Any player/Any era: Lefty Grove

What he did: I thought of Grove while reading a Baseball Think Factory discussion on my Gavvy Cravath piece last Thursday. One of the forum members noted that Cravath spent several years in the minors because his club, Minneapolis, refused to sell him. The same thing happened with Grove, who went 25-10 with a 2.56 ERA for Baltimore of the International League in 1921 but didn’t make the majors until four years later when he was 25. “It will forever be debated how many major-league games Grove would have won if he hadn’t spent five seasons with the Orioles,” his SABR biography notes. I’m happy to begin that debate anew.

Era he might have thrived in: Grove would benefit from an era where he could make the majors in his early 20s and not burn out in his mid-30s through overuse, as was the case for him. He might thrive on the current San Francisco Giants who play in the pitcher-friendly AT&T Park and whose coaching staff has done good work thus far keeping a staff of bright, young hurlers healthy. With a full career, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest Grove could add 50-100 wins to the 300 he got lifetime.

Why: First off, Grove wouldn’t be held back by Jack Dunn, the Baltimore owner who clutched onto his star so long before finally selling him to the Philadelphia Athletics for $100,600 (Dunn at least sold a 19-year-old Babe Ruth to the Boston Red Sox a decade before.) Growing up in recent decades, Grove would also probably start playing baseball much sooner than 17. Whether that would lead to him being drafted today out of high school or college, Grove would have far better chances as a prospect.

The thought here is that if a 21-year-old Grove could dominate the International League, a circuit just below the majors in its day, he’d be in the show not much later in this era. This could hold especially true on the Giants, where Tim Lincecum debuted at 22, Matt Cain at 20, Jonathan Sanchez at 23, and Madison Bumgarner at 20. Granted, Bumgarner has struggled mightily this season, and Sanchez and Cain have had their ups and downs through their careers, Lincecum as well to a lesser extent, but all have had success with San Francisco. Grove could, too.

Grove had certain things going for him when he played that would serve him well today. He’d probably still have the competitive streak that spurred him to destroy lockers (though never with his pitching hand, as David Halberstam noted in Summer of ’49.) Also, a reader told me awhile back that Grove was one of the first pitchers to throw from a full-body windup, which makes him one of the few classic hurlers I’m willing to project in contemporary times. I’m guessing almost anyone else who pitched before World War II would get rocked in the majors today.

Would Grove lose some things going from the time he played to the present? Sure. He’d miss out on spending his prime seasons with the Philadelphia Athletics of the late 1920s and early ’30s, one of baseball’s all-time best clubs. It’s also unlikely he’d get close to 300 innings or 50 appearances in a season, with 240 innings and 35 starts the standard in baseball today. Still, that might work wonders for his longevity. Seeing as Grove overcame a dead arm in his mid-30s and pitched until he was 41, going 15-4 with an American League-best 2.54 ERA at 39, one can only guess how much longer he might last today.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.

Others in this series: Albert Pujols, Babe Ruth, Bad News Rockies, Barry Bonds, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Bob Watson, Carl Mays, Charles Victory Faust, Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Eddie Lopat, Frank Howard, Fritz Maisel, Gavvy Cravath, George Case, George Weiss, Harmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Honus Wagner, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Posnanski, Johnny Antonelli, Johnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr., Lefty O’Doul, Matty Alou, Michael Jordan, Monte Irvin, Nate Colbert, Paul Derringer, Pete Rose, Prince Fielder, Ralph Kiner, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Rogers Hornsby, Sam Thompson, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, The Meusel BrothersTy Cobb, Wally Bunker, Willie Mays

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