The year 1941 was a memorable one for baseball. Ted Williams batted .406. Joe DiMaggio hit safely in 56 straight games. The Brooklyn Dodgers won their first pennant in 21 years. And Robert Moses (Lefty) Grove became the 12th man in baseball history to win 300 major league games.
Grove, a temperamental left-hander with a crackling fast ball, had been an outstanding pitcher since 1925 with the Philadelphia Athletics and then the Boston Red Sox. In eight seasons he won 20 or more games (seven of them in a row), and in 1931 had 31 victories and only four defeats.
But in 1941 Lefty Grove was 41 years old, and his hard fast ball was only a memory. The year before, his record had dwindled to a mediocre 7-6. When the 1941 season started, he needed seven wins to reach 300.
"My fast ball wasn't so quick any more but it was still pretty good," Grove said recently. "I was throwing a good curve—never heard of a slider—and a fork ball. The main thing I had was control. I could still put the ball pretty much where I wanted it."
Grove picked up six victories by mid-season. On July 11 he pitched a strong game but was beaten 2-0. He tried again for his 300th win a week later and went 10 innings against the Chicago White Sox before losing 4-3.
"My arm still wasn't strong but I was determined to get that 300, even if I had to do it right-handed," said Grove.
On July 25 he started a game against the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park. "I knew I would get it sooner or later," said Grove, "but I wanted it badly that day in Boston."
The day was clear, with temperatures in the low 70s at game time. Cleveland scored once off Grove in the second inning and three more times in the third. It looked as if he would have to wait for another day to get his 300th win.
Then Boston came back with two runs in the fourth inning, and in the fifth the Red Sox left fielder, 22-year-old Ted Williams, hit a home run with a man on to tie the score at 4-4. "As soon as that young fellow put on a uniform we knew he would be a hitter," said Grove.
In the top of the seventh inning Cleveland hit Grove hard for two runs and the Indians led 6-4. But Williams singled and Third Baseman Jim Tabor homered in the bottom half of the inning and the score was tied again. Two walks, a triple and another home run by Tabor in the eighth finally put Grove and the Red Sox ahead 10-6.
When Grove walked wearily to the mound in the ninth inning, the 16,000 people in the stands all stood up and cheered. Grove quickly got the first two outs. With every pitch to Lou Boudreau, the third batter, the crowd roared. Boudreau ended the suspense by hitting a short fly to center field, which Dom DiMaggio caught on the run.
Lefty Grove had given up 12 hits and six runs but he had won his 300th major league game. "This is the thrill of a lifetime," said Grove after being rushed by police through a mob of screaming fans to the dressing room. "I'm going to send the ball to Cooperstown."
Someone asked Grove if, at 41, he would now retire with his 300 wins. "Quit now? They'll have to cut the uniform off me. I'm going out for another 300. They couldn't be any harder to get than the first 300," replied Grove.
Lefty's prophecy, however, was more hopeful than realistic. He started seven more times that season but never won another game. On September 28 he pitched an inning in relief and gave up four hits. It was the last time he appeared on the mound. That winter he retired from baseball, letting his record stand at an even 300 wins.