100 Greatest Phillies

100 Greatest Phillies: 5 – Grover Cleveland Alexander

Grover Cleveland Alexander
Starting Pitcher
1911-1917, 1930

Career w/Phillies: 2,492 IP / 190-88 / 2.12 ERA / 1,403 K

Born during the first term of the Grover Cleveland presidency, he was actually named Grover Cleveland. Pete was a nickname. Let’s get that out of the way.

Now then: Grover Cleveland Alexander is unquestionably one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. And the Phillies were lucky enough to call him theirs during his best years.

He was signed in 1907 ($50 per month) but was beamed, setting his career back a few years. Finally making his major league debut in 1911, Alexander quickly established himself as a premiere pitcher. His rookie season doesn’t even have to be explained: 367 innings, 28-13, 2.57 ERA, 227 strikeouts, seven shutouts, 31 complete games. He’d only improve.

He won 19 games in 1912, 22 games in 1913 and 27 games in 1914. His ERA hit a career-low 2.38; all this was setting him up for a season for the ages.

The 1915 season was the first great season in Phillies history, as they won their first National League pennant behind Alexander’s golden arm. His statistics are otherworldly: 376.1 innings, 31-10, 51 earned runs in 49 games. Seriously. His ERA: 1.22. 241 strikeouts, 64 walks. He won the pitching Triple Crown, the first of his three (two with the Phillies). All this, and he only went 1-1 in the 1915 World Series against the Red Sox.

The 1916 season was almost as good. Pitching a career high 389 innings, Alexander went 33-12 with a 1.55 ERA and a career-high 16 shutouts. He also walked just 50 batters. His 1917 was also pretty incredible: 30-13 with a 1.83 ERA. But Alexander was feared to be drafted into World War I, and Phillies owner William Baker needed money, so the Phils traded Alexander to the Cubs for a few players, including the great Pickles Dillhoefer. Alexander was drafted into the war, reducing his 1918 season to three games (all complete games), but returned in 1919 and supplied Chicago with another seven fine seasons.

Alexander had a stint with the Cardinals, which included a 21-10, 2.52 ERA performance at age 40 and possibly his greatest moment: closing out the 1926 World Series for the Cards over those Yankees. In 1930 Alexander was traded back to the Phillies to finish his career. At age 43 he went 0-3 with a 9.14 ERA. The flame had died.

Amazingly, Alexander was a notorious drunkard who also suffered from epilepsy. He was soft spoken and introverted. And yet when he took that mound, he dominated. Flat-out dominated. He died in 1950 at age 63, but remains the National League’s second-winningest pitcher. He also holds the NL record for most shutouts, and the baseball record for most shutouts in a season. He recorded one-third of the Phillies wins during his tenure in Philadelphia.

Comment: Grover Cleveland Alexander was incredible. Simply incredible. It’s certainly debatable whether he’s the greatest Phillie, but a few more years in Philly would’ve helped his case. As it stands, his eight seasons in Philadelphia (really the first seven) remain seven of the greatest pitching seasons ever recorded.



  1. Fred Baughman

    March 22, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    The Red Sox were the opponents in the 1915 World Series, not the Yankees.

    In the movie “The Winning Team” Alexander was portrayed by none other than Ronald Reagan.

  2. Manny

    March 22, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    Simply out of this world.

  3. Brian

    March 22, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    I couldnt agree more with this pick, I look forward to 1-4!

  4. Tim Malcolm

    March 22, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    Oh yeah, duh. Changed that.

  5. Bruce

    March 22, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    With all those “otherworldly” accomplishments, Tim ranks him #5 on the Phillies list…. hmm-m.

  6. fred

    March 22, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    If Grover can pitch almost 400 innings, i say ride Hamels all season long ! I’m sure his elbow can withstand about 30 complete games, no problem 😉

  7. BurrGundy

    March 22, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    I don’t remember seeing Pickles Dillhoefer’s placque in Cooperstown. I understand his baseball card has significant value.

  8. Phil

    March 22, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    so top 4 is this roberts delahanty carlton and schmidt in that order

  9. Geoff

    March 22, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    Nasty. Guys like him an Robin Roberts were unreal. There really are not pitchers that are that good now. The last unreal starting pitcher was Nolan Ryan. Clemens gets an asterisk but he was when everyone thought he was clean.

