The Seventh Game of the 1926 World Series: Was it Hollywood or Reality?
I can still remember seeing the 1952 film “The Winning Team” starring Ronald Regan and Doris Day. Of course my knowledge of Grover Cleveland Alexander was non-existent until then. In fact, I might have checked with my father and asked if it were a true story. Which he informed me that Alexander was one of the greatest pitchers of all time.
Grover Cleveland Alexander debuted on April 15, 1911 for the Philadelphia Phillies and won 28 games that year. The Phillies felt that their pitcher would get drafted traded him to Cubs after the 1917 season. Alexander entered the Army in 1918. He served during WWI. Because of the war he became partially deaf, and also developed epileptic seizures in 1919. Grover Cleveland began suffering bouts with dizziness. Alexander also became an alcoholic, although the two circumstances might have been related or not. Grover Cleveland was nicknamed “Old Pete” by his teammates. “Old Pete” was code for illegal alcohol during prohibition.
Old Pete pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies, the Chicago Cubs, and the St. Louis Cardinals during his illustrious career. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1938. Grover Cleveland Alexander was voted in with 80.9 % of the vote. He was third on the list of career wins with 373, led the league in ERA four times, led in wins for six separate seasons, and had a streak of three seasons in a row with thirty or more victories.
While his baseball career was legendary, it was October 10, 1926 that he is arguably most remembered for. Of course Hollywood contributed a lot to the legend. It was the seventh game of the 1926 World Series with the New York Yankees. Pete came into the game during the seventh inning, bases loaded, two outs and Tony Lazerri at the plate. Lazzeri had 18 homers, 117 RBIs, and a .275 batting average. He was a rookie that year, but received ten votes for the MVP award. He accomplished this, on a team that included Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
Old Pete struck him out on three pitches. The second went foul by eight feet, but had the distance for a homerun.
Now if you relied on the movie “The Winning Team,” you might think that strike out was the last out of the game and won the World Series for St. Louis. If you believe that, you would be wrong. While it is true that the Lazzeri strike out was crucial, it prevented the Yankees from going ahead, it was still just the seventh inning. Alexander returned for the 8th and 9th inning. While that strike out was dramatic, in the ninth, with two outs Alexander walked the mighty Babe Ruth and as he was preparing to pitch to the dangerous Bob Meusel, surprisingly Ruth took off in an attempt to steal second base. He was nailed by O’Farrell to end the game!
In game six, Old Pete pitched and won 10-2. His manager, Rogers Hornsby informed him that he could celebrate, but to go easy.
“Alex, if you want to celebrate tonight, I wouldn’t blame you. But go easy for I may need you for tomorrow.” Old Pete replied that he would ride back to hotel with Hornsby, then meet up and ride together to the game.
As the legend that his catcher Bob O’Farrel helped to create said that Alexander was hung over. That Alexander was dozing off in the bullpen, had a flask full of whiskey, and he did not think that there was a chance of him coming into the game.
Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis claims that he saw Alexander in the bullpen awake and sober.
Rogers Hornsby also claimed that Old Pete was not sleeping, and while he did not take his warm up pitches when he entered the game, that was a part of his normal routine. Another interesting fact is that Hornsby sent Alexander down to the bullpen early. So one should find if obvious that Hornsby intended on using him if he needed to.
No one ever made the claim that Alexander did not know he would go in.
The veteran pitcher said, “Hell- I wanted to win that series and get the big money as much as anyone.”
The plain fact is that knuckle ball pitcher Jesse “Pop” Haines developed a blister on his pitching hand in the seventh, loaded the bases with two outs. Manager Hornsby signaled the bullpen for his veteran pitcher. Old Pete came in to face the dangerous Tony Lazzeri and struck him out on three pitches. The game did not end there. Pete stuck around for two more innings, shutting down the mighty Yanks, and saving the game and the World Series victory for the Cardinals.
Out of all of the major league games that Grover Cleveland Alexander pitched, he did not considered his greatest game to be one that he won, but one he saved. And that happened on October 10, 1926!