Grover Cleveland "Pete" Alexander broke into the big leagues with a flourish in 1911 with the Philadelphia Phillies, setting a rookie record with 28 wins.
And Alexander was just getting started. During his 20 seasons in the big leagues, Alexander would become one of the most successful pitchers the game has ever seen.
Using a wide variety of breaking pitches, deceptive speed and pinpoint control, Alexander soon found himself being compared to the top pitchers of his era. He averaged 27 wins per season during his seven years in Philadelphia from 1911-17, including one three-year span in which he won 31, 33 and 30.
“He made me want to throw my bat away when I went to the plate,” said Hall of Fame second baseman Johnny Evers. “He fed me pitches I couldn’t hit. If I let them go, they were strikes. He made you hit bad balls. He could throw into a tin can all day long.”
Alexander was traded to the Cubs in December of 1917. But after only three appearances in 1918, Alexander was drafted into the Army and served as a sergeant in France during World War I. He was gassed during his service and also suffered from partial hearing loss due to a shell explosion, but he returned to the Cubs in 1919 and led the National League with a 1.72 ERA.
Alexander won 27 games in 1920 and led the NL in ERA for the fifth and final time that season with a mark of 1.91. He continued to pace the Cubs' staff throughout the next few years until – at age 39 – he was claimed off waivers by the Cardinals, who were battling for the NL pennant. He won nine games down the stretch, helping St, Louis get to the World Series against the New York Yankees of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
After complete game victories in the second and sixth games, Alexander was called upon in relief in Game 7. St. Louis was ahead 3-2 in the bottom of the seventh, but starting pitcher Jesse Haines was in trouble, having loaded the bases with two outs. Called in from the bullpen only a day after his Game 6 triumph, Alexander would face rookie second baseman Tony Lazzeri, who had knocked in 117 runs during the season. After nearly giving up a grand slam homer down the left field line on a ball that went foul at the last moment, Alexander would strike out Lazzeri and then retire the next five batters before walking Ruth with two outs in the ninth.
With Bob Meusel at the plate, Ruth was caught stealing second base, ending the World Series and creating a legendary moment for Alexander.
Ruth would write years later: “Just to see old Pete out there on the mound, with that cocky little undersized cap pulled down over one ear, chewing away at his tobacco and pitching baseballs as easy as pitching hay is enough to take the heart out of a fellow.”
Alexander retired with a record of 373-208 with 90 shutouts and a 2.56 ERA. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1938.
Alexander passed away on Nov. 4, 1950.