Monday, July 5, 2010

Grover Cleveland Alexander

Grover Cleveland Alexander was born in Elba, Nebraska, on February 26, 1887 during the first term of U.S. President Grover Cleveland. He was one of thirteen children, and it has been rumored that he learned to pitch as a small child by throwing rocks at birds. Alexander would go on to pitch in the Major Leagues for the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs, and St. Louis Cardinals. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1938.

Cleveland's career began when he signed his first professional contract at age 20 in 1907 for $50 per month. He had a good first season, but his career was almost ended when he was struck by a thrown ball while base running. He remained unconscious for two days after the incident, and upon waking up he suffered from double vision. By the 1910 season, Grover was fully recovered and become a star pitcher again. He was then sold to the Philadelphia Phillies for $750.

Alexander made his official Major League debut on April 15, 1911 with the Philadelphia Phillies.
In his rookie year, Alexander led the league with 28 wins, 31 complete games, 367 innings pitched, and seven shutouts, while finishing second in strikeouts and fourth in ERA. From 1912 to 1920, Alexander led the league in ERA, wins, complete games, and shutouts five times. Innings pitched and strikeouts six times. He won pitching's elusive Triple Crown in 1915, 1916, 1917 and 1920.

After the 1917 season, the Phillies sold Alexander to the Cubs because Phillies owner William Baker, “needed the money". Because of the United States involvement in World War I, Alexander spent most of the 1918 season in France as an artillery officer, where he suffered from shell shock, partial hearing loss, and increasingly worse seizures.

Alexander, who grew up in a family of alcoholics, and was always a drinker himself, hit the bottle particularly hard after the war. He still managed to give Chicago several successful seasons despite his drinking. By 1926 the Cubs finally had enough of his increasing alcoholism and insubordination, and sold him to the Cardinals in the middle of the 1926 season.

Grover Cleveland Alexander's arrival in St Louis would help the Cardinals win the National League pennant. Alexander and the Cardinals would go on to meet the New York Yankees in the World Series.

Alexander, now 39, hardened and grizzled by a life on the road and constant drinking, would go on to pitch complete game victories in Games 2 and 6. The game six victory enabled the Cardinals to tie up the series and force a game 7. Jesse Haines started the game for the Cardinals but was forced to leave the game in the seventh inning due to nasty blister. When Haines was removed from the game the Cardinals had a 3-2 lead, but the Yankees had the bases loaded with two outs. Alexander was called in to face Yankee slugger Tony Lazzeri. Alexander managed to strike him out and then held the Yankees scoreless for two more innings to preserve the win and give the Cardinals the championship.

Grover had one last 20-win season for the Cardinals in 1927, but his heavy drinking finally ended his career in 1930. Alexander would go on to be elected to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY in 1938. He died on November 4, 1950 in St. Paul, Nebraska at the age of 63 from heart failure.

In 1952 the biographical film The Winning Team about the life of Alexander was released. Ronald Reagan played Grover Cleveland Alexander in what baseball commentator Bill James called "an awful movie, a Reader's Digest movie, reducing the events of Alexander's life to a cliché."

In 1999, he ranked number 12 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, and was a nominee for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.


  1. Wow. No comments on the greatest right handed pitcher, or close to it (after Walter Johnson and maybe Christy Mathewson) of ALL time. (373 wins). And one who died in poverty, one who suffered epilepsy and alcoholism, and served his country at the front in WWI. Wow. Grover Cleveland Alexander, "Old Pete"...sleep well. You have earned it.

  2. Grover Cleveland Alexander was the greatest pitcher in baseball history in my opinion. Especially when you factor in all the things that happened to him in his life, and the 'built in' things like alcoholism that he had to fight. A great man, patriot AND pitcher...ALEX THE GREAT...GROVER CLEVELAND ALEXANDER.

    1. I thank God that the poor fellow didn't have to see his life portrayed on the big screen by Ronald Reagan of ALL people! That would have killed him for sure or at least caused Ol' Pete to hit the bottle even harder.