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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 714


This is the grave of Burleigh Grimes.

Born in 1893 in Emerald, Wisconsin, Grimes grew up in an athletic family. His father, a farmer and laborer, was a former baseball player at the local level and taught his son to play as well as box. His father died when he was young though and Grimes had to start working as a kid, mostly in the timber industry. He was once nearly killed by a load of falling logs. He became a good pitcher and started playing for the might Eau Claire Commissioners of the Minnesota-Wisconsin League in 1912. He rose through the minors and debuted with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1916. He had a couple of rough years, including going 3-16 in 1917 and was then traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers. In that terrible year of 1917, Pirates manager Hugo Bedzek challenged Grimes for not being competitive enough. Grimes responded by punching Bedzek, leading to a brawl on the train between the two. He was drafted in World War I during 1918 but the Army decided to let him keep playing ball.

In 1920, Major League Baseball banned the spitball. This was Grimes’ signature pitch. But all the pitchers who already used it were grandfathered in. So Grimes still had his moneymaker. Grimes fought hard for it, saying it would destroy the career of a lot of pitchers. He stated:

“If all spitball pitchers, including myself, are called upon to discard the moist ball next spring, I am sure that in the spring of 1923 there will be a large number of ex-major-league pitchers pounding the pavements in seeking an honest living. When a man has given his whole life to developing himself in a particular baseball specialty it is impossible for him to give up that specialty in his prime and yet retain his effectiveness and his drawing power. Nor is it fair to expect him to change.”

Fair enough I guess.

In 1920 and 1921, Grimes had his best years for Brooklyn. In 1921, he led the National League with 136 strikeouts in 302 innings (a very different game then) and with 30 complete games. He pretty much had an arm of steel, leading the league or close year after year in complete games (4 times) and innings (3 times). But for all of this, Grimes was more of a solid than great pitcher. Other than those 1920 and 1921 seasons, when according to Baseball Reference’s WAR statistic he topped 7, he only topped 5 twice, in 1928 and 1929 when he was back in Pittsburgh. Grimes moved around quite a bit for a good pitcher. He stayed in Brooklyn until 1926, pitched one year for the Giants, then back to those Pirates for those two good years, and then moving around from the Braves to the Cardinals to the Cubs, back to the Cardinals, to the Yankees, and finally back to the Pirates before retiring after the 1934 season. Evidently, his spitball was soaking wet, to the point that infielders complained about having to field and throw this disgusting ball. He was also known as a mean pitcher who would happily throw at you if you made him mad.

In the end, Grimes had a solid career. He had a 270-212 record with a remarkable 314 complete games and 35 shutouts. He was also an excellent hitting pitcher, batting nearly .250 for his career. When he retired, he was the last guy who could use the spitball. He managed the Dodgers for a couple of years after Casey Stengel retired and then was a scout (late in his career he signed Jim Palmer for the Orioles) and minor league manager. But there’s nothing much to be all that excited about as far as remembering him outside of that. The reason he is remembered today is that somehow he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1964. According to Baseball Reference, he is the 93rd best pitcher of all time, which makes him not the worst pitcher to be in the HOF, but definitely in the lowest 20 percent. To put him into context with contemporary pitchers, he ranks slightly below Mark Buehrle and Andy Pettite and slightly ahead of Dwight Gooden and Mark Langston. Among other pitchers ahead of him on the list are Kevin Appier, Chuck Finley, Tim Hudson, and Frank Tanana. So this is kind of a weird Hall of Fame selection. But he is well ahead of Jack Morris, a joke of a Hall of Famer.

Grimes died in 1985 of cancer, at the age of 92.

Burleigh Grimes is buried in Clear Lake Cemetery, Clear Lake, Wisconsin. His last wife was his 5th. He seems to have been a pretty difficult guy. At the time of their marriage, he was 81 and she was 48. That is his third wife buried with him, who died in 1964.

If you would like this series to visit other pitchers, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Babe Adams, a teammate of Grimes who pitched his whole career with the Pirates (minus 1 inning with the Cardinals as a rookie) and is ranked 92nd all time by Baseball Reference, is in Mount Moriah, Missouri and Jack Stivetts, who pitched in the 1890s mostly for the Braves and is ranked 94th all time, is in Ashland, Pennsylvania. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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