Year Inducted: 1947 (BBWAA, ballot #4, 123/161)
Every year, after the World Series, the baseball world erupts in the same debate over and over again: What does the word “valuable” mean in the MVP award? For many old school adherents, the MVP must play for a playoff team as there isn’t value in being on a losing team. For many of the younger crowd, the MVP should go to the best player regardless of his team’s ranking. Occasionally, the thought of whether a pitcher should win the award comes up when there isn’t a stand out position player and that opens up another debate. Pitchers have been winning the MVP ever since it was first handed out, actually. Clayton Kershaw’s MVP in 2014 was the tenth won by a lefty pitcher. The first was by Hall of Famer Lefty Grove in 1931, the first year the MVP was handed out officially.
Grove was one of the best pitchers of all-time regardless of what arm he threw with. In 17 seasons with the A’s and Red Sox, Grove threw just shy of 4000 innings, with a record of 300-141 and an ERA of only 3.06. Grove led the AL in strikeouts his first seven seasons en route to a total of 2266 for his career, sixth most all-time when he retired. Early in his career, Grove had a bit of a wild streak in him, but found his control and walked only 1187 batters despite walking over 100 each in his first two seasons. Grove held batters to a batting average of .250 while limiting baserunners to a WHIP of 1.28. What aided Grove the most was his ability to prevent the long ball, despite being a left handed pitcher in Fenway Park for most of his career. Grove gave up a total of 162 homers in his career, a rate of .37 for every 9 innings.
Grove’s walks are one thing that hurts him, but there were two other issues with Grove. One actually makes his accomplishments more impressive. Grove didn’t break into the bigs until he was 25 years old after winning 111 games in the minors. In Grove’s day, a lot of minor league teams weren’t tied to an official major league club, so they could keep the best players as much as they wanted until one of the big league clubs bought that player for whatever price the team requested. Had Grove broken into the Majors sooner, it’s likely that his numbers would be even better than they currently are. The other is a bout of arm soreness towards the middle of his career that caused him to lose his speed. However, Grove was able to slowly reinvent himself as a control pitcher and extend his career long enough to win his 300th game, the first to do it since Pete Alexander in 1926 and was the last until Warren Spahn did in 1961.
Grove was one of the finest pitchers of all-time, yet struggled with getting recognition. While with the A’s, Connie Mack said that he was more of a thrower than a pitcher and saying that he only had a fastball. When he went to the Red Sox, he was hailed as a savior and would guide them to the World Series. When they had a poor season, Grove was fingered as the reason for it. Grove was also temperamental on the mound, often showing his emotions on his sleeve, which didn’t sit well with many teammates. However, there is no denying that Lefty Grove deserves a spot as one of the best pitchers of all-time.
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