Bad To The Bone

Burleigh Grimes

     Gruff, aggressive Burleigh Grimes was the last of the legal spitballers. He won 270 games over 19 seasons for seven major league teams, reaching 20 on five occasions. He helped Brooklyn to the championship in 1920, the Cardinals to pennants in 1930 and 1931, and the Cubs to the flag in 1932.

    Known as "Ol' Stubblebeard" for his habit of not shaving on the day he was scheduled to pitch, Grimes would glare down at his opponents with a scowl filled with yellowed teeth, giving him an even more menacing look.

    Grimes, was born in 1893 in Clear Lake, Wisconsin. He started his baseball career in 1912 with Eau Claire of the Class D Minnesota-Wisconsin League. He was a spitballer artist from the start of his career, useing slippery elm to lubricate the ball.

    Grimes made it to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1916 and went 2-3 in six games. The next season he lost 13 straight en route to a 3-16 record. In January 1918 the Bucos traded him to the Brooklyn Dodgers in a deal that sent outfielder Casey Stengel to the Pirates. In what turned out to be a great deal for the Dodgers, Grimes was 19-9 his first year in Brooklyn and 158-121 in his nine-years there, racking up four 20-win seasons.

    Grimes would win at all costs.Before a Giants-Dodgers game late in the 1924 season, Grimes called a team meeting and announced, "Anyone who doesn't want to play today's game to win, let me know right now." Grimes then went out and knocked down the first New York batter on the first pitch of the game.

     A difficult character, Burleigh did not get along with Dodger Manager Wilbert Robinson. Robby would use a clubhouse boy to tell Grimes when he was starting. In 1926, after Grimes fell to 12-13, Brooklyn traded him to New York, where he went 19-8 in 1927. In 1928 the New York traded him back to the Pirates where he went 25-14, leading the NL in wins, complete games, innings pitched, and shutouts. His greatest personal achievment came in the 1931 Series against the Philadelphia Athletics. He won two games including Game 7. It was a tortureous nine inning affair for Burleigh as he pitched to two outs in the ninth inning with a dislocated vertebra.

    It was said that the only players that Burleigh could not intimidate were Paul "Big Poison" Waner and Frankie Frisch. Burleigh would often "dust off" Paul or the "Fordam Flash" and almost always, on the very next pitch, "Big Poison" or Frankie would smash a line drive somewhere in the park!

    After his retiremnt in 1934, Grimes managed the Brooklyn for two years, succeeding Casey Stengel as the Dodgers' manager, finishing sixth in '37 and seventh in '38. After that he went back to the minors to manage for several years, eventually scouting for the Yankees, the A's, and the Baltimore Orioles. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1964. Burleigh Grimes, baseball's most aggressive "spitballer" died from cancer in 1985 at tha age of 92.