Lonaconing’s Own Lefty Grove

February 18th, 2013
by Byron Bennett

Robert Moses “Lefty” Grove was one of the greatest left-handed pitchers of all time. He spent his 17 year major league career with the Boston Red Sox and the Philadelphia Athletics, compiling a record of 300-141 with an ERA of 3.06. Prior to his major league debut, he pitched for several seasons for the Baltimore Orioles of the International League, which played their home games at Terrapin Park, also known as Oriole Park. He complied an impressive record of 108-36 while with the minor league Orioles.

Lefty Grove Baseball Card (1932 American Caramel)

Grove was born in Lonaconing, Maryland (pronounced loan-a-coney), in 1900. Lonaconing is a 19th century coal mining town located in the George’s Creek Valley of Allegany County, Maryland, about 10 miles south of Frostburg, Maryland, off Interstate 68.

Welcome to Lonaconing, Maryland, Hometown of Baseball Hall of Famer Lefty Grove

Grove spent his childhood in Lonaconing, where his father and many members of his family worked in the coal mines. According to local residents, Grove lived in a house on Douglas Avenue. One person I spoke with told me Grove lived in a duplex at 81- 83 Douglas Avenue. That house, although located within the Lonaconing Historic District, is in desperate need of renovation.

Duplex Where Lefty Grove Once May Have Lived, 81-83 Douglas Avenue, Lonaconing, Maryland

The duplex at 77-79 Douglas Avenue, which sits just to the left of what is believed to be Grove’s house, is in much better condition – an example of what Grove’s house might once have looked like.

Duplex at 77-79 Douglas Avenue, Lonaconing, Maryland

After Grove retired from baseball in 1947, he returned to Lonaconing and opened Lefty’s Place, a duck pin bowling alley and pool hall.

Lefty's Place (photo from www.appalachianhistory.net and bandkgreen.net)

In 1996, the building that housed Lefty’s Place at 14 Union Street was destroyed by a flood. On the former site of the pool hall now sits the Lonaconing Republican Club, which is fitting given that Grove was once an active member of that club.

Site of Lefty's Place, Lonaconing, Maryland

Many of the buildings throughout the town of Lonaconing appear as they did when Grove lived there, which is one reason much of the town was designated a historic district as a surviving example of  a 19th century coal town.

Union Street, Lonaconing, Maryland

The George’s Creek Regional Library at 76 Main Street includes a small museum honoring Grove and the history of Lonaconing.

George's Creek Regional Library

A display case in the library’s conference room includes several items that once belonged to Grove, as well as memorabilia from his playing days.

Case Displaying Lefty Grove Memorabilia

Of greatest import is his 1931 American League Most Valuable Player award, which Grove gave to his friend, John Myers, a baseball coach at Valley High School in Lonaconing. Grove made the gift because he wanted the people of “Coney” to enjoy it, rather than give it to the Baseball Hall of Fame where likely no one from the town would ever to see it.

Lefty Grove's 1931 American League Most Valuable Player Award

Also included in the display is a Walter Hagen golf club that once belong to Grove, as well as a leather bound golf rule book with “Lefty Grove” imprinted on the cover and a Lefty Grove autographed baseball.

Lefty Grove Memorabilia, Including Grove's Walter Hagen Golf Club

Located in Furnace Park on East Main Street, less than a quarter mile from the library, is a plaque dedicated to Grove. At the rear of the park sits the George’s Creek Coal and Iron Company Furnace No. 1, a historic iron furnace dating to 1839.

Lefty Grove Plaque, Furnace Park

The plaque states:

“A Native of Lonaconing, Lefty Grove was one of baseball’s all-time great pitchers. In 17 season (1925-1941) as a major leaguer, he won 300 games and lost 141 for a .680 percentage.

Pitching for Philadelphia and Boston, he led the American League in earned-run percentage nine times and won 20 or more games on eight occasions. He won 16 consecutive games in 1931, a league record, and 14 straight in 1928. In 1931, when his record was 31-4, he was vote the league’s most valuable player. He was elected to the hall of fame in 1947

In connection with the baseball centennial in 1969, he was selected as the greatest lefthanded pitcher of all time. His career earned-run average in the majors was 3.06. He won 108 games and lost on 36 during six years with Baltimore in the International League.”

