The Frisch Feud
Grimes first few seasons in the majors were difficult. "Trouble with me was that I came into the majors a marked man. During four seasons in the minors I'd become known as a kid who'd fight at the drop of a hat. So guys I'd never seen were laying for me. And before I'd made my first swing around the league I was engaged in feuds which lasted for years."
Part of the reason Grimes entered the league with an ornery reputation was that he'd played for Kid Elberfeld at Chattanooga. Nicknamed the "Tabasco Kid" due to his grumpy nature, Elberfeld bred a fiery group of ballplayers, who weren't afraid to confront umpires nose-to-nose. Grimes brought that reputation with him to the major leagues, and it never left him.
Grimes longest running and most famous feud was with Frankie Frisch. In 1919, Frisch put down a bunt and apparently spiked Grimes on a close play at first base. Words turned to shoves and fists, and the battle was on. "For the next ten years I aimed at least two balls at Frankie every time I pitched to him. He was equally rough with me every time we came in contact on the base lines," Grimes said.
The feud didn't last forever however, and the two future Hall of Famers eventually buried the hatchet when they became teammates on the Cardinals. "First thing you know we were bosom pals and we've been ever since," Grimes recalled years later.
In a 1925 game, Burleigh Grimes grounded into two double plays and a triple play in a loss to the Cubs. In his three hitless at-bats, he accounted for seven outs.
Burleigh and Jack
Grimes shares some characteristics with the pitcher of the 1980s, Jack Morris. Both led MLB in wins and almost every other pitching stat for their decade (Grimes in the 1920s). Yet, both posted higher ERA's than other pitchers of their era. Consequently both are underrated.
Grimes was the workhorse of baseball in the 1920s, leading all pitchers in games started (336), wins (190), complete games (234) and innings (2,798). His ERA for the decade was 3.52, below the league average of 3.92. Morris also led MLB in games started, wins, complete games and innings in the 1980s. The Tiger ace posted a 3.66 ERA in the 1980s, while the league came in at 4.07.
Both Grimes and Morris were clearly the most durable and prolific winners of their era, but their ERA, which was 10-12% better than league norms, caused them to receive less acclaim than might be expected from such pitchers. Incidentally, neither was ever regarded as the best pitcher in their own league for one particular season. Morris never won a Cy Young Award, and there was usually one or two pitchers who bested Grimes each season (there was no such award in his time).
Like many players of his era, Grimes had a habit of holding out for more money. Owners in the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s rarely handed out money, and often asked players to take pay cuts. On more than one occasion, Grimes' salary demands prompted his trade or sale to other teams. After winning a career-high 25 games for the Pirates in 1928, Grimes was traded to the Braves after he demanded more money from Pittsburgh. Before he could finish that season he was dealt to the Cardinals, who didn't care how much money he wanted, just that he was a veteran pitcher for their stretch run.
Using the "Spitter"
On July 21, 1940, Grimes, manager of Grand Rapids in the Michigan State League, was involved in a controversial incident on the field. Home plate umpire Robert Williams and Grimes were engaged in a shouting match over a close call, when Grimes, according to Williams, spit in the umpire's face. The ex-pitcher was ejected and suspended by the league for a full season. After several months of testimony and investigation by the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (and some intervention by MLB Commish Landis), Grimes penalty was reduced to the remainder of the 1940 season.
Burleigh Grimes played with nearly every National League Hall of Famer of his era, and there were a lot of them. He was a teammate of four Hall of Fame first basemen.
Hall of Fame Artifacts
A license plate bearing his initials and his career win total.