Monday, August 29, 2011

Burleigh Grimes-An inspiration to us all.

As the 2011 baseball season winds down we fans of the Minnesota Twins are not a happy lot.  The shuttle bus from the Big League team to the Disabled List has been running full time this year.  One middle infielder, Alexi Casilla actually managed to come off the DL for one game, hurt himself and go right back to the DL.  I doubt this feat-up to the Bigs for a single dressing change-has ever been accomplished before.

Why some folks, in their subdued Minnesota Nice way, are even suggesting that the current team may not be tough enough.

In that light, and on the minuscule chance that any current ballplayers happen upon my humble blog, I thought I would give brief homage to a couple of players from the past. There was a time in baseball where things were a bit meaner and grittier, but even allowing for that a few guys stood out as Iron Men.  That is in the sense of jagged pieces of iron with liberal amounts of rust and probably infested with tetanus spores.

Consider the gentle ways of a certain Burleigh Grimes .
What are you starin' at?

Burleigh "Old Stubblebeard" Grimes was born in a small Wisconsin town in 1893.  He broke into the Bigs in 1916.  His signature pitch was the spitball, which would be outlawed in 1919/1920 after a poor fellow named Ray Chapman was killed by a thrown pitch. (Not a spitter by the way).  At the time of the ban a few pitchers were "grandfathered" in and allowed to keep using it.  Grimes was the last of these, throwing the final (legal) spitball in 1934.

If that were his sole claim to fame Burleigh Grimes would be no more that a delightful bit of obscure baseball trivia.  No, in addition to being allowed to throw an elusive, bodily fluids laden pitch, Burleigh hated batters.

Not off the field mind you, he was said to be a very nice man out of uniform.  But woe betide any batter who would dare to contest the notion that the strike zone and several feet in all directions around it was the sole property of Mr. Grimes.

In this rough and tumble era of baseball Burleigh would look daggers at a batter scuffling his feet to dig in to the batters box.  He would then bellow out "You comfortable there?  Good, 'cause that's where they're gonna bury you!" and launch one right at the batter's head.  Warnings? Fines? Ejections?  Nah.

On at least one occasion Burleigh was so mad at an opposing team that he threw at and hit, not the batter, but the player in the on deck circle!

But to reach the true Olympian heights of ornery you have to visit Burleigh in spring training late in his career.  This is an apocryphal story,but one that has the ring of truth to it. 

In a rather informal practice Burleigh's 15 year old son asked if he could step in and take a few swings against the Old Man.  Grimes Jr. then made the mistake of "digging in".

Burleigh did not flinch, uncorking a pitch that whizzed by the beardless chin of his son, who sensibly hit the deck.

"Burleigh", his team members admonished, "that was your own son!"

"Damn right" retorted Burleigh Grimes, "and if my own grandmother digs in against me she's going down too!"

 (see addendum)

Burleigh Grimes, Baseball Hall of Famer, passed away in a small Wisconsin town in 1985.  He is said to have been unrepentant.
Burleigh loads one up.
Addendum:  Sometimes the point at which myth and fact overlap can be difficult to bring into focus.  It has been pointed out to me that while Mr. Grimes was married several times, he is not known to have had a son.  So the the "brush back" anecdote seems to be false, or perhaps involved a bat boy or other adolescent hanger on.  Too bad, it had the ring of truth to it.  But if some stories are true while seeming totally implausible, the reverse must also on occasion be the case.

Up next:  Old Hoss


Wendy Jo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wendy Jo said...

I am writing as the great-neice of Burleigh Grimes, although I greatly appreciate your interest and comments reminding current Baseball fans of my great uncle's "spunk" - but I question your reference of his "son"....please contact me asap regarding this....

Tacitus2 said...

Wendy Jo

I tried to respond by gmail but it seems stubborn. Drop me a line at