Plaque Honoring Lefty Grove

The park is also the former site of Central High School, which Grove attended prior to beginning his playing career with the International League Orioles.

Plaque Honoring Former Site of Central High School

Grove died in 1975 at the age of 75 and is interred ten miles north of Lonaconing in Frostburg Memorial Park (70 Green St  Frostburg, Maryland).

Entrance to Frostburg Memorial Park

Grove’s grave site is located in Section 9, Lot 94, near marker 3A.

Lefty Grove's Burial Plot, Frostburg Memorial Park

Frostburg Memorial Park employee Joe Lavin, who worked for the cemetery at the time Grove was buried there, constructed a memorial to Grove in front of the grave site.

Joe Lavin's Memorial to Lefty Grove

Grove is buried along side his wife Ethel, who died in 1960.

Head Stone of Robert and Ethel Grove

Should you find yourself driving along Interstate 68 in western Maryland and looking for a baseball excursion, head 10 miles south on Route 36 to Lonaconing and pay a visit to the home town of one of baseball’s greatest left handed pitchers, Lefty Grove. And while there, should you find any additional information about Grove’s house on Douglas Avenue, please be sure to let me know. I certainly would appreciate it. In the meantime, be sure to check out Austin Gisriel’s installment of Off the Beaten Basepaths, which features Austin’s take on Lefty Grove and the town of Lonaconing.

"Safe At Home" Author Austin Gisriel Standing Behind the Lefty Grove Plaque at Furnace Park

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Posted in Lefty Grove Home Town, Maryland ballparks | Comments (10)

10 Responses to “Lonaconing’s Own Lefty Grove”

  1. Austin Says:

    Excellent presentation! Anyone with an interest in history will enjoy Lonaconing. Anyone with a special interest in baseball history will certainly enjoy it. Glad to have spent the day with you there.

  2. Jill Craig Says:

    Thanks David. I’ve added your link to the Western Maryland Regional Library’s history website, Whilbr. We also have a story on the Lefty Grove materials in the George’s Creek Library.

  3. Don Hoover Says:

    David,
    Through Austin,I somehow feel a personal connection with you, as your insite into the history of these players from the past is great. You & Austin really did your homework,(not to mention all the time & effort you put into this), as I felt like I was with you. This is a statement of the two professionals you are. Looking forward to more.

  4. Byron Bennett Byron Bennett Says:

    Hello Don
    Thanks for your kind words. Austin is the talent here. He certainly knows his baseball and has the voice and delivery for Off the Beaten Basepaths. Its just a matter of when MLB Network discovers him. BTW my first boss at DOJ in the 1980s was someone named Donnie Hoover!

  5. Byron Bennett Byron Bennett Says:

    Hello Jill

    Thanks much for adding deadballbaseball.com to Whilbr. It’s an honor to be a part of the library’s site.

  6. Don Hoover Says:

    This is so true. I have also seen Austin doing interviews like it is 2nd nature to him. Back in the early 1970′s,we played softball for the Church we attended. Not only was he good on the field, he had a way of always bringing out the best in people (myself included) by his positive attitude. MLB Network, it is time to get behind him!

  7. coney Says:

    I remember when I was a kid I was over my friends house and people showed up talking about Lefty Grove and they said he lived there which was two houses up from where the first pic you took. That was awhile ago

  8. Byron Bennett Byron Bennett Says:

    Hello Coney

    Thanks for the information. Do you happen to know the house number, or if you still live in the area would it be possible to send me a picture of the house? When I was there earlier this year the people I spoke to were not certain which house was Lefty’s so they gave me their best guess.

  9. Rev. William Freeman Says:

    I use to visit Lefty in Norwalk, Ohio in 1974-75. We lived on the same street, Parsons Street. I was invited by a family member to call on him and we would visit, talk a little baseball, the community, and I would lead in prayer. Left Grove baseball was a popular kids league in town.

  10. Byron Bennett Byron Bennett Says:

    Hello Rev. Freeman

    Thank you for your post. I did not know Lefty lived in Norwalk in the mid 1970′s. Was he living with a relative? Do you happen to know the house number on Parsons Street? I would be interested also in hearing anything he may have said about his career. DBS

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