Of Lefty Grove and Bad Decisions

The ‘90’s were a good time to be Lefty Grove. Sabermetrics were a godsend to his legacy. You’d think a Hall of Fame pitcher with 300 wins wouldn’t need much of a reevaluation, but Robert Moses did. The preeminent pitcher in a high offense era, Grove often had relatively high ERAs; his nine league leading totals included four times from between 2.81 and 3.08. It took ERA+ to really put it in perspective. That 3.08 ERA in 1938 was an ERA+ of 160, the same as Clayton Kershaw’s lifetime number. Good, right?

I wasn’t immune to the new found wonders of Grove. I bought an autographed newspaper clipping, no doubt real (who would fake such a crummy item. Plus, I got this lovely note).

I also got a 1937 O-Pee-Chee card, and herein lies the tale.

We were out in Southern California for vacation and, in nearby Laguna Niguel, or Laguna Beach, or some other similarly named burg, there was a high end auction house that had a store front. I was still trading options back then, my card interests and income at mutual highs. That was bad; it meant I was going to spend. Didn’t matter on what; I was going to spend.

There was a lot to take in at that store. I remember (though not with great surety) that they had old awards, rings, and, of course, cards. In the throes of Grove-mania, I honed in on this beauty, secretly stashed in a velvet envelope.

Tim Jenkins Tweeted his card show loot a few weeks ago and, in the midst of his horde, there was a 1952 Mother’s Cookie PCL card. It made my heart hurt, because, on that SoCal day twenty years ago, my ultimate choice was between the Grove card and a complete 1952 Mother’s set. I’m a set collector by nature, but, in the thrall of the Grove renaissance, Lefty swayed me. Upon further review, it was a bad call, only made worse by the misgivings that were there from the start.

First of all, though it’s a Grove card, it’s one card. The Mother’s set had 64. Second of all, they were both around the same price and, while Grove is Grove, the Mother’s set had a Mel Ott card and Ott is Ott. Third, I should have sensed that, from a purely financial position, the Grove card was going to top out and the Mother’s set would only appreciate. That’s been the case.


I’ve managed to live a life, both a collecting life and a real life, with few regrets. This is one of them. The sad part is, though I missed the Mother’s set, the decision I made has always taken away from how happy I should be about the Grove card. That’s unfortunate, but hard to shake.

Author: Jeff Katz

Jeff Katz is the former Mayor of Cooperstown, the “Birthplace of Baseball” and home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His latest book, Split Season:1981 - Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball, (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015), received national attention, with coverage appearing in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Sporting News and NPR’s Only a Game, among others. Katz appeared on ESPN’s Olbermann and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap and MLB Network’s MLB Now, with Brian Kenny. Split Season: 1981 was a finalist for the 2016 Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year.

10 thoughts on “Of Lefty Grove and Bad Decisions”

  1. Yeah, collecting regrets. I’ve had a few. But then again, too few to mention…..except there was that 1940-something Cuban cruise ship dining menu signed by 15 Dodgers and umpire Tiny Parker that I sold before I knew how to do decent research on it. Ugh. Give me a time machine. I can relate.

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  2. Great post! This brought back a great, somewhat regretful memory. I was really into the 1986 Topps football cards. You might remember these, the green football field with stripes on the background cards. Anyway, my grandfather was interested too and bought me pretty much every card if I remember correctly. The important part was I recall vividly him asking me what individual cards I wanted. He said he’d buy me five more of any card I wanted. I knew the Jerry Rice RC was a good one, but of course I didn’t really like Rice and/or the 49ers at that time. (We’re huge Chicago Bears fans and the we had just won Super Bowl XX in January ’86.) So I think I asked for maybe one Rice and a variety of other cards like Dave Krieg, Curt Warner, Steve Largent, Jim McMahon, and probably Walter Payton. I liked Seattle too. Anyway, I could’ve had at least 5 or 6 total Jerry Rice cards! I think I maxed out at 2 Rice’s. I sold one for $20 or $40 a long, long time ago. I still have one remaining of course, so it’s not a huge regret, but geez…..I was such a stupid 11 year old kid! Thanks for bringing back the memories!

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    1. You gotta go with what you like. I started going to shows in 1973 and began buying cards of players I liked. Well, I liked Frank Robinson way more than I liked Mantle. Missed opportunities there.

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  3. When it doubt, always go with “but this one has more.” You’ll still make bad decisions, but You’ll be able to rationalize them.

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  4. Great post, one that we can all relate to.

    Long ago I owned a poster advertising an upcoming Negro leagues game. I was able to determine from the day and date that the year was sometime in the 20s or 30s. The back of it had writing that appeared to be someone trying to figure out a lineup (perhaps the manager?) Or perhaps it was just a really confused fan 🙂 Either way, it was a beautiful piece that would really look nice if it were framed and hanging on my wall. Unfortunately I sold it in college one quarter when I was a little low on money for books. I’ve never seen an item like it since, and every time I decide to check eBay or Google it, I just find lots of reproductions (which sell for about the same amount as my original nearly 30 years ago). Ugh.

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