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Grover Cleveland Alexander

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Philadelphia Phillies 1911-17; 30
Chicago Cubs 1918-26
St. Louis Cardinals 1926-29

Grover Cleveland Alexander is one of the most brilliant and tragic characters in baseball history.  Showing a tendency to be accident prone early in his career, Alexander's life included many mishaps and much misfortune.  Yet through it all he kept pitching, finishing his career with nearly 400 victories.

Born in Elba, NE on February 26, 1887, young Grover Cleveland picked up the nickname "Pete" as a youth in nearby St. Paul.  The origins of the moniker are murky, but one theory suggests he gained the nickname by spending a lot of time with a friend of that name.

Alexander's professional career began on the Nebraska country side in 1906, and by 1909 he was pitching in the Central Association for the Galesburg, IL when near tragedy struck.  Trying to break up a double play at second base, Alexander was struck in the head by the shortstop's relay throw.  Unconscious for 56 hours, he finally awoke with blurred vision.

Thinking his career was over, Galesburg sold him to Indianapolis of the American Association.  Things went from bad to worse when Alexander's first warm-up pitch was so wild, it hit his manager in the chest, breaking three of his ribs.  Having seen enough, Indianapolis quickly gave his contract to the Syracuse Chiefs of the International League.  It was a move they would soon regret.  Later that spring, Alexander's vision cleared and his control returned.  He went on to win 29 games for the Chiefs, including 15 shutouts.

After another successful campaign in Syracuse, the young hurler was purchased by the Philadelphia Phillies for the modest sum of $750.  It didn't take long for the 24-year-old to make his mark in the big leagues, as he posted a league leading 28 wins with seven shutouts (also tops in the NL) and a 2.57 ERA (5th).  Alexander's 227 strikeouts in 1911 set a rookie record that stood until 1984 (Dwight Gooden).

Alexander continued to rank among the games best pitchers, winning 19, 22, and 27 games from 1912-14, and in 1915 he began one of the most dominant stretches in league history.  He captured the pitcher's version of the Triple Crown that season leading the league with 31 wins, a 1.22 ERA, and 241 strikeouts.  He also paced the NL with 12 shutouts and 36 complete games.

The Phillies, meanwhile, rode their ace their first National League pennant, but fell in the World Series to the mighty Boston Red Sox in five games.  Alexander earned the team's sole victory, winning Game 1, 3-1.  It would remain the franchise's only win in World Series play until 1980.

Alexander picked up where he had left off the previous year in 1916, winning a career high 33 games. His 1.55 ERA and 167 strikeouts were also league leading and earned him a second straight Triple Crown.  The lanky right-hander set a major league record  in 1916 that will never be broken, baffling hitters on his way to an amazing 16 shutouts.

In 1917, the ace hurler posted his third straight 30 win season, going 30-13 with a 1.83.  Following the season, however, the cash-strapped Phillies did the unthinkable, trading Alexander, along with catcher Bill Killefer, to the Chicago Cubs for pitcher Mike Prendergast, catcher Pickles Dillhoefer, and $55,000.  It is still regarded as the worst trade in franchise history. During his seven year stint in Philadelphia (1911-17), Alexander won 190 games, approximately one-third of the team's total during that stretch.

Alexander's first season in the Windy City ended after just three games when he was called into service by the US Army and stationed in France during World War I.  Tragedy nearly struck Alexander again, when a shell exploded close to the pitcher and cost him his hearing in one ear.  It was while recovering, that he was first diagnosed with epilepsy.

Shaking off the trials and tribulations, Alexander returned to the mound with a vengeance in 1919. In his first full season as a Cub, "Old Pete" won 16 games and led the NL with a 1.72 ERA.  Not be outdone, Alexander won his third Triple Crown in 1920, posting 27 victories, a 1.93 ERA, and 173 strikeouts.

Due to war induced trauma and bouts with epilepsy, Alexander began to find more and more solace in the bottle. By the mid 20s, alcoholism, coupled with his physical afflictions had begun to affect his performance.  In 1925 Alexander was admitted to a sanitarium.

He returned to Chicago in 1926, and was greeted by the Cubs with a day in his honor.  As a sign of support, the team gave their former ace a new car and $5,500.  The goodwill was short-lived however, as Alexander was ineffective on the mound, falling to the Boston Braves 7-1.  It would be the 39-year-old hurler's final appearance as a Cub, as arm trouble and disagreements with management led to his sale to the rival Cardinals for the waiver price of $6,000.

The seemingly washed up pitcher found new life in St. Louis, defeating the Cubs 3-2 in his first start as a Cardinal.  He would win eight more games that season for his new club, helping them capture the National League pennant.  In the Fall Classic against Babe Ruth and the Yankees, an aging Alexander added to his already substantial legend.

After defeating the Bronx Bombers in Game 2 and in Game 6, Alexander was called upon in relief in Game 7.  With the bases loaded and 2 outs in the 7th inning, Alexander (who was allegedly hung over) ambled to the mound to face Tony Lazzeri and promptly struck out the Yankees infielder, needing just four pitches.  Alexander wasn't done yet, as he pitched the final two innings without giving up a hit, making the Cardinals world champions.

Alexander was again on top of the baseball world, and received the largest payday of his career, $17,500, for the 1927 season.  The 40-year-old responded by winning 21 games that season and 16 in 1928, which helped the Redbirds capture another NL pennant.  This time the Yankees came away victorious, sweeping the Cardinals and roughing up Alexander, who gave up 11 earned runs in just 5 innings.

After a mediocre 1929 season, Alexander was dealt back to the Phillies to finish his career.  His homecoming was short-lived, however, as he began the 1930 season 0-3 and was released.  "Old Pete" finished his career with 373 victories, tied with Christy Mathewson for most in NL history.  His 90 career shutouts trail only Walter Johnson.  He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1938.

Aside from his Hall of Fame induction, Alexander's post career life was not a happy one. After several years spent barnstorming in the minor leagues, he returned to his hometown of St. Paul, NE.  Penniless and an alcoholic, Grover Cleveland Alexander died in a boarding house on November 4, 1950.

-David Zingler, October 2003

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