Grove lived the last 14 years of his life in Norwalk. The local pre-teen baseball league, which started started in 1956, became the Lefty Grove Baseball League, Inc. on May 8, 1962.
In Maryland, the Lefty Grove Memorial Committee is overseeing the construction of the Lefty Grove Park in downtown Lonaconing, where the baseball great was born and raised. In the park will be a nearly life-sized statue of the left-handed pitcher launching a ball toward the batter’s box, which is just inside the entrance.
Committee chairman Bucky Schriver said the experience of the park simulates a baseball infield and entering the park is as if the visitors are “batting against Lefty Grove.” The committee formed in 2014 after Schriver said he “made an off-hand comment” to the Cumberland Times News that Lonaconing hadn’t done enough to honor Grove — and that gave momentum to the statue and memorial park.
“He was the kid they always knew,” Schriver added.
The committee has received $45,000 in local donations. The state of Maryland is expected to make a donation of $75,000 soon.
“We had one guy donate $25,000 right off the bat,” Schriver said.
Horning, 68, never saw her grandfather play baseball. However, she fondly recalled going to “a lot of baseball games” with her granddad, a trip they took to Houston for an “older timers’ game” when she met many professional players and going to the National Baseball of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
“He was good about signing autographs most of the time,” said Horning, who remembers her grandfather donated baseball equipment for Little League players. “He would buy them by the gross and give them out to the kids.
“I knew my grandfather really well. He didn’t pass away until I got married and I had three children,” said Horning, who has lived in Norwalk since the age of 4.
Grove moved to Norwalk in 1961. He died May 22, 1975 at the age of 75.
“He was quite a character. He had a strong personality,” his granddaughter said. “He was a lot of fun. He could be quite a character.”
During his 17-year career in Major League Baseball, he won 300 games.
“He would have played the game even if he hadn’t gotten paid for it,” Horning said. “He never went to high school. He quit school after the eighth grade.”
Grove’s father envisioned his son becoming a coal miner.
“His father was a coal miner. (My grandfather) did that for one day and said, ’I didn’t put it in the ground and I’m not taking it out,’” Horning said.
Grove’s baseball career
In 1920, the D-class Blue Ridge League recruited Grove to play for the Martinsville Mountaineers. He soon played for the Baltimore Orioles, a farm team at the time.
“After he played for them, he played for the Philadelphia Athletics,” Grove’s granddaughter said.
Cleveland Indians fans may remember Grove as the first visiting pitcher at Cleveland Stadium (aka Municipal Stadium).
“He won that day,” Horning said.
Grove started playing for the Boston Red Sox in 1934 until his retirement seven years later. Horning said her grandfather, considered by many to be the “best left-handed pitcher of all time,” was inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1947 on the first ballot.
“He was the very first American League player to win the MVP trophy. He won it in 1931. He beat out Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth,” Horning said. “I’m very proud of him.”
Hall of fame officials had their eye on the historical trophy to put in Cooperstown. But Grove always wanted it to stay in the Allegany County Library in Lonaconing, Md.
“Lefty made it clear he wanted it stay here,” Shriver said. “That is the first American League MVP trophy awarded by the Baseball Writers Association of America.”
The MVP trophy is displayed in a temperature-controlled showcase worth $25,000. Shriver said the same people who designed such displays for the Smithsonian created the one in the library.
True to his roots
The downtown park in Grove’s honor is near a bowling alley he once owned.
“My father was raised there. I was born there as well,” Horning said, referring to Lonaconing. “He lived (almost) all his life there.”
While it’s possible his hometown hadn’t done enough to honor their famous son, Schriver said Grove brought the Red Sox to play in nearby Cumberland in 1937 for the city’s 150-year anniversary. Grove pitched for the Athletics in an exhibition game in September 1928 in Cumberland.
“He did a lot of things for his hometown,” Schriver added.
The memorial committee chairman is impressed with the area’s money-raising efforts for the statue and park.
“We’re in the most economically depressed part of Maryland. I didn’t think we could get it,” Schriver said.
Sculptor Susan Luery has been finalizing the clay rendering of the Grove statue.
“(It) is going to be cast in bronze and I believe that will be done in Baltimore,” Horning said.
In addition to the park, the Lefty Grove Memorial Committee is having 1,000 limited-edition baseball cards made. They can be awarded for a $25 tax-deductible donation. For more information, write the Communty Trust Foundation, ℅ CTF Lefty Grove Fund, 71 Baltimore St., Cumberland, Md., 21502.
Grove’s family is pleased to hear how their legendary relative is being honored with a statue and park in the middle of his hometown.
“I’m tickled to death,” Horning said. “My three daughters are really happy. His great-great grandchildren are very, very happy. The whole family is very pleased and excited.”