    But numbers like Alexanders dont happen anymore, period. They would never alow Cole Hamels to pitch 31 CG’s with all of the money at stake that there is in the modern era of baseball. These numbers, and others like them for position players from this very very old school age, simply dont happen anymore. Other than Carlton and Ryan in their time, once the 5-man rotation and pitch counts came to be prominent a great period in baseball history ended. The age of domninant starters who could pitch all day without getting injured every 3 or 4 days and pitch 30 some complete games is absoltuely amazing.

  10. Tim Malcolm

    March 22, 2009 at 6:34 pm

    I gotta say Bruce, that’s a very astute observation, that I wrote “otherworldly” and slotted him fifth.

  11. Phil

    March 22, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    geoff nolan ryan wasnt that unreal maddux is waaaaaaaaaaay better

  12. ryan

    March 22, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    what????i was sure the five spot would be reserved for Rico Brogna or possibly Rex Hudler

  13. ryan

    March 22, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    btw: phil is out of his mind.

  14. whizkidfanatic

    March 22, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    “Pete” Alexander was a native Nebraskan. He and Ashburn are probably somewhere arguing about pitchers vs hitters and taking time out to cheer for the “Big Red” Cornhuskers. Robin Roberts tells the story of Pete being invited to his (Robin’s) high school athletic banquet. He got up and said, “…boys, don’t ever take to drink or you might end up like me…”. With that comment he sat down…end of speech.

    He was invited by Bob Carpenter expenses paid, to throw out the first pitch of the 1950 World Series but messed up his travel arrangements and didn’t arrive in time. Carpenter paid his expenses for the rest of the series after which he returned to Nebraska and died a month later.

  15. J cole

    March 22, 2009 at 7:54 pm

    I never looked up any of his stats. I knew he was an amazing pitcher, but had no idea he was THAT amazing. Those numbers are unreal.

  16. James Kay

    March 22, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    The block letter “P” used by the Phillies during Alexander’s early career doesn’t quite make it.

    Although his pitching numbers are extraterrestrial, his life time ERA of 2.56 is surprisingly only 48TH on the all time list. He trails the somewhat contemporary Hoyt Wilhelm (2.52) but is slightly ahead of one of his predecessors Cy Young (2.63).

    The 1952 biographical film “The Winning Team” of Alexander also co-starred Doris Day as his wife. It was an awful move. The best scene was when the umpire was announcing the starting pitcher for the Philadelphia Nationals to the crowd through a megaphone.

    Great choice for # 5.

  17. Phil

    March 22, 2009 at 8:19 pm

    im not out of my mind and when im done my cigarette ill pull stats to prove it. pedros better than ryan too. so is randy johnson

  18. Phil

    March 22, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    Nolan Ryan had a career high 111 ERA+. That means he was barely above league average for his whole career. He may have the highest amount of K’s but he has the highest amount of BB’s too. His biggest talent as a pitcher was his ability to maintain steady numbers throughout his whole career.

    Greg Maddux had a career high 132 ERA+. That means he was very above average for his career. Between 1989 and 2002 he was one of the most dominant pitchers in all of baseball. He was unreal. He had 1 of the best pitching seasons of all time in 95. 94 would have been even better but it was shortened by the strike.

  19. Jim

    March 22, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    phil is right, nolan ryan just knew how to throw the ball hard.

    he has a pretty dominant lead in all time strikeouts but has an even MORE dominant lead in all time walks.

    still, 7 no hitters is quite a feat.

    lets not forget that ryan never won a pennant, or even a cy young award.

  20. Jim

    March 22, 2009 at 8:54 pm

    PHIL – on second thought you do not give ryan his due. though i still agree with you in principle

    nolan ryans best era + was 194 in 1981 meaning he pitched 2 times better than any pitcher that year.

    his career era + is 111, which may not seem like a great number but if consider that steve carlton has an era + of 115, you might change your mind

  21. Phil

    March 22, 2009 at 9:58 pm

    and maddux career high era+ is 271 in a strike shortened season like ryans…bad argument. steve carlton had a way more dominant peak than ryan. his era+ was low cuz he retired later than he shoulda

  22. Jim

    March 22, 2009 at 10:19 pm

    first off i wanst arguing maddux, simply stating about ryan.

    but how can you say carlton is lower because he retired later than he should have?? that may be true but if thats the case than ryan is even more so cause he played 27! seasons

    also ifyoulook at baesball-reference.com, go to nolan ryans page, and look at the bottom, tell me who the #1 similar pitcher is to nolan ryan
    case closed

  23. jhs

    March 23, 2009 at 12:17 am

    Okay, so here’s a guy (as Madden might say) who won 20 games three times with an ERA+ of 101 (with Stl), 114 and 119. That guy, in fact, somehow got a Cy Young off that 119 ERA+ (1982). Let’s, in fact, take a look at that guy’s career with the Phils:

    1972: 27-10, 182 ERA+
    This is all-world, but Grover Cleveland Alexander had the same win% and ERA+ over the three-year period of 1915-1917 with the Phils.

