. And Grove would go on to post a solid but inconsistent season, leading the league in strikeouts ... and walks, while allowing a league average era.

Before long he was able to harness his gas and began mowing down opposing hitters with ease. 1926 was his first great season. He was not only the best pitcher on his young and improving A's club, he was likely the best in the league. For the second consecutive year, Grove led the league in strikeouts. This would become the norm for many years as he took home that crown in every one of his first seven seasons in the Majors. This year, however, he cut his bb/9 rate dramatically - from 6.0 in 1925 to a still high 3.5. It was not high enough to give the batters a chance, though. Grove led the league with a 2.51 era, but, surprisingly, only went 13-13. He pitched so much and so well, that he was able to achieve a dubious distinction as a batter, as well - finishing 10th in the league in strikeouts, despite only stepping to the plate 95 times. He would ultimately set the record for most career strikeouts by a pitcher.

Coming from humble roots in rural Maryland, Grove was not comfortable with the fame and public recognition his talents brought him. Never much of a talker and lacking in formal education, his temper came to define his personality in the minds of much of the public and history. After a loss, he would frequently punch clubhouse walls - with his right hand, of course, and would sometimes berate his teammates for their poor fielding. He was also dislike by opposing players and fans due to his reputation as a head-hunter. Grove would always defend himself, "I never threw at a hitter, I was just naturally wild."

Grove got better and better, leading the league in strikeouts year after year, and finishing among the leaders in era and wins, leading his teams to World Series Championships in 1929 and 1930, posting a combined 1.07 era in those contests.

1931 was the year it all came together, though. Grove won his third of four consecutive and nine total era titles and posted the best era of his career - 2.06, for an era+ of 219, the second best ever by a left handed pitcher. For the second straight year he took the pitcher's triple crown, also leading the league in strikeouts and wins - going an astounding 31-4 - including sixteen straight victories, which tied a Major League record. Going for #17, however, Grove got the loss, giving up one unearned run, which scored when a backup outfielder misjudged a line drive, allowing the games one run to score. Grove said that he would have forgiven the backup - if he could have remembered his name - but he never forgave starting outfielder Al Simmons, who took the day off to see the doctor. Despite only tying for the record, voters saw fit to name Grove the league's MVP, a rare honor for a pitcher. Despite Grove's stellar pitching, the Athletics' bats went dead after game one of the World Series and Grove and his Hall of Fame teammates (Cochrane, Foxx and Simmons) would have to settle for two championships.

Grove pitched exceptionally for two more years with the A's, before Connie Mack's Depression-related financial problems forced him to disassemble his team and Grove was traded to the Red Sox for two warm bodies and $125,000. After an injury plagued 1934, Grove posted three exceptional years in Boston before his age started to catch up with him. He struggled to stay on the field but was dominant when healthy in 1938 and 1939, at 38 and 39, respectively, and was still effective until retiring at the age of 41.

Grove pitched 3,940 innings (#42) over his 17 year career, winning 300 games (#21) and striking out 2,266 (#45). Due to the offensive nature of his day, his career 3.06 era falls outside of the top 100, but when adjusted for context, his career 148 era+ is the best of all-time (at least until Pedro Martinez retires).

After retirement, Grove returned to his hometown of Lonaconing, MD, where the bowling alley he owned was the local social center and lived out his remaining days in relative obscurity.

Of course, as always, a recommend is appreciated.

#10 Eddie Plank
#9 Eric Chavez
#8 Reggie Jackson
#7 Eddie Collins
#6 Mickey Cochrane
#5 Mark McGwire
#4 Dennis Eckersley
#3 Rickey Henderson
#2 Jimmie Foxx
#1 Lefty Grove

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