Year Inducted: 1938 (BBWAA, ballot #3, 212/262)
There is no bigger stage in sports, with the exception of the Super Bowl, than Game 7 of the World Series. And, success on the biggest stage can pay off dividends for a player’s career as they get the permanent label of “clutch” applied to them. With his performance in the 1991 World Series, Jack Morris nearly gained entry into the Hall of Fame even though he was a merely very good pitcher. Likewise, Game 7 of the 1960 World Series catapulted Bill Mazeroski into the Hall of Fame, and years in the future Ben Zobrist’s performance in this past World Series could see him get some votes or even a push from the Veteran’s Committee. A big performance in a big game can cover up an entire career’s worth of work. For some players like Maz and Morris, that’s a good thing. For other’s like Pete Alexander, it overshadows what can be considered one of the greatest pitching careers of all-time.
Alexander pitched for 20 years in the bigs, mostly with the Phillies and Cubs. In slightly fewer than 5200 innings, Alexander won 373 games against 208 losses with an ERA of 2.56. In his legendary career, Alexander struck out nearly 2200 batters while walking only 951 batters. He carried a WHIP of only 1.12 and opponents hit merely .246 against him.
Alexander took the league by storm almost immediately, posting 28 wins in his rookie season and finishing second in the league in strikeouts. From his debut in 1911 until the end of the decade, Alexander shone as the best pitcher in the National League and second only to Walt Johnson in all of baseball (as other great pitchers like Mathewson and Brown had retired before the decade ended). Then he served in WWI, and while Mathewson suffered more due to service in the war, Alexander had his fair share of problems due to the war. Alexander hurt his shoulder by working a howitzer cannon, as well as taking shrapnel in one ear while the other ear went deaf due to the cannons. The war caused him to become epileptic and drunk, as he would try to cover his epilepsy with alcohol. After returning from the war, Alexander was able to have a couple of great years, but soon the alcohol and epilepsy took over his life and during the 1920’s he would only have one more season where his ERA was below 3.00.
Alexander’s main claim to fame was, of course, his performance in Game 7 of the 1926 World Series. With the bases loaded in the 7th inning, and the Cards up 3-2 against a powerhouse Yankees team, Alexander came in to relieve for Jesse Haines against Tony Lazzeri. Lazzeri would strike out swinging, Alexander shut the Yanks down in the 8th and 9th, and the Cards were World Champs for the first time in their history with Alexander carving his name in stone in the pantheon of great World Series performers.
As great as that moment was, Alexander’s career was coming to an end. Following a couple of up and down years, the Cardinals traded him to the Phillies where he bottomed out entirely. His post-career life was horrible as he battled alcoholism, epilepsy and cancer all spurring from his WWI experiences. Even his career ending came with an unfortunate moment. When Alexander retired, he thought his 373 career wins were tops for an NL pitcher, beating Mathewson’s 372. However, researchers discovered a scoring error in one of Mathewson’s seasons, improving his record to 373 wins and retroactively tying him with Alexander. Alexander’s life may have been cursed with tragedies, but his place in history should be remembered with reverence and the greatness he truly possessed.
Stay tuned for the next updates.
On deck 11/23/16:
#55- Luis Aparicio wasn’t the only White Sox shortstop to make it to the Hall of Fame.
#54- This catcher set all the standards for Yankee catchers, but then got immediately surpassed by his successor.