    1973-1975: 44-47, ERA+ of 97, 117, 105.
    Pretty much your typical innings eater #3/#4 starter. Okay, but not very good.

    1976: 20-7, 114 ERA+
    Lucky #2/#3 starter, better than his 20-9 101 ERA+ of 1971, but mostly lucky.

    1977: 23-10, 153 ERA+
    Solid Cy Young winner.

    1978-1979: 34-24, 126 and 105 ERA+
    A bit unlucky in ’78 (16-13, 126 ERA+), a but lucky in ’79 (18-11, 105 ERA+), but basically a solid #2 starter.

    1980: 24-9, 162 ERA+
    Solid Cy Young winner.

    1981: 13-4, 150 ERA+
    Solid ace of staff.

    1982: 23-11, 119 ERA+
    Possibly the softest Cy Young since that award has been given.

    1983-1986: 33-39, ERA+ of 116, 101, 111, 63
    Pretty much done.

    That would be Steve Carlton’s Phillies career.

    On the other hand, Ol’ Alex was 190-88, ERA+ of 140 from 1911-1917. Now, that’s just 7 years of complete, amazing dominance, but check out Carlton’s career with the Phils again: dominant in ’72, ’77, ’80-’81, mediocre in ’73-’75, okay in ’76, ’78-’79, ’82, and crap after ’82. Reality is that Carlton was blah more than he was great, while Alex was only merely quite good in 1913 and 1914 (ERA+ of 119 and 123) and great his other years.

    Alex was 99 games over .500 with the Phils; Carlton (in far more years) was only 80 games over .500. That speaks volumes.

    (I won’t even start with Robin Roberts).

  24. jhs

    March 23, 2009 at 12:26 am

    I suppose I should state explicitly that I think that naming Grover Cleveland Alexander as #5 on your Phillies all-time list (and apparently #2 on your Phillies list of pitchers) is a complete travesty. Alex is only #3 on a pitching list when Cy Young and Walter Johnson are #1 and #2. And, BTW, Ed Delahanty was better than Schmidt, but that’s arguable. Alex vs. Roberts/Carlton is not.

  25. jhs

    March 23, 2009 at 12:27 am

    Ooops, #3 on your Phils list of pitchers – I should learn to type better.

  26. Phil

    March 23, 2009 at 9:07 am

    jhs…that’s blasphemous! jk I agree though…Carlton is really overrated. I mean, he’s still in the top 20 best pitchers of all time, but a lot of people make him out to be one of the best left handers of all time when he just simply wasn’t. Randy Johnson is better…so was Lefty Grove and Spahn. Carlton was streaky and that’s what stopped him from being a top 5 instead of a top 10. He gets a lot of praise because he has a lot of wins, but wins are a team dependent stat.

    Jim: As far as Ryan goes he was merely a slightly above league average pitcher for 27 years…so basically a solid #2 or great #3 for his career. He had flashes of being a dominant ace, but not even in the same sense Carlton did. I’d say Nolan Ryan is a top 30 pitcher and Carlton is a top 20. I’d say they are about 5 apart or so…they are similar.

  27. Chuck P

    March 23, 2009 at 10:06 am

    Tenure is typically most important but what Pete did in 8 years is beyond words. Pete was better than Roberts and Big Ed… and maybe he should be higher… all things considered, it’s tough to argue. Roberts captured Philadephia… his contribution goes beyond stats. Big Ed could have retired as one of the top 20 RBI men of all time (if he hadn’t fell victim to the bottle). Compare him to Honus Wagner, who played until he was 43 y/o during the same time period, and it’s pretty safe to assume that Big Ed would have had 50-75 RBI per season for another 5 years (at least). I put Ed ahead of Pete but Pete ahead of Roberts.

  28. From Section 113

    March 23, 2009 at 11:45 am

    jhs- I agree with you. Grover Cleavland should be #1, or at least #1 in pitching. So he didn’t play as much, he was still more dominant in his play than anyone else.

  29. Наум

    May 28, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    Статья очень понравилась! Этакий короткий микс полезных знаний. Хоть и “зажгли лампу среди бела дня”:)

  30. Maryann

    November 11, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    not better than Christy Mathewson though:D

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