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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.

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