The Ace of National League Hurlers
Bush of the Cubs, is Having a Great Year? Lucas, of the Reds, is a Fine Performer? But, Until He Was Hurt, Grimes was the Outstanding Figure on the Hurling Mound
By F.C. Lane
BASEBALL MAGAZINE October 1929
The Pittsburgh ace is not only mechanically great, his gameness and fighting spirit are proverbial. He has been called temperamental. He says this is merely an indication of his eagerness to win.
Upon the sunbaked pitching mound stood Burleigh Grimes. On either side stretched the graceful sweep of the Polo Ground stands; before him towered the battle?mented height of Coogan's Bluff. It was the twentieth of July, and the formidable Pittsburgh pitcher was indulging in his favorite sport? taming the restless, always dangerous Giants.
His steel spikes gritted hard against the pitching slab. He eyed the batter narrowly, Bill Terry, one of the hardest hitters on the circuit. Then, with that aggressive, forward lunge of his, bearing down hard as he always does, he shot the ball straight at the distant plate. It went like an arrow, it returned like a bullet. Straight to the seam swung Terry's forceful bat. Like a white flash the ball shot backward, exactly on its former path.
Grimes, great fielder that he is, instinctively put up his hands. But that terrific smash was too hot to handle. It struck the thumb of his pitching hand with crushing force, then caromed off. But no gamer player ever donned a uniform. He pounced upon the ball, picked it up, threw, with his disabled hand, to first base, then strolled disconsolately from the field.
On the eve of that important series, Grimes had confided to the writer a long nourished ambition of his. "If I get a lucky break," he said, "I might win thirty hall games this season." Already he had won sixteen. If his amazing percentage of victory still held, thirty triumphs were well within his grasp. "If I get, the breaks," said Grimes. Instead he was destined to get a disabled pitching hand.
On that unfortunate day Pittsburgh led the National League by a scant margin. With their star boxman on the shelf, that margin melted away and speedily became a deficit. As this is written, the Chicago Cubs are slowly forging ahead and seem the logical best bet for National League pennant winner. You cannot remove a pitcher like Grimes from the line?up of a fighting team, in the heat of the pennant race and not feel that loss.
Up to July 20th, at least, Grimes was the outstanding figure of the National League. No other player could rival him in solid achievement. And what seems all the more remarkable in his great record, is the fact that from usual baseball angles, Grimes is a veteran who should be surveying the sunset shadows of his own career.
Moreover, Grimes is not only a veteran among pitchers, he has done more work in the past ten years than any other hurler in either circuit. Search through the records and you will be impressed with their convincing evidence. Year after year Grimes has pitched in turn and out. He has finished up ball games for other pitchers when those games trembled in the balance. He has emerged from the dug?out a day or so later to take his own turn. He has battled against the strong teams rather than the weak. The total of innings pitched tells the story. Grimes has pitched a greater number of innings in the past decade than any other hurler in the big time act.
What is the secret of his great work at an age when most pitchers are through? There are several answers to this question. In the first place, Grimes is a spit ball pitcher. Upon his stalwart shoulders rests the mantle of the once invincible Ed Walsh. That iron arm of the ancient White Sox performed veritable prodigies of pitching, fifteen years ago. He burned out quickly. Grimes has conserved his strength, has used his energies more sparingly, has lasted much longer. Only a handful of that vanishing breed of spit baII pitchers remain. Their particular type of delivery is a rarity to opposing batters. That is one secret of their success.
But Grimes would be a great pitcher, quite apart from the spit ball, of which he is the acknowledged master. Nature endowed him with an iron frame, prodigious strength, an immense reserve of stamina and endurance and a fighting, indomitable will to achieve. "Whatever success I have had," says Grimes, "is due to the misfortunes of my early life. At least they seemed like misfortunes then. My father died when I was quite young. We were very poor. My mother set herself resolutely toward bringing up her little family. But we all had to work, and work hard. There were no luxuries in our home. We had a farm in Wisconsin and I was brought up to work. Our food offered no great variety, but it was wholesome and abundant. Hard work, fresh air, good food, those three things were the foundation of the physical condition which has enabled me to pitch all these years.
