John J. “Jack” Grim never amounted to much as a player. Statistics are nearly nonexistent for his playing career, and those that do survive are unimpressive; primarily a catcher, he played for all, or parts of nine seasons from 1894 until 1902. The Cincinnati native made his mark, now all but forgotten, as a manager and executive.
Often confused with former major league catcher John Helm “Jack” Grim—for example most sources list John H. Grim as the manager of the 1904 Columbia Skyscrapers in the South Atlantic League, it was John J. Grim who managed that team, and during that season might have made his greatest contribution to the game.
Grim’s first managerial appointment was with the Anaconda Serpents in the Montana State League in 1900. He guided the team to a second place finish in the first half, and the club was in first place in the second half race on August 11, when Grim abruptly resigned. The Anaconda Standard said Grim sent a letter to the team directors in which he charged “there is a feeling in certain quarters, against me.” He said:
“I cannot do myself justice while laboring under these conditions.”
Arthur “Dad” Clarkson, brother of Hall of Famer John Clarkson, replaced Grim; the team finished the second half of the season in second place under Clarkson. Grim became an umpire in the league for the remainder of the season.
In 1901 Grim went to the West Coast with William H. Lucas, a former minor league pitcher who had been president of the Montana State League, to join Dan Dugdale to reestablish the Pacific Northwest League; Lucas served as league president and Grim managed the Portland Webfoots to the championship, winning the pennant by 16 games.
The league expanded from four to six teams for 1902, and Grim was hired to manage the Spokane franchise, which had finished in last place (41-67) under three different managers in 1901. The Sporting News said:
“(Spokane’s) stockholders have given (Grim) full power to act in signing players.”
The Sporting Life said Spokane fans were “feeling confident that (Grim) will this year sustain his reputation for always piloting winners.” Despite the free reign, and high hopes, Spokane struggled, finishing in last place with a 46-75 record.
The following season, as a result of the West Coast baseball war—the California League expanded to the Pacific Northwest, becoming the Pacific Coast League—the Pacific Northwest League expanded into California, and became the Pacific National League. Grim managed the Portland Green Gages.
On July 1 the Portland franchised was, according to, The Oregon Journal “transferred bag and baggage to Salt Lake City.” In Salt Lake City Grim quickly wore out his welcome.
After it was reported in late July that Grim might be let go, six players, including the team’s star shortstop Charles “She” Donahue, went on strike. They missed two games, but returned after the team’s president said “he has no intention of letting Grim out.” The harmony didn’t last and just weeks later Grim was released and fined $100 for what The Salt Lake Herald called “starting a mutiny within the ranks of the club.”
The trouble in Salt Lake wasn’t over. Near the end of the season Donahue’s contract was sold to the St. Louis Cardinals. The sale was reportedly engineered by Grim after he was let go as manager.
The Herald said:
“What kind of a con game is Jack Grim trying to work on the Salt Lake ball club? What right had Jack Grim, who was fired…got to sell Donahue to the St. Louis club? How many more of the Salt Lake’s players is Grim trying to dispose of in the same way? What did Grim do with the money he received from (Cardinals President Benjamin) Muckenfuss of the St. Louis team?”
Grim told The Cincinnati Enquirer he entered into negotiations with the Cardinals over Donahue on September 14. But The Herald noted:
“At that time Grim’s sole business in Salt Lake was to hang around with the ballplayers and try his best to create discord among them. He had been fired long before.”
The National Commission ruled the sale/signing legal. Garry Herrmann, chairman of the commission, said that in the contract he signed with Portland for 1903 “Donahue had a specified agreement that he was not be (placed on the reserve list)” despite the fact that the Salt Lake team claimed he had already signed a contract for the following season. As a result, there was nothing stopping Grim from delivering Donahue to the Cardinals, and the money he received—the amount was never reported—was his.
Grim was again involved in a new league in 1904, when he and fellow Cincinnati native Ed Ashenbach, helped form the first incarnation of the South Atlantic League—Grim managed the Columbia Sky Scrapers and Ashenbach managed the Charleston Sea Gulls in the six-team circuit. Grim only lasted until mid July as manager, and finished the year as an umpire in the league.
It was that season that that he claimed he made his great contribution to the game. According to Grim, he was the first person to alert the Detroit Tigers about a 17-year-old outfielder for the Augusta Tourists named Tyrus Raymond Cobb.
While Cobb was not sold to the Tigers until August of 1905, some credence for the claim was provided by Cobb himself in 1910, when an article appearing under his name—likely ghostwritten by Roger Tidden of The New York World—said Grim had tried to purchase his contract when he was struggling at Augusta, shortly after “I left home to show up the league.”
In 1905 Grim was one of the principal organizers of the Virginia-North Carolina League and managed the Greensboro Farmers—Grim lasted less than half a season and by August The Sporting Life said he was scouting for the Cincinnati Reds.
