St. Louis Cardinals

Belleville’s Bob Groom made baseball history 100 years ago

Belleville native Bob Groom.
Belleville native Bob Groom.

It will be 100 years this weekend since a Belleville born-and-bred big-leaguer finished off what no other pitching duo has done before or since.

On May 6, 1917, local boy Bob Groom no-hit the Chicago White Sox in a 3-0 win for the old St. Louis Browns. Just the day before, teammate Ernie Koob did the same.

They remain the only teammates in the majors to toss no-nos on back-to-back days. The games were not back-to-back, however — their performances were separated by the first-game of a doubleheader, during which Groom also tossed two no-hit innings.

Even though he died in 1948, Groom is still known in Belleville, at least by name. He came from a prominent local family, managed its coal-mine operation when his playing days were done, sat on the board of the St. Clair National Bank and was an otherwise active and respected citizen of his hometown.

But Groom is probably best remembered as the first manager of the Belleville American Legion Post 58 baseball team.

He led the Hilgards from 1938 to 1944, capturing the historic program’s first state championship in 1939. His place in Hilgards history is memorialized in black granite at Belleville’s Citizen’s Park, a touchstone for current players who carry Groom’s legacy onto their Whitey Herzog Field home.

Before all that, though, Groom won 119 games for some truly awful teams. He was 24-13 with a 2.89 ERA for the Washington Senators in 1912, one of three winning teams for which he played over nine professional season. He also played for the St. Louis Terriers/Browns and appeared in 14 games for the Cleveland Indians in 1918.

Bob Groom in 1917, the year he and teammate Ernie Koob no-hit the Chicago White Sox on consecutive days.

This takes us back a century to the corner of Grand and Dodier in St. Louis.

Koob set up Groom’s historic performance May 5, when he struck out two White Sox batters, walked five and didn’t give up a hit in a 1-0 St. Louis win.

Eddie Cicotte took the tough-luck loss for Chicago in that first of a six-game series. He scattered just five St. Louis hits and struck out three, but a pair of errors led to an unearned, but decisive, St. Louis run.

You may remember Cicotte, too. He was one of the infamous “Eight Men Out,” banned from baseball by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis for his role in the 1919 Black Sox scandal. In 1917, though, he was the American League leader with 28 wins, a 1.53 ERA and 346 2/3 innings pitched.

But Koob — a Keeler, Michigan, native who lasted all of four losing seasons in the big leagues — was the would-have-been Hall of Famer’s better that day.

Barely 24 hours later, on May 6, the Browns and Allan Sothoron beat the Sox 8-4 in the first game of the twinbill. Groom picked up the first of three saves he would earn that year by holding the White Sox hitless in the eighth and ninth innings.

That was a mere warm-up to what he had in store for the nightcap. An estimated 20,000 fans were at Sportsman’s Park that sunny Sunday to witness history .

The Browns scored single runs in the first and second and added a third in the eighth. St. Louis’ forgotten Hall of Famer George Sisler — who twice batted over .400 in his career — upped his average to .392 by going 3-for-3. He also scored a pair of runs.

The Sox’s lineup, meanwhile, was stacked with Hall of Famers Ray Schalk and Eddie Collins plus another should-be Hall of Famer, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. The three went a collective 0-for-7 that day.

Groom, Frank LaPorte
Bob Groom with Washington Senators teammate Frank LaPorte in 1912. Groom had his best season as a professional that year, winning 24 games.

Groom, meanwhile, struck out four, walked three and hit Buck Weaver with a pitch. And for the second day in a row, St. Louis celebrated a no-hit performance. The game took only 1 hour, 21 minutes to play.

It was a great couple of days for Koob, Groom and the Browns, but the fun didn’t last. The White Sox swept the next three games of the series en route to 101 wins, the American League pennant and, two seasons later, baseball infamy.

St. Louis ended up 40 games under .500 in 1917 and Groom, despite a 2.94 ERA in 232 innings pitched, led the league with 19 losses. He pitched just one more season in the big leagues, though he continued to play locally as he managed the family coal mines.

And, finally, an interesting — if not ironic — bit of trivia: Groom celebrated his birthday each year on Sept. 12 and Koob celebrated his the day before.

BND Sports Editor Todd Eschman: 618-239-2540, @tceschman