Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: No. 7

Let's keep moving with the Top 100 list; we're moving toward the five greatest Red Sox players of all-time:

10. Smoky Joe Wood, P
9. Babe Ruth, P
8. Tris Speaker, OF

7. Lefty Grove, P
He wasn't the world's nicest guy. When kids approached him with scorecards to autograph, he often tore up the scorecards and threw them in the kids' faces.

But he was one of the greatest pitchers of all time. Before he even got to the Red Sox, he'd won 195 career games (as well as a pair of World Series titles). He'd gone 28-5 in 1930, 31-4 in 1931 and 24-8 in 1933 before Tom Yawkey wrote a $125,000 check to purchase his services.

He promptly, of course, went 8-8 with a 6.50 ERA in his first season in Boston.

Grove, though, had pitched through a sore shoulder that season. A year later, he developed into what he'd been expected to be -- the franchise's best pitcher since Cy Young. He led the American League in ERA (2.70) as the Red Sox finished over .500 (78-75) for the first time since 1918.

Three years after that, Grove went 14-4 and lead the American League in ERA for the third time in four years -- and the Red Sox won 88 games and finished second behind the Yankees. It was the first time they'd finished above fourth place since, again, 1918. A year later, the lefty led the American League in ERA yet again as the Red Sox again finished in second place.

It wasn't the World Series title Yawkey had been seeking as he spread his millions around. But it was a big step forward to a team that had finished last nine times between 1922-32. Grove won 105 games in a Red Sox uniform even though he was 34 years old by the time Yawkey acquired him.

And he never let his temper get in the way of his successes.

"He was a tantrum thrower like me," Ted Williams once said, "but smarter. When he punched a locker, he always did it with his right hand. He was a careful tantrum thrower."

Coming up: With time, we'll appreciate the greatness once again.

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