Wyatt: Burleigh Grimes, the last legal spitballer

From Daniel Wyatt at The National Pastime Museum on January 24, 2017:

When husky 41-year-old right-hander Burleigh Grimes retired in 1934, he was the last of the “legal” spitballers—his standard identification, per se. But he was much more than a pitcher who threw wet ones. His arsenal also encompassed a great fastball, curve, and changeup, besides a spitball that broke eight inches. One of the premier hurlers in his day, Grimes could have won 300 games, according to his own admission, had he received a certain piece of advice early in his career. Still, he rode the spitball to the Hall of Fame in 1964 with 270 wins, 3.53 ERA, and five 20-game seasons spread over 19 years in an era where hitters dominated.

A fierce competitor with a mean streak, he’d walk to the mound with a sneer on his lips and an arrogant strut to his step. Nicknamed “Ol’ Stubblebeard,” he didn’t shave on the days he pitched, making him appear even more menacing. Many times, he would throw at batters he didn’t like to take their edge away. One such opponent was Frankie Frisch, who had spiked Grimes at first base in a previous game. Some weeks later, Grimes made Frisch “skip rope” three times before aiming the next pitch right at his head. “It was one of the few times in baseball I was really scared,” Frisch remembered, after he had dusted himself off. “And Burleigh just stood out there and laughed at me.”

Born a country boy to a dairy farming family on August 18, 1893, in Emerald, Wisconsin, Grimes began experimenting with the spitter at 13 after seeing a pitcher throw it in a minor league game in St. Paul, Minnesota. Six years later, Grimes made his pro debut with the Class D Eau Claire Commissioners of the Minnesota-Wisconsin League. Originally signed by the Detroit Tigers, his contract was bought out by the Pittsburgh Pirates after he went 20–11 in 1916 with the Birmingham Barons. Pittsburgh took him straight to the Majors that late summer, where he recorded 2–3 and 3–16 seasons before being traded to Brooklyn—called the Robins then—in a five-player deal following the 1917 season that saw Casey Stengel head to Pittsburgh.

Read the full article here: http://www.thenationalpastimemuseum.com/article/last-legal-burleigh-grimes

Originally published: January 24, 2017. Last Updated: January 24, 2017.