He was born in 1887 when Grover Cleveland was president of the United States. He was portrayed in a 1952 movie that starred future President Ronald Reagan.
Grover Cleveland Alexander's life had several acts. But it wasn't all Hollywood-like glamour. One of six Nebraska natives in baseball's Hall of Fame, the right-hander from Elba battled alcoholism, epilepsy, partial deafness and trauma from World War I, yet he was still one of the greatest pitchers in history.
Today's sabermetricians probably aren't enamored with some of Old Pete's career statistics. They have to like his 2.56 ERA and walks plus hits per inning pitched (WHIP) of 1.121.
Alexander was a heavyweight for the old-school crowd. He was 373-208 from 1911 through 1930. Only Cy Young and Walter Johnson earned more wins, and Alexander is second all time with 90 shutouts.
The opening act of Alexander's career, his first seven seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, was spectacular.
He went 28-13 in his rookie year. The once-mediocre Phillies were in the World Series (losing to the Red Sox) by 1915, Alexander’s first of three straight 30-win seasons. In 1915, he had an ERA of 1.22, the best in the majors until Bob Gibson’s 1.12 mark of 1968.
Act two was rough: Alexander was traded to the Chicago Cubs for two players and $55,000 after the 1917 season, supposedly out of fear he'd be lost to the war effort. He was, but Phillies owner William Baker later admitted he needed the money.
In 1918, Alexander served in the artillery in France during World War I. It was there that his epilepsy surfaced and hearing loss occurred.
He was solid — on the mound — over seven full seasons with the Cubs. Contemporaries claim he didn't drink much early in his career, but his personal life had begun to deteriorate in the 1920s. The Cubs sold him to the St. Louis Cardinals for the waiver price in late June 1926.
Old Pete's final act, a feel-good story, started that October. He won Games 2 and 6 and saved Game 7 of the World Series against the New York Yankees. He entered in relief and struck out slugger Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded and St. Louis clinging to a 3-2 lead in the seventh inning in Game 7. It is commemorated on his Hall of Fame plaque.
Alexander won 21 games in 1927 and 16 more in 1928 for the Cardinals before fading. He closed his career back in Philadelphia. After suffering from cancer, he died of a heart attack in St. Paul, Nebraska, in 1950.
Played for: Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals
Best athlete from Nebraska played with or against: Outfielder Billy Southworth of Harvard, who had 1,296 hits in a 13-year big-league career, was a National League competitor beginning in 1918 and became a Cardinal teammate in 1926
Best moment as an athlete: When he entered in relief and struck out New York Yankees slugger Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded and St. Louis clinging to a 3-2 lead in the seventh inning in Game 7 of the 1926 World Series. It is commemorated on his Hall of Fame plaque.
At MLB: 373-208, 2.56 ERA, 2,198 strikeouts, 90 shutouts
Cleveland Alexander was No. 3 in the inaugural Nebraska 100 list in 2005. See more about the 2005 list »