Grover Cleveland "Old Pete" Alexander (February 26, 1887 - November 4, 1950) was a Major League Baseball pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs, and St. Louis Cardinals. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1938, as the only member of the 3rd class of BBWAA choices. Alexander was the 9th player overall and the 4th pitcher chosen for the Baseball Hall of Fame by the BBWAA. He was the last pitcher chosen alone by the BBWAA until Red Ruffing made it in a 1967 runoff election. He was one of the first 25 men inducted in 1939 when the "Hall" opened in Cooperstown.
Alexander was born in Elba, Nebraska. Alexander was one of thirteen children and played semi-pro ball in his youth. He signed his first professional contract at age 20 in 1907 for $50 per month. He had a good first season, but it was marred by a beaning that probably contributed to later bouts with epilepsy. This incident set his career back, but he had recovered by 1910, became a star pitcher again, and was sold to the Philadelphia Phillies for $750.
In his 1911 debut, Alexander led the league with 28 wins (a modern-day rookie record), 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 five times (1915, 1916, 1917, 1919, and 1920), wins six times (1911, 1914–17, 1920), innings seven times (1911, 1912, 1914–17, 1920), strikeouts six times (1912, 1914-1917, 1920), complete games five times (1914-1917, 1920), and shutouts six times (1913, 1915, 1916 [a single season record 16], 1917, 1919). He won pitching's Triple Crown in 1915, 1916, 1917 and 1920. In 1915, he was instrumental in leading the Phillies to their first pennant, and he also pitched a record four one-hitters for one season in 1915. (He pitched a total of 5 one-hitters (including one in 1911). He did not have a major league no-hitter, but he pitched one in the minors prior to his major league career Alexander holds the National League record with 90 career shutouts (counting 2 0-0 ties) and is 2nd in majors to Walter Johnson's 110 shutouts.
After the 1917 season, the Phillies sold Alexander to the Cubs, ostensibly fearful that he would be lost to the army in World War I, but as Phillies owner William Baker admitted later, "I needed the money". Sure enough Alexander was drafted, and 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. Always a drinker, Alexander hit the bottle particularly hard after the war. He still gave Chicago several successful years, however, and grabbed another pitching triple crown in 1920. Finally tiring of his increasing drunkenness and insubordination, the Cubs sold him to the Cardinals in the middle of the 1926 season for the waiver price.
The Cardinals won the National League pennant that year and met the New York Yankees in the World Series, where Alexander had his finest moment. He pitched complete game victories in Games 2 and 6 before coming into the seventh inning of Game 7, after Jesse Haines developed a blister, with the Cardinals up 3-2 the bases loaded and two outs. Facing Yankee slugger Tony Lazzeri, Alexander struck him out and then held the Yankees scoreless for two more innings to preserve the win and give St. Louis the championship. Alexander had one last 20-win season for the Cardinals in 1927, but age and his continued drinking finally did him in. He left baseball after a brief return to the Phillies in 1930. Counting 1918, when Alexander went 2-1 before entering military service, he set major league records (still-standing to this day) of 19 winning seasons (over .500) and 19 consecutive winning seasons. He and pitched for the House of David until 1938, and worked for a flea circus in New York City. Alexander's last public appearance was at a Phillies-Yankees World Series Game in 1950. Alexander died on November 4, 1950 in St. Paul, Nebraska at the age of 63.
Alexander's 90 shutouts (including 2 0-0 ties) is a National League record and his 373 wins is tied with Christy Mathewson for first in the National League record book. He is also third all time in wins, tenth in innings pitched (5190), second in shutouts, and eighth in hits allowed (4868). At the time of his retirement, he was believed to have one more win than Mathewson, but a baseball historian discovered an extra unrecorded win for Mathewson in the 1940s & the record books were changed. Alexander and Lefty Grove are regarded as the greatest major league pitchers never to pitch a major league no-hitter (Alexander had 5 one-hitters; Grove had none).
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, but, unfairly omitted from the final team.
Names / nicknames
Alexander was born during the first term of the popular U.S. President Grover Cleveland.
Newspapers often mentioned his full name when writing about him, in addition to just "Grover". He was also sometimes called "Alex", and on occasions when he succeeded in grand fashion (as with the 1926 World Series), they would call him "Alexander the Great".
The origin of the nickname "Old Pete" is something of a mystery. It is uncertain how frequently Alexander was publicly called by that nickname during his playing days. On his 1940 Playball baseball card he was referred to as "Ol' Pete." In The World Series and Highlights of Baseball, by Lamont Buchanan, published in 1951, the year after Alexander died, on pp. 106–107 the author refers to "Pete Alexander" and "Ol' Pete" in a matter-of-fact way, suggesting the nickname was well-known. When he won his 373rd game on August 10, 1929, one newspaper had called him "old Pete", indicating that the nickname was in public circulation. (The Scrapbook History of Baseball, by Deutsch, Cohen, Johnson and Neft, Bobbs-Merrill, 1975, p. 131).
His nickname among old family friends in Nebraska was "Dode." (see "Grover Alexander and Bride Visit Home Folks," St. Paul Phonograph, St. Paul, Neb., April 24, 1919)
Alexander was the subject of the 1952 biographical film The Winning Team, in which he was played by Ronald Reagan. Baseball commentator Bill James called the film "an awful movie, a Reader's Digest movie, reducing the events of Alexander's life to a cliché." Nevertheless, Alexander has the unique distinction of being the namesake of one President of the United States who was portrayed on film by an actor who was later to become President of the United States.
The block-letter "P" from the 1915 season uniforms was retired by the Phillies in 2001 to honor Alexander's Phillies career.
Alexander is the first player mentioned in the poem "Lineup for Yesterday" by Ogden Nash:
|Lineup for Yesterday|
|A is for Alex|
The great Alexander;
More Goose eggs he pitched
Than a popular gander.
|— Ogden Nash, Sport magazine (January 1949)|
- 300 win club
- List of Major League Baseball leaders in career wins
- Triple Crown
- List of Major League Baseball ERA champions
- List of Major League Baseball strikeout champions
- List of Major League Baseball wins champions
- Top 100 strikeout pitchers of all time
- Major League Baseball titles leaders
- Baseball Almanac. Retrieved on 2008-01-23.
- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference, or Fangraphs, or The Baseball Cube
- baseballhalloffame.org – Hall of Fame biography page
- The Deadball Era