EDITOR'S NOTE: Frequent BCB readers may recall that a few months ago I reviewed one of my favorite new baseball books, Chris Jensen's Baseball State by State. After reading the book I've asked Chris to join us for a 12-part series in 2013 on the best players born in Wisconsin. What follows is part eight of that series. - KL
Burleigh Grimes, who was the last pitcher allowed to legally throw a spitball, mastered the technique enough to earn entry into the hallowed grounds of Cooperstown. The Hall of Fame hurler from Emerald (born August 18, 1893) won 270 games over a 19-year career, which earns him the distinction as the best August-born player from Wisconsin. In Baseball State by State he is listed as the second-best right handed starter after Kid Nichols.
Grimes won 20 games five times and led the league in complete games four times, games started and innings pitched three times, wins twice and shutouts, strikeouts and winning percentage once. He started his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1916 and went on play for seven teams. He had his most success with the Brooklyn Robins, winning 158 games between 1918 and 1926 including a career-high 25 in 1928.
The spitball was banned in 1920, but a handful of pitchers like Grimes were allowed to continue throwing it until their retirement. Grimes pitched for 14 more years, so the ruling had an incalculable effect on his career. He picked up the nickname "Ol' Stubblebard" due to his habit of not shaving on days he pitched plus the fact he had a grumpy demeanor, which went hand in hand with his tendency to brush back batters.
"Why is it there are so many nice guys interested in baseball?" he once asked. "Not me. I was a real bastard."
Grimes was one of the better-hitting pitchers, batting .248 with 380 hits over his career. He batted .316 in four World Series appearances, helping the Cardinals win the 1931 World Series by going 2-0 with 2.04 ERA, driving in two runs and winning Game 7.
His career ERA+ of 108 demonstrates that he was not consistently dominant. In fact, he posted an ERA+ below 100 in eight of his 19 seasons, the same number of times he posted a losing record. Not only did he lead the league in earned runs allowed three times and hits allowed twice, he averaged 9.5 hits allowed per nine innings over his career.
Grimes never got more than 5 percent of the vote during his first 10 years on the Hall of Fame ballot and he peaked at 34 percent in his next to last year on the ballot. However, the Veteran's Committee elected him to the Hall in 1964. Only six pitchers in the Hall of Fame-Red Ruffing, Jesse Haines, Waite Hoyt, Ted Lyons, Herb Pennock and Early Wynn-had higher ERAs than the 3.53 ERA posted by Grimes.
Three other August-born players from Wisconsin deserve mention. Menasha native Eric Hinske (born August 5, 1977), who was still active in 2013, has hit 137 home runs so far over a 12-year career. His best season was his rookie year, 2002, when he hit .279 with 24 home runs and 84 RBI for Toronto on the way to being named AL Rookie of the Year. He had the unusual feat of appearing in three consecutive World Series but for different teams: Boston in 2007, Tampa Bay in 2008 and the Yankees in 2009.
Braggo Roth, born in Burlington on August 28, 1992, collected 804 hits with a .284 career average and a sterling OPS+ of 123. He picked up the nickname "The Globetrotter" after being moved around to six teams over his eight-year career, partly because he was genuinely disliked. Although Roth led the league with 7 home runs in 1915, that didn't stop him from being traded during that season for Shoeless Joe Jackson.
Milwaukee native Oscar "Happy" Felsch (born August 22, 1891), the son of German immigrants, learned baseball on the sandlot fields of Milwaukee's north side before making a name for himself playing for semi-pro teams all over Wisconsin. It was reported that he once hit a home run an estimated 500 feet at Athletic Park in Milwaukee. "The Pride of Teutonia Avenue" debuted in the majors with the White Sox in 1915, hitting .300 his second season and driving in 102 runs with a 308 average in 1917. He was one of eight players implicated in the Black Sox scandal over the 1919 World Series. Although he later admitted guilt and expressed remorse, Felsch was banned from baseball for life. He was.338 with 115 RBI in 1920 when the career of Milwaukee's favored son came to an abrupt end.
Chris Jensen is the author of Baseball State by State: Major League and Negro League Players, Ballparks, Museums and Historical Sites, which was published in July 2012 by McFarland. It features a chapter on each state covering state baseball history, an all-time team, stats leaders, historic baseball places to see, future stars, player nicknames and the state's all-time best player.