“The thing that fanned Tony Lazzeri that day and the thing that cost the Yankees the world championship was Grover Alexander’s uncanny control,” Babe Ruth wrote in his memoirs Babe Ruth’s Own Book of Baseball. What was the World Series the Yankees lost because of Grover Alexander’s uncanny control? It was the 1926 World Series and they were defeated by the St. Louis Cardinals. It was Game 7, the 7th inning, and the Cardinals were winning 3-2. The Cardinals were in a bases loaded jam. Alexander was brought out of the bullpen to shut the rally down. He’d pitched a complete game the day before, but now manager Rogers Hornsby needed him to close out the game. Legend has it, Alexander was drunk and asleep in the bullpen when he got the call to face Lazzeri. Who says baseball is boring?
Ruth continued, “Of course there aren’t many pitchers who have the control that Alex has. Alex is a tall, loose-jointed easy-going chap who refuses to become excited. Just to see Old Pete out there on the mound with the cocky little, undersized cap pulled down over one ear, chewing away at his tobacco and pitching baseballs as easy as pitching hay, is enough to take the heart out of a fellow. I’ve got a hunch that if Alex suddenly found himself on the moon, he’d just grin, pull his cap over his ear, and keep on chewing. He’s that kind of chap. Nothing rattles him.”
Indeed, nothing rattled Grover Cleveland Alexander that World Series. His performance against the Yankees, against Murderers Row, was unheard of in that era. In two starts and the one relief appearance Alexander pitched 20.1 innings. He compiled a 1.33 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, .218 BAIP, and struck out 17. He didn’t give up any home runs. Babe Ruth couldn’t touch him. Lou Gehrig couldn’t touch him. Tony Lazzeri couldn’t touch him. Oh, and he was about to turn 40 years old.
The St. Paul Phonograph wasn’t reserved when they reported on Alexander’s performance as, “… a wonderful exhibition of nerve and good judgment. That is why we verily believe Alexander was a superman when he faced the Yanks on last Sunday afternoon and pulled the game from the yawning abyss of defeat and safely stowed it away in the archives of the baseball commission where it will remain for all time as one of the greatest feats in world's series conflicts. And again we claim Alexander as the hero of the series and entitled to all the credit for winning the world's series.”
One side note, the Series ended with Babe Ruth getting caught trying to steal second base. No, that’s not a typo. But, that’s not why the Yankees lost the World Series. The Cardinals won the 1926 World Series because of a 40 year-old pitcher named Grover “Old Pete” Cleveland Alexander. Ruth knew it and confirmed it in his memoir. Journalists knew it and glowed about his heroics across the country. No one disputed it. If not for the pitching of Alexander in that World Series, St. Louis doesn’t win their first world championship of the 20th century.
There can be no doubt. Alexander is a St. Louis postseason hero. One could argue he is the first real postseason hero in Cardinals history.
The following season Alexander compiled a record of 21-10 with an ERA of 2.52. That’s nothing to sneeze at. He played with St. Louis three and a half seasons, meeting the Yankees once again in the 1928 World Series. This time, at 42 years old, he struggled to get anyone out. The Yankees swept St. Louis 4-0.
Alexander’s career with the Cardinals was brief. Yet, there is no doubt that due to his postseason heroics, it was legendary. As a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, he posted a career 55-34 record, a 3.08 ERA and two World Series appearances. In 1938, “Old Pete” was inducted into Cooperstown. He’s not in the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame. He meets the induction criteria, but has yet to get a plaque alongside the likes of Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, or his former manager Rogers Hornsby.
This brings us to David Freese. A debate is currently brewing on his possible induction into the Cardinals Hall of Fame. When he becomes eligible, should he receive the honor? When the Dodgers were in town, the fans gave Freese one standing ovation after another. They showered the local hero with standing ovations and unadulterated adoration. There is no doubt he is a fan favorite, no matter what uniform he wears. I’m not going to argue, like some have, that the cheers are over the top. Fans are free to appreciate any player they please. To me, there is a more debatable topic. Should David Freese’s legendary performance during the 2011 postseason guarantee him a spot in the Cardinals Hall of Fame?
No one is claiming his career numbers with the Cardinals merit a spot in the Hall. His numbers won’t compare to any of his fellow inductees should he get the honor. This is a debate steeped in emotion and the only logical facts and stats presented in favor of his induction are his postseason heroics.
No doubt, emotion is currently driving the debate. Game 6 is fresh in our consciousness. Joe Buck’s voice declaring, “We will see you tomorrow night,” can still be heard as if he said it last night. As years pass and we move further away from the memories of 2011, maybe the debate will subside and all of this talk will be moot. But, I can’t help but think that the first year he is on the ballot, fans will overwhelmingly vote him into the Hall.
What is my opinion on the matter? I’m glad you asked. I don’t think he should be. Not before “Old Pete,” anyway.
I’m not comparing Grover Cleveland Alexander and David Freese’s careers. We all know that would be foolish. But, if we’re going to set a precedent by inducting a postseason hero with a mediocre Cardinals career, “Old Pete” should be first in line. Then there are other questions we’ll need to ask. Like, where do you draw the line? Who is a postseason hero worthy of induction into the Hall of Fame? How do we know they’re worthy of the honor? What about Tom Lawless? Why would Anthony Reyes not get a look? You get the point.
In the not too distant future, odds are fan voters will have a choice to make. David Freese or Albert Pujols? David Freese or Yadier Molina? David Freese or any other great who had a storied career with St. Louis? I’m voting for the latter every single time.
It won’t bother me if Freese receives the honor someday. I’ll get it. I’ll be happy for him. I may not like it on a logical level, but on an emotional level I’ll get it. But, on that day, I suspect “Old Pete” will still be on the outside looking in. That will be a shame. I’ll never get that.