Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hurrah for Grover Cleveland (Alexander)

It's President Grover Cleveland's birthday. Since I don't really care about him, I decided I would rather write about major leaguer and Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander.

Named for the president, and played by future president Ronald Reagan in a movie, Grover Cleveland Alexander was born in 1887 in Elba, Nebraska. Acquired by the Phillies at age 24 in 1911, Alexander won 373 games over his big league career, pitching effectively until 1929. Alexander also drank heavily, and served in World War I in Europe. Alexander had extraordinary control, walking only 1.6 men per nine innings while the league average was 2.7. Alexander played on barnstorming teams and in the minors until he was over fifty years old, dying in 1950 at age 63.

Alexander's single greatest moment was probably the 1926 World Series, where he came on in relief, after having pitched a complete game the day before. He struck out Yankee Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded, then finished the game to give the Cardinals a World Series title. This Series game, memorably, ended with Babe Ruth being caught stealing at second base for the final out.

A quiet man, Alexander has always seemed tinged by sadness to me-as if his wartime experience sent him into a spiral he never came out of. Accounts differ about whether or not his drinking affected his play, but it seems obvious that it must have, to some extent. Picturing the old man still trying to get hitters out at age fifty is kind of pathetic-I can sympathize with a man only knowing how to do one thing.

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