One of the greatest left-handed pitchers in major league history, Grove led the American League in wins in four separate seasons, in strikeouts seven years in a row, and had the league's lowest earned run average a record nine times. Over the course of the three years from 1929 to 1931 he twice won the pitcher's Triple Crown, leading the league in wins, strikeouts, and ERA, while amassing a 79-15 record as the ace for the Athletics' dynasty teams.1
Grove joined the Orioles in 1920, and broke into the team's pitching rotation at midseason with a 12-2 record. Over the next four seasons, he posted marks of 25-10, 18-8, 27-10 and 26-6, leading the International League in strikeouts each season.
Grove remained in the minor leagues through 1924 because Dunn refused several offers from the majors to acquire him. At the time, the Orioles were an independent operation with no major league affiliation and the International League had declared its players not subject to a major league draft. Since the reserve clause in all contracts was honored throughout organized baseball, this meant that Grove had no way to reach the majors until the Orioles became willing to trade or sell his contract. Finally, early in 1925, Dunn agreed to sell Grove's rights to the Philadelphia Athletics for $100,600, the highest amount ever paid for a player at the time.
Grove battled injuries as a rookie and posted a 10-13 mark (which would prove his only losing record in 17 major league seasons), despite leading the league in strikeouts. Grove then settled down in 1926 and won the first of a record nine earned run average (ERA) titles with a mark of 2.51. In 1927, Grove won 20 games for the first time, and a year later he led the league in wins with 24.
In 1928, Grove twice struck out the side on nine pitches. On August 23, he did it in the second inning of a 3-1 win over the Cleveland Indians to become the third American League pitcher and seventh pitcher in major league history to accomplish the feat. On September 27, he did it in the seventh inning of a 5-3 win over the Chicago White Sox, becoming the first pitcher in major league history to accomplish the feat twice in a career; since then, only Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan, both Hall of Famers, have joined him. Grove, however, remains the only pitcher to do it twice in the same season. The sportswriter Arthur "Bugs" Baer wrote, "Lefty Grove could throw a lamb chop past a wolf."3
The Athletics won the pennant in three successive seasons (1929 to 1931), as well as consecutive World Series championships in 1929 and 1930. During the Athletics' championship run, Grove led the way as the league's top pitcher, posting records of 20-6, 28-5 and 31-4. In 1930, Grove led the league in wins, ERA (2.06), strikeouts (175), winning percentage, complete games, and shutouts. His 2.06 ERA was 2.32 runs below the league average.4 He was also chosen as league MVP in 1931, making him one of only a handful of pitchers to achieve this honor. His MVP award is the only one not enshrined in Cooperstown, instead being housed at the Georges Creek Library in Lonaconing.
Grove was unable to contribute substantially during his first year in Boston, an arm injury holding him to an 8-8 record. In 1935, however, Grove returned to form with a 20-12 record and a league-leading 2.70 ERA. Grove won his eighth ERA title a year later, and also led the league in ERA and winning percentage in 1938. Grove continued to post outstanding records, including 14-4 in 1938 and 15-4 in 1939.
Death and legacy
Grove retired in 1941 with a career record of 300-141. His .680 lifetime winning percentage is eighth all-time;6 however, none of the seven men ahead of him won more than 236 games. His lifetime ERA of 3.06, when normalized to overall league ERA and adjusted for the parks in which Grove played during his career, is fourth all-time among pitchers with at least 1,000 innings pitched (behind Mariano Rivera, Jim Devlin, and Pedro Martínez) at 48 percent better than average.7
In 1998, Grove was ranked number 23 on The Sporting News list of Baseball's Greatest Players.8 He ranked second, behind only Warren Spahn, among left-handed pitchers (third when Babe Ruth is counted as a pitcher as well as an outfielder). That same year, Grove was elected to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.