Pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander Reflects on His Amazing Baseball Career
The MLB legend was known as a man of few words but gave an interesting interview near the end of his career
Grover “Pete” Alexander is among the greatest pitchers to ever toe a rubber. The right-hander compiled one of the most impressive resumes in baseball history despite battling alcoholism and epilepsy. As he was approaching the end of his marvelous 20-year big-league career, which ultimately resulted in his induction in the Hall of Fame, he gave an interview where he was especially reflective on his accomplishments.
Alexander was a combined 373–208 with a 2.56 ERA while pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals (1911–1930). He led the National League in wins six times, ERA five times and strikeouts six times. If a Cy Young Award existed at the time, there is little doubt he would have taken it home multiple times. He also played in three World Series, including a legendary performance in the 1926 Fall Classic, which resulted in his only title.
BY 1929, he was 42 and in his second-to-last season — pitching for the Cardinals. He spoke at length with George Kirksey of the United Press in an interview that appeared in The Pittsburgh Press on May 6th.
He knew he was no longer the dominant pitcher of his youth, explaining, “I’m pitching more with my head than with my arm. Every ball I throw to the plate is aimed at a certain spot. I used to take a chance on a hitter when I had a good lead or was going good, but nowadays you’ve got to be more careful and work hard on every hitter.”
Alexander was also clearly aware that the clock was ticking on his shelf life but had no plans to leave baseball anytime soon:
“Because my control gets better all the time, I am still pitching in the big leagues, while other pitchers who have just as much stuff or more have gone back to the minors… I figure I’ll stay in baseball for some time to come, but I don’t know now if I’ll pitch for any minor league team. I might try my hand as a manager.”
Pitching the final 2.1 innings of Game 7 of the 1926 World Series, Alexander earned the save and solidified the title for the Cardinals. It was the most famous moment of his career, as prior to being brought into the game, he was alleged to have either been in the bullpen sleeping or still struggling with the effects of a bender the night before. Nevertheless, he held the powerful New York Yankees hitless and struck out star second baseman Tony Lazzeri in his preservation of the victory.
Unlike so many fans and observers, Alexander was proud of his performance but didn’t think it was that big of a deal:
“I don’t get the thrill out of baseball some of ’em seem to, but I guess that (Game 7) was about the biggest kick I ever got out of the game. I wasn’t asleep or drunk either. I wasn’t paying much attention to the game, but I couldn’t see any use of getting ready in a hurry. Hornsby (the team’s star second baseman and manager) and I rode to the game together and he told me if the game got close, he might call on me. I told him I wouldn’t need to throw but about three balls and I’d be warmed up and ready to go. I guess the way I pitched shows I wasn’t drunk or drowsy either.”
Although his major league career ended following the 1930 season, he continued pitching and managing the eponymous Grover Cleveland Alexander House of David barnstorming team, which predominantly played against Negro League teams through the early 1940s when he was well into his fifties. During that time, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1938 — a much-deserved honor.
The former hurler passed away in 1950 at the age of 63. Nearly a century after he last played a big-league game, he remains one of baseball’s most talented and quietest icons.