Burleigh Grimes – Last Legal Spitball Pitcher


Cardinals part of his career

In 1931 as a member of the St, Louis Cardinals, Grimes claimed his first and only championship, as he won both of his starts in the World Series versus the Philadelphia Athletics.


hall of fame career

Grimes played for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1916 and 1917. Before the 1918 season, he was sent to the Brooklyn Dodgers in a multiplayer trade. When the spitball was banned in 1920, he was named as one of the 17 established pitchers who were allowed to continue to throw the pitch.

According to Baseball Digest, the Phillies were able to hit him because they knew when he was throwing the spitter. The Dodgers were mystified about this; first they thought the relative newcomer of a catcher, Hank DeBerry, was unwittingly giving away his signals to the pitcher, so they substituted veteran Zack Taylor, to no avail. They suggested that a spy with binoculars was concealed in the scoreboard in old Baker Bowl in Philadelphia, reading the signals from a distance, but the Phils hit Grimes just as well in Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.

A batboy solved the mystery by pointing out that Burleigh’s cap was too tight. It sounded silly, but he was right. The tighter cap would wiggle when Grimes flexed his facial muscles to prepare the spitter. He got a cap a half-size larger and the Phillies were on their own after that.

He then pitched for the New York Giants (1927), the Pirates again (1928-1929), the Boston Braves (1930) and the St. Louis Cardinals(1930-1931). He was traded to the Chicago Cubs before the 1932 season in exchange for Hack Wilson and Bud Teachout. He returned to the Cardinals in 1933 and 1934, then moved to the Pirates (1934) and the New York Yankees (1934)


At the time of his retirement, he was the last of the 17 spitballers left in the league. He had acquired a lasting field reputation for his temperament. He is listed in the Baseball Hall of Shame series for having thrown a ball at the batter in the on-deck circle.

His friends and supporters note that he was consistently a kind man when off the diamond. Others claim he showed a greedy attitude to many people who ‘got on his bad side.’ He would speak mainly only to his best friend Ivy Olson in the dugout, and would pitch only to a man named Mathias Schroeder before games. Schroeder’s identity was not well known among many Dodger players, as many say he was just ‘a nice guy from the neighborhood.’

Grimes was nicknamed “Ol’ Stubblebeard”, related to his habit of not shaving on days in which he was going to pitch.

  • 2-time NL Wins Leader (1921 & 1928)
  • NL Winning Percentage Leader (1920)
  • 2-time NL Games Pitched Leader (1918 & 1928)
  • 3-time NL Innings Pitched Leader (1923, 1924 & 1928)
  • NL Strikeouts Leader (1921)
  • 4-time NL Complete Games Leader (121, 1923, 1924 & 1928)
  • NL Shutouts Leader (1928)
  • 15 Wins Seasons: 10 (1918, 1920-1924 & 1927-1931)
  • 20 Wins Seasons: 5 (1920, 1921, 1923, 1924 & 1928)
  • 25 Wins Seasons: 1 (1928)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 13 (1918 & 1920-1931)
  • 300 Innings Pitched Seasons: 5 (1920, 1921, 1923, 1924 & 1928)
  • Won a World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1931
  • Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 1964






“The only time I was ever scared in my life was one time when Burleigh threw at me on a 3-and-0 count. “  – Frankie Frisch

“I used to chew slippery elm – the bark, right off the tree. Come spring the bark would get nice and loose and you could slice it free without any trouble. What I checked was the fiber from inside, and that’s what I put on the ball. The ball would break like hell, away from right-handers and in on lefties,” Burleigh Grimes