"When I was older, I got work in a lumber camp in Wisconsin. I started to work at half past four in the morning and quit somewhere near nine o'clock at night. I was paid a dollar a day. Later I was raised to thirty?six dollars a month. It seemed a fortune then.
"Four winters I worked in that camp, hard, healthy work. There was a spice of danger in it too. I suppose I am one of the few men who ever had a heavy load of logs tip over on him and came through without a scratch.
"I can remember that little episode as though it happened yesterday. I was driving the sled. There were seven tiers of logs, two footers at the butt, sixteen feet long. The load was fourteen feet wide. There were four horses, and I was guiding them down a steep grade through the snow. We struck a stump and the load pitched forward. The thought flashed through my mind to jump clear of the load, but I hadn't time. The upper logs slid right over me. Every log on the sled pitched off except one. That was the one that I had my back braced against. For some unknown reason it caught on something and held. There was just enough space for me to lie there while the logs pitched and rolled over me. It took a crowd of husky lumber jacks several minutes to dig me out. It was a close shave for me.
"Sometimes I think of that lumber camp when I hear pitchers complaining about overwork. Things are pretty relative in this world. Two hours in an afternoon every few days isn't what I would classify as the hardest kind of occupation. It has its strenuous moments, to be sure. But I prefer it to life in a lumber camp.
"I weigh 190 pounds, in condition. During the season I lose perhaps ten pounds. Pitching a hard ball game on a broiling day will lower your weight that much, though you'll get it back presently. But at the season's close I'm a little stale, a little tired. So I go to a camp I own up in Wisconsin, where I spend the winter. I tramp miles every day in the snow with my gun. I breathe crisp, frosty air many hours out of the twenty?four. I eat a lot of wholesome, well cooked food. I go to bed early and sleep like a badger in a burrow. And next season I'm fit for whatever deviltry the batters can invent.
"They call me an old pitcher. Why should I be old? One of these physical culture experts told me that a man reached his prime, in physical strength, at thirty, but declined very little until he was forty or older. That's my schedule.
"I haven't quite as much stuff as I used to have, but I'm a better pitcher, if I do say it myself. Experience tells. I know the batters. I know how to pitch. I understand better what I can do myself and what the opposition is likely to do. A pitcher is like a good oak log. He needs seasoning.
"I work hard. I bear down all the time. And it is the misfortune of my type of delivery to pitch a lot of balls during an average game. I've hurt my arm more than once by exerting it. I've hurt it by throwing a fast ball. I've hurt it several times by throwing a spitter. Any ball will hurt your arm if you put everything you have behind it. But, after all, spitters and fast balls are easy deliveries compared with curve pitching.
"My spitter doesn't break anywhere near as much as Ed Walsh's used to do, if I can believe the stories they tell about him. But it breaks enough. A spitter, since it ducks as it comes up to the batter, is likely to be topped. That is, he's likely to hit a little above it and drive it into the ground. Ed Walsh used to say when his spitter was breaking no batter could drive it out of the infield. That wouldn't be true today with the lively ball and the slugging. Even a spitter is likely to take two bounds and bounce right out of the infield.
"My record hasn't been rich in unusual games. That's not my style. Some pitchers like to make a bum out of the opposing team. All I try to do is win. I don't strike out fifteen men, or pitch no?hit games, Those are good stunts, if you can do them without taking too much out of your arm. I never shone at stunts. My record must be taken as a whole, if it's to measure up. One great year followed by a couple of poor ones never appealed to me. I'd rather have a succession of good years. For, after all, in baseball it's the games you win that count. How you win them isn't so important.
"It has been my fortune, good or bad, to be traded several times in my Big League career. I was with Pittsburgh years ago.' They traded me to Brooklyn. I spent nine years in Brooklyn. Many newspaper stories have leaked out that I didn't get along well with Manager Robinson. Perhaps I did cause him unpleasant moments, but I have no unfriendly feeling whatever toward Robbie. I'll say of him, he's a good man with his pitchers. His record shows it. Perhaps he's a little too good, a trifle too considerate for his own selfish interests. True, we had our disagreements, but that's ancient history, Baseball is a rough and ready, give and take proposition. It's not a game for weaklings. You talk plainly sometimes, but what of it?
