COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – For sheer artistry on the mound, rhythm and grace, Grover Cleveland Alexander had no superior.
It was this easy delivery, with no undue strain on his arm or body, which enabled Alexander to pitch big league ball until he was 43, prompting an election to the Hall of Fame on Jan. 18, 1938 – 74 years ago this week.
Nicknamed Old Pete and Alex the Great by his admirers, he proved an unsolvable puzzle to major league batsmen from 1911 to 1930, and during that period compiled several pitching records.
His curveball and perfect control brought him 30 or more triumphs in successive seasons from 1915 through 1917, an accomplishment credited to only one other National League hurler: Christy Mathewson of the New York Giants.
Unfortunately for Alex, the Phillies fell off after their pennant of 1915. So did attendance. America's entry into World War I was looming, and the Phillies were in dire need of money. During the winter of 1917, the Phils traded Alexander and battery mate, catcher Bill Killefer, to the Chicago Cubs for two players and $55,000 in cash.
After seven superb seasons with the Cubs – and one, 1918, where he missed most of the year while serving in World War I, Alexander was waived mid-season, 1926.
By this time, ex-battery mate Bill Killefer was a coach for the Cardinals. Hearing of Alexander's release, Killefer urged Cards manager Rogers Hornsby to pick him up. Hornsby agreed, signing Alex off waivers immediately.
Alexander was immediately thrown into a pennant race, starring on the St. Louis pitching staff.
He was the hero of the 1926 World Series, in which he won two games for the Cards. He is best remembered for his dramatic relief performance in Game 7 that series.
Having pitched and won Game 6 the day before, Alexander wasn't expecting to work in the final game. But in the seventh inning of the final game against the Yankees, Alexander was called on to replace Jesse Haines with the bases loaded and two out.
"As I came in from the bullpen that chilly Sunday afternoon, Hornsby had the ball. He was standing out there at his second base position and, when I reached the mound, he threw the ball to me. Rog knew there wasn't anything he had to tell me," Alexander recalled.
On cue, Alexander struck out future Hall of Famer Tony Lazzeri on four pitches, then held New York scoreless the rest of the way to give the Cardinals a 3-2 victory and the World Championship.
During his last big season in 1927, Alexander won 21 games for the Cards. He scored 16 victories the next year but lost his effectiveness thereafter and returned to the Phillies after the 1929 campaign.
The Phils gave him his unconditional release on June 3, 1930, thus ending his major league career.
At the time of his retirement, "Old Pete's" 90 shutouts, 373 career wins and a 1.22 single-season ERA were all league records.
Jonathan Coe was the fall 2011 Public Relations intern for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum