The Classic 1926 World Series: Was “Old Pete” Alexander Sleeping Off A Hangover In The Bullpen?

The Classic 1926 World Series: Was “Old Pete” Alexander Sleeping Off A Hangover In The Bullpen?

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 The Classic 1926 World Series: Was “Old Pete” Alexander Nursing A Hangover In The Bullpen??

“Grover Cleveland Alexander wasn’t drunk out there on the mound, the way people thought. He was an epileptic. Old Pete would fall down with a seizure between innings, then go back and pitch another shutout.” -Ty Cobb

The exciting 1926 Fall Classic between the Cardinals and the Yankees was won by the Redbirds four games to three.This was the first World Series appearance for the Cardinals; while the Yanks were making their fourth in six years.

The Series had many notable moments, including Pete Alexander successfully closing out the Yankees in Game Seven; Babe Ruth’s record-setting three home runs in Game Three and his dramatic home run for little Johnny Sylvester in Game Four; and the Babe’s failed attempt to steal second base which ended Game Seven and the Series.

“Old Pete” To the Rescue!

With the Yankees ahead three games to two after five games, Cardinals’ player-manager Rogers Hornsby chose Grover Cleveland “Old Pete” Alexander to start Game Six, which he won in a lopsided 10-2 complete game victory. This was Alexander’s second complete game of the Series. He won Game Two, a 6-2 four-hitter. Then in the decisive Game Seven, Hornsby called upon him again, this time in relief in the top of the seventh inning with the game on the line. Hornby’s gamble paid off.

With two outs and the bases loaded, the Cardinals were clinging to a precarious 3-2 lead with future Hall-of-Famer Tony Lazzeri striding to the plate. There’s always been debate as to whether Alexander was sleeping off a hangover when Hornsby made the call. With two complete games under his belt, the 38-year old former Phillie and Cub star had done his share and wasn’t expecting to be needed.

Rudely stirred awake from his bull pen “siesta” (“Pete, wake up…Rajah wants ya…now!!”), he was thrust into the most climatic moment of the entire Series. God only knows what was going through his mind as he sauntered in from the pen with his slow, deliberate strides…

In the featured photo below, we see a beautiful colorization of Pete Alexander by Don Stokes. This may actually be how Alexander looked when he got the call from Hornsby. Click on the link to see more of our photo tribute to Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander:

Pete settled in on the mound. Yankee fans held their breath as Lazzeri hit a long drive which just curved foul and nearly left the park. Recovering from this close shave with disaster, Pete reached back to deliver whatever was left in his tank. Exuberant relief soon followed for the Cardinals as Pete struck out the dangerous Lazzeri. The Cardinals were out of the inning!

The confrontation soon became one of the most storied in all of World Series lore. Pete then proceeded to retire the Yankees over the next two innings without a run to preserve the win. Old Pete – hangover and all – had come through one more time!

Babe Ruth Out at Second By 10 Feet!

Also in Game Seven, the Yankees were still trailing 3–2 in the bottom of the ninth inning and down to their last out. Ruth walked, bringing up Bob Meusel, a .315 hitter. Meusel had success in Game Six against Alexander, with a double and triple. Just as Pete was about to throw the first pitch, Ruth made the bold move of trying to steal second. Meusel swung and missed, and Cardinals’ catcher Bob O’Farrell immediately threw the ball to second baseman Hornsby who laid the tag on Ruth. He was out by a good 10 feet. The game was over and the Cardinals had won their first World Series.

As Hornsby recalled later, Ruth “didn’t say a word. He just picked himself up and walked away.” As of 2016, it’s the only time a World Series has ended with a runner being caught stealing. The Babe’s logic was sound. He explained later that he attempted to steal second base because he thought no one would expect it and would have an easier chance of scoring if Meusel hit a single into the outfield.

Alexander’s Hall-of-Fame Career

Pete Alexander’s 90 shutouts are a National League record and his 373 wins are tied with Christy Mathewson for first in the National League. He is also third all-time in wins, tenth in innings pitched, and second in shutouts. He ranked number 12 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, and was a nominee for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. Alexander was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1938, the third year of the Hall.

 Gary Livacari

Photo Credits: All from Google search; featured photo colorized by Don Stokes:

Information: Excerpts edited from the 1926 World Series Wikipedia page.

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I'm a baseball historian who also loves to write. My forte is identifying ballplayers in old photos, and my specail interest is the Dead Ball Era.

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