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Donald Honig
October 17, 1983
His name was Robert Moses Grove. They called him Lefty, and in the late 1920s and early '30s, when he starred for the Philadelphia Athletics, they called him baseball's greatest pitcher. There were other words for Lefty, too, ones that described his moods, his personality, his temper: stormy, dour, explosive.
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October 17, 1983

The Author Meets A Baseball Lion And A Few Celebrated Pussycats

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Finally I got some unexpected help. Emerging from yet another Wisconsin town not on my list of directions, I found myself being hauled over by a state trooper. "Didn't you see-that stop sign back there?" he asked upon arriving at my window.

Instead of answering, I, in my frustration, blurted out a recounting of my recent wanderings. He listened patiently and then asked where I was going.

"Holcombe," I said. "I'm going to interview Burleigh Grimes." And, wanting to give him the whole picture, I told him, "I'm writing a book on baseball."

His stern, policeman's face suddenly relaxed into a pleasant smile of recognition. " Burleigh Grimes?" he asked. "The pitcher?"

Baseball is the second language of America. By introducing the game into conversation, you can end the silence of a stranger, find acceptance in a group and even get impeccable directions to Holcombe instead of a summons.

"Listen," the cop said before waving me on, "ask him who was the greatest player he ever saw."

I did. It was the first question I put when finally I settled into the hospitable confines of Grimes's living room. Personal aside to a certain Wisconsin state trooper: He said it was Honus Wagner.

In 1966 I found myself at Shea Stadium, home of the New York Mets. My prey this day was a man nearing the age of 90, John Tortes Meyers, the old catcher known as Chief for the full measure of Indian blood that surged proudly through his veins. An intelligent man, good-natured with a sly wit, he possessed an imposing personal dignity. As Emerson had once heard someone say of Thoreau. you would sooner take hold of a tree limb than the arm of Chief Meyers.

Chief was a favorite of Los Angeles Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley. Not only was Meyers a frequent guest at Dodger Stadium, but he had carte blanche to travel with the L.A. team whenever he wanted. This summer Chief decided to go with the Dodgers on one of their eastern trips.

My purpose in wanting to meet him was to ask him about the great Christy Mathewson, whom Meyers had caught when he was with John McGraw's New York Giants from 1909 through 1915. I would hear some "splendid true happenings of the olden days," Meyers assured me, but first there were to be the presentations.

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