Rogan: Sports’ Forgotten Heroes: Burleigh Grimes

From SABR member Warren Rogan at Sports’ Forgotten Heroes on August 27, 2019, with SABR member Joe Niese:

Baseball outlawed the spitball in 1920. However, each team was allowed to designate two pitchers (if they already threw the spitter) to throw it until they retired. Burleigh Grimes of the Brooklyn (Dodgers) Robins was one of those pitchers. His spitball was quite unique in that he “coated” the ball with a special sap from a type of tree in Polk County, Wisconsin. Grimes continued to use his spitter, whenever he felt necessary throughout his career which ended after the 1934 season. Overall, Grimes won 270 games and was enshrined in baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York by the Veterans Committee in 1964. A fierce competitor, Grimes never backed down from anyone and even let his teammates know it when he was unhappy with them.

This trait – “fierceness” – might also be why so many baseball fans know the name Burleigh Grimes, but so few can tell you much about his career. It was Burleigh’s intense desire to win that actually proved to be a detriment to his career as he was shipped from team to team to team. In fact, Grimes changed addresses nine times during his 19-year career that saw him play for the Pirates (three times) the Dodgers (who were also known as the Robins, and we talk about that in this episode of SFH), the Giants, the Braves, the Cardinals (twice), the Cubs and the Yankees. In fact, after going 1908 in his lone season for John McGraw and the New York Giants, Grimes was traded because he just couldn’t get along with a few of his teammates. Well, maybe “getting along” is too strong, but he let it be known if he wasn’t happy with their play behind him when he was on the mound. And that’s too bad, because Grimes could pitch. He won 270 games during his career and helped four of his teams reach the World Series, coming out on the winning side once, 1931, when he went 2-0 for the Cardinals in the Redbirds’ win over the Philadelphia Athletics.

Author Joe Niese wrote a terrific biography on Grimes, Burleigh Grimes, Baseball’s Last Legal Spitballer, and is here to discuss the terrific career of Grimes and also talks about the unique spitball that Grimes threw.

Listen to the full podcast here (scroll down to Episode 63):

Originally published: August 27, 2019. Last Updated: August 27, 2019.