Cumberland Times-News

Mike Burke - Sports

May 23, 2014

It could never happen here? It already did

— Sometimes it takes reading something or hearing something to unlock stored-away knowledge and make you really consider what you’ve known and taken for granted for some time. Reading Bucky Schriver’s letter in Thursday’s Times-News (“It’s time to honor Lonaconing’s ‘Lefty’ Grove”), published on the 39th anniversary of Lefty Grove’s death, did that for me.

There was not one piece of information in Schriver’s well-written letter that I did not know, yet for some reason the piece made me realize just how unfathomable it is that there is not a statue here of arguably the greatest baseball pitcher of all time.

Again, this was nothing I was unaware of. I’ve seen the Lefty Grove Memorial at the Lonaconing Iron Furnace and Park. I’ve seen the beautiful memorabilia-filled showcase, highlighted by Grove’s 1931 American League Most Valuable Player trophy, which was the first if its kind, in Georges Creek Regional Library in Lonaconing. I’ve read books, I’ve read Suter Kegg, I’ve heard the stories from Suter Kegg and other people who knew him, and I have always been fully aware there is no statue of Lefty Grove. Yet Thursday was the first time I seriously asked, “Why?”

I understand statues don’t grow on trees. Just look at how long it took the Baltimore Orioles to erect the beautiful sculptures of their all-time greatest players at Camden Yards? And that’s the point: Brooks Robinson played his last game in 1977, Frank Robinson in 1976, Jim Palmer in 1984, Earl Weaver last managed a game in 1986, Eddie Murray last played in 1997 and Cal Ripken in 2001, and the statues didn’t go up at Camden Yards until 2012.

Lefty Grove last threw a pitch in 1941, months before the United States entered World War II, and still no statue.

From everything I have learned about Lefty Grove, who returned home to Lonaconing every offseason, and who was known there as “Bob”, not Lefty, the last thing in the world he would have ever wanted to see was a statue of himself. Well sorry, Bob, sometimes the greats just don’t have a say in the matter and, in this case, we’re talking beyond great.

Understand, pitching for the Philadelphia Athletics and the Boston Red Sox, after winning 108 games in five years for the minor-league Orioles, Grove won 300 major league games and lost just 141 for a winning percentage of .680. Pitching in the live-ball era, he won at least 20 games in a season eight times and, after going 28-5 with a 2.54 ERA in 1930, he went 31-4 with a 2.06 ERA in 1931 when the Baseball Writers of America voted him the first American League MVP. Grove won a record nine ERA titles and, along with Walter Johnson, holds the all-time mark for leading the league in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) at eight.

He is a Hall of Famer, yet all of that pales to the fact that he is routinely regarded as the greatest pitcher who ever threw a baseball. Not greatest pitcher in the American League, not greatest pitcher of his time — greatest pitcher ever.

An he came from right here.

In a March 6 ESPN.com story by David Schoenfield, “The greatest pitcher of all time?”, Yankees shortstop Frankie Crosetti is quoted as saying, “When planes take off from a ship, they say they catapult. That's what (Grove’s) fastball did halfway to the plate. He threw just plain fastballs — he didn’t need anything else.” Teammate Doc Cramer said, “All he had was a fastball. Everybody knew what they were going to hit at, but they still couldn’t hit him.” It was, according to the story, writer Bugs Baer who famously wrote that “Lefty Grove could throw a lamb chop past a wolf.”

March 31, opening day of the 2014 big league season, was proclaimed to be “Lefty Grove Day” in Allegany County, which was a terrific idea that should become an annual Opening Day occurrence. No, that’s not a statue, but it would provide annual awareness, appreciation and enormous community pride. Once more, take a moment to truly digest this: The greatest baseball pitcher of all time is from Lonaconing and Allegany County.

I don’t bring this up to spearhead Build Lefty A Statue, although if I had the money I would commission Toby Mendez, who created the statues at Camden Yards as well as the C&O Canal Monument in Cumberland, to create one of Lefty Grove for Lonaconing. No, I bring this up simply and openly to marvel at something so grand that, sadly, has been underappreciated and taken for granted for so long by so many Allegany Countians who did not know Robert Moses “Lefty” Grove, myself included, or by those who are too young to have ever known of him.

I also bring this up to thank Mr. Schriver for his letter and for his reminder that all things are possible. After all, Lonaconing’s own Lefty Grove spent much of his life achieving the impossible.

Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at mburke@times-news.com

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Mike Burke - Sports
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