Monday, August 23, 2010

August 23, 1931: Grove loses it

ST. LOUIS - The early 1930s became a hitter's era in Major League Baseball. The leaders of the sports decided to cash in on the popularity of Babe Ruth by trying to create multiple versions of him, introducing a tightly wound ball that would fly out of the park with regularity. While nobody could match the personality of the Yankees' star, many players started to match his hitting prowess, leaving pitchers hanging out to dry.

A notable exception was Lefty Grove, the dominating starter for the Philadelphia Athletics who was known just was well for his firey temper as he was for his blazing fastball. Grove had his best season in 1931, going 31-4 with an 2.08 ERA, a number about twice as good as the league average. He also tied the American League record with 17 consecutive victories, a record he was hoping to break on August 23 in a start against the St. Louis Browns.

The Athletics, the two-time defending World Series champions, were on their way to their best regular-season record ever in 1931, while the Browns entered play on the 23rd in fifth place, 35 games behind the A's. Grove, as expected, was brilliant against the Browns, giving up only one run on seven hits. But Dick Coffman, the starter for the Browns who never won more than 9 games in a season in his 15-year Major League career, pitched even better that day, shutting out the A's on three hits. Grove's streak was over, one short of holding the record on his own.

After the game, Grove tore apart the locker room in a frenzy, furious that he had lost after coming so close to breaking the record. Substitute Jimmy Moore of the A's was afraid to go into the clubhouse, fearing that Grove was looking for him. After all, it was Moore's misplay in left field that led to the Browns' only run of the game. But it wasn't Moore that Grove was looking for, but slugger Al Simmons. Normally the starting left fielder, Simmons had sat out that game with an illness, and his absence was drawing Grove's ire.

The loss dropped Grove to 25-3 for the year, and he would lose only one more game in the regular season. He would win two more games in the World Series, but he would also lose one, as the A's were shocked by the Cardinals in seven games. The A's had five future hall-of-famers on their roster and were relatively young, but the 1931 World Series would be their last until 1972, after they had moved twice before settling in Oakland.

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