"Robbie traded me to the Giants. I was glad to go to the Giants. True, they didn't keep me very long, but that's their business: Stories have flitted around that I didn't fit in to McGraw's system. That's not true. I admire McGraw's ability as a manager and obeyed his instructions always. I had no trouble with McGraw. I did have an argument with the Club over salary matters. It seemed to me I was worth more money than I was getting. The owners didn't view the matter in that light; but what of that? I had no hard feelings. Baseball is my business and baseball is their business. If we don't both look out for our own interests, I don't know who else will, So they traded me to Pittsburgh.
"That's all, right with me. I couldn't ask to be on a better club than Pittsburgh. The fellows are a nice crowd, personally, besides, they're good ball players. And what's most important of all, they're hustlers. They hit well and score a lot of runs, and they back up a pitcher.
There's been a lot said about my temperament. Some sports writers have written stories about my prima donna emotional outbursts. Maybe I have got hot under the collar more easily than I should, but I think those stories have been exaggerated. The point is, I was always a hard loser. When I'm on the mound working my head off to win, I want to feel that the fellows behind me are carrying their share of the load. Ball players get disgruntled easily. They may be sore at the owners or sore at the manager. If they get a couple of hits, they feel they've done well. If they boot one, that's all part of the game. But booting one may cost a pitcher a well earned victory and victories are the only sales talk he can give the owner when salaries come up for discussion. More than once in my career I've made remarks to fellows that didn't seem to me to be hustling, and I'd do it again.
"In some cities I've been in bad it with the crowd, but that never bothered me. In fact, I rather like to have the crowd ride me. It keeps me on my toes. It's a kind of inspiration. The crowd pays its good money to see an exhibition. If they want to do a little yelling, I don't begrudge them the privilege. Why should anybody else?
"Merely pitching never satisfied me. I want to figure that I'm an all round ball player. I always hustled in the field. I always try to bear down when I am at bat. A good fielding, hard hitting pitcher is a great help to his team. But frankly, I'd be glad to see President Heydler's proposed scheme of a steady pinch hitter for the pitcher adopted. The pitcher ought to have his mind free, and his strength concentrated on pitching and nothing else.
"The spitter, which is always an ace in the hole for me, is supposed to be one reason for my success. No doubt it is. But the spitter has its drawbacks. When I'm pitching, I chew slippery elm all the time. I don't like it, but it's the only thing that I can chew that gives satisfaction. But there's been many a hot day warming up for the ball game is the critical time for me. I warm up slowly. I need a lot of work to get in trim. If I haven't had quite enough exercise, the first inning or two is liable to be stormy weather, But once I settle down, I generally have strength enough left to see it through. I like a pitcher who grows better toward the end.
"Outsiders judge a pitcher's work by the number of games or innings he pitches. The pitcher judges it by the feeling in his old soup bone. And no one but he knows what that feeling is. There are games that take four times as much out of your arm as other games. I've pitched more than one extra inning game and felt fit to go in there the next day. But these heavy scoring, see?saw games are always tough. The truth is, you're not right. You're exerting yourself all the time to get by and the strain is a heavy load. Pitchers hate those games almost as much as a sore arm. And a sore arm is the bug bear of all pitchers.
"Some pitchers fatten their scores against the weak clubs. That's not good dope, in my opinion. I always welcome a set?to with the strong clubs, If you can win your share of those games, you have a right to consider yourself a pitcher.
After all these years in a strenuous profession like baseball, I haven't many illusions or day dreams left. But I hope, before I hang up my uniform for the last time, that I can pitch at least one more World's Series game. I got a taste of the Big Series back there in 1920. But they told me afterwards the Cleveland coaches tipped off the batters when I was in the box. At that, I pitched at least one pretty good game against them, but I didn't cover myself with any glory. Now I'm older and a bit wiser and I think I'd make a better record. At least I'd like the chance to try."