Grim finally found some stability in 1906. He again helped found a league and owned and managed a club. Grim’s Lynchburg Shoemakers won the Virginia League pennant in 1906—the team was led by pitcher Walter Moser (24-8), who would make the jump from the C-league Shoemakers to the Philadelphia Phillies in August. But after a fifth place finish and 1907, and a slow start the next season, Grim sold the team in July of 1908.
Just after selling the team, Grim’s wife reported him missing. She told police in Louisville, Kentucky that she hadn’t heard from him in three weeks and thought he might be in Louisville after visiting family in Cincinnati. Al Orth, the New York Highlanders pitcher, said he saw Grim in New York and told The Associated Press “He did not look like a man who was missing from anywhere.”
Grim eventually returned to Virginia and his disappearance was never explained. Orth, who was from Lynchburg, returned there later that summer, purchased an interest in the team and managed the club until early 1909 when he returned to the Highlanders.
For the next four years Grim bounced back and forth from team ownership (he managed, and owned part of two more Virginia League franchises (Portsmouth in 1910 and Newport News in 1912) and real estate speculating on the West Coast and in Virginia.
At the beginning of the 1912 season a small item in The Richmond Times-Dispatch hinted that there was trouble ahead:
“Jack Grim has a combination of troubles. One is of the financial variety—well the other is nobody’s business.”
The financial troubles came to a head in August. The Times-Dispatch said:
“Because Manager J.J. Grim would not pay their salaries, all of the players of the Newport News baseball club except (Frank) ‘Deacon’ Morrissey, struck just before the scheduled double header between Newport News and Petersburg.”
After the game was awarded to Petersburg by forfeit, Grim’s co-owners removed him—outfielder William “Buck” Hooker was named manager for the remainder of the season.
At the end of the 1912 season Grim found himself in an odd predicament. The Cincinnati Enquirer said:
“Though minus a franchise, Jack Grim, formerly of Cincinnati, has a ball team under reservation, for he owns title to the players of the Newport News club…It develops that in the adjustment of the club’s affairs in August, Grim who was manager and part owner, got out without losing title to the players, though he lost the franchise.”
As a result, when the Cleveland Naps drafted third baseman Ray Bates from Newport News after the 1912 season, the draft price went to Grim.
It was the last good thing to happen to him; from there, Grim’s life spun out of control.
In October he attended the World Series in New York (his wife later said he attempted to kill her during that trip).
In November of 1912 the Virginia League turned down his attempt to secure a franchise for 1913; next his effort to start a new league with teams in Virginia and the Carolinas fell through.
In addition to being unable to secure a franchise and running out of money—an effort to secure the New York-New Jersey League franchise in Kingston, New York also fell through–Grim’s wife had him arrested during the first week of March, 1913, and told a Lynchburg judge he had repeatedly “threatened Mrs. Grim with bodily harm.” Grim was held in jail, but according to The Times-Dispatch “is doing everything possible to effect a reconciliation with his wife.”
Grim was released on bond after a week, but quickly rearrested, and by March 23 The Times Dispatch said:
“That a commission of lunacy will be summoned early this week to investigate the Sanity of john J. Grim, the well-known minor league baseball magnate , seems now to be a foregone conclusion…Since his incarceration Grim’s condition has grown so bad that there is no doubt in the minds of the jail attaches that he is insane…Grim has not had his clothes off in a week, and he spends his time in his cell singing, shouting, talking and pacing up and down, begging to be liberated.”
The “commission of lunacy” found Grim insane based on the testimony of Grim’s wife and a doctor named Albert Priddy, and ordered him sent to Virginia’s Southwestern State Hospital in Marion. It was in front of the commission that Mrs. Grim related the story of the “attempt to murder her with a razor in New York City.”
Contradictory reports about Grim’s condition came out during the next year. The Associated Press said in August Grim was “A raving maniac…not far from death.” A December story in The Cincinnati Enquirer said “he is improving rapidly and probably will be discharged at an early date…Grim expects to return to Cincinnati.”
Almost a year later, he was still in the hospital, and The Enquirer reported that “Grim is improving in health and expects to visit his Cincinnati friends soon.”
That item was the last newspaper reference to Grim; he was never released and died in the state hospital.
The doctor who testified that Grim was insane, Albert Sidney Priddy, was superintendent of the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded in Madison Heights, Virginia. The doctor, and that institution, became infamous in the case of Buck v. Bell (the case was Buck v. Priddy until Priddy’s death in 1925; Bell was his successor at the State Colony). The Supreme Court’s decision in the case–upholding the Virginia’s compulsory sterilization law– resulted in the forced sterilization of more than United States citizens in Virginia and states that enacted similar laws.