December 18th, 2012
As Joe Wayman noted in SABR’s Baseball Research Journal #24 (1995): “The New York Times lead headline for Alexander’s August 10, 1929, second game victory at Philadelphia was, ‘Alexander Wins 373rd Game, Sets Record.’ Ten days later, Grover Cleveland Alexander was sent home for ‘breaking training.’ He never won another big league game, though he lost three the following year for the Phillies. At the time, he–and everyone else–was secure in the knowledge that he was the all-time NL win leader.” However, in 1940 The Sporting News credited Christy Mathewson, who had been dead for 15 years, with an additional win in 1902, giving him 14 instead of the 13 for which he had previously been credited. This pulled Matty into a tie with Alexander the Great. All the same, Alexander always felt that his greatest game was none of his 373 wins, but what today would be termed a save. “Lazzeri swung where that curve started but not where it finished,” he said to Chicago Daily News reporter John Carmichael.
My greatest day in baseball has to have been the seventh game of the 1926 World Series between the Cards and Yankees. If I picked any other game, the fans would think I was crazy. I guess just about everyone knows the story of that game; it’s been told often enough. I came in as a relief pitcher in the seventh inning, with two out and the bases filled with Yankees, and I fanned Tony Lazzeri to protect the Cards’ 3-2 lead. And even if it wasn’t my greatest game, I’m stuck with it like George Washington with the hatchet.
There must be a hundred versions of what happened in Yankee Stadium that dark, chilly afternoon. It used to be that everywhere I went, I’d hear a new one, and some were pretty far- fetched. So much so that two, three years ago I ran across Lazzeri in San Francisco and said, “Tony, I’m getting tired of fanning you.” And Tony answered, “Maybe you think I’m not.” So I’d like to tell you my story of what took place in that game and the day before.
Some people say I celebrated the night before and had a hangover when manager Rogers Hornsby called me from the bullpen to pitch to Lazzeri. That isn’t the truth. On Saturday I’d beaten the Yankees 10-2 to make the Series all even. To refresh your memory on the Series, the Yankees won the opener and we took the next two. Then the Yanks won two straight and needed only one more for the world championship, and I beat ’em in the sixth.
In the clubhouse after that game, Hornsby came over to me and said, “Alex, if you want to celebrate tonight, I wouldn’t blame you. But go easy for I may need you tomorrow.”
I said, “Okay, Rog. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll ride back to the hotel with you and I’ll meet you tomorrow morning and ride out to the park with you.” Hell–I wanted to win that series and get the big end of the money as much as anyone.
Jesse Haines started the seventh game for us, pitching against Waite Hoyt. We figured Jesse would give the Yanks all they could handle. He was a knuckleballer and had shut ’em out in the third game. Early in the game Hornsby said to me, “Alex, go down to the bullpen and keep your eye on [Willie] Sherdel and [Herman] Bell. Keep ’em warmed up, and if I need help I’ll depend on you to tell me which one looks best.”
The bullpen in Yankee Stadium is under the bleachers, and when you’re down there you can’t tell what’s going on out on the field except for the yells of the fans overhead. When the bench wants to get in touch with the bullpen, there’s a telephone. It’s the only real fancy, modern bullpen in baseball. Well, I was sitting around down there, not doing much throwing, when the phone rang and an excited voice said, “Send in Alexander.”
I didn’t find out what had happened until the game was over. Turns out Haines was breezing along with a 3-2 lead when he developed a blister on the knuckle of the first finger of his right hand. The blister broke and the finger was so sore he couldn’t hold the ball. Before Rog knew it, the Yanks had the bases filled.
I took a few hurried throws and then started for the box. There’s been a lot of stories about how long it took me to walk from the bullpen to the mound–how I looked and all that. Well, as I said, I didn’t know what had happened when I was called.
So when I came out from under the bleachers I saw the bases were filled and Lazzeri was standing in the box. Tony was up there all alone, with everyone in that Sunday crowd watching him. So I just said to myself, “Take your time. Lazzeri isn’t feeling any too good up there. Let him stew.” But I don’t remember picking any four-leaf clovers, as some of the stories said.
I got to the box and Bob O’Farrell, our catcher, came out to meet me. “Let’s start right where we left off yesterday,” Bob said. The day before [Saturday] Lazzeri had been up four times against me without getting anything that so much as looked like a hit. He’d gotten one off me in the second game of the Series, but with one out of seven I wasn’t much worried about him, although I knew that if he got all of a pitch he’d hit it a long piece.
I said okay to O’Farrell. We’ll curve him. My first pitch was a curve and Tony missed it. Holding the ball in his hand, O’Farrell came out to the box again. “Look, Alex,” he began. “This guy will be looking for that curve next time. We curved him all the time yesterday. Let’s give him a fast one.” I agreed and poured one in, right under his chin. There was a crack, and I knew the ball was hit hard. A pitcher can usually tell pretty well from the sound. I spun around to watch the ball, and all the Yankees on the bases were on their way. But the drive had a tail-end fade and landed foul by eight, ten feet in the left field bleachers.
So I said to myself, “No more of that for you, my lad.” Bob gave me the sign for another curve and I gave him one. Lazzeri swung where that curve started but not where it finished. The ball got a hunk of the corner and then finished outside. Well, we were out of that jam, but there still were two innings to go.
I set the Yanks down in order in the eighth and got the first two in the ninth. And then Ruth came up. The Babe had scored the Yanks’ first run of the game with a tremendous homer. He was dynamite to any pitcher. I didn’t take any chances on him but worked the count to three and two, pitching for the corners all the time. Then Babe walked and I wasn’t very sorry either when I saw him perched on first. Of course Bob Meusel was the next hitter. He’d hit over forty homers that season [actually Meisel attained his career high of 33 the previous season] and would mean trouble.
If Meusel got hold of one, it could mean two runs and the Series, so I forgot all about Ruth and got ready to work on Meusel. I’ll never know why the guy did it, but on my first pitch to Meusel, the Babe broke for second.He (or Miller Huggins) probably figured that it would catch us by surprise. I caught the blur of Ruth starting for second as I pitched, and then came the whistle of the ball as O’Farrell rifled it to second. I wheeled around, and there was one of the grandest sights of my life. Hornsby, his foot anchored on the bag and his gloved hand outstretched, was waiting for Ruth to come in. There was the Series and my second big thrill of the day. The third came when Judge Landis mailed out the winners’ checks for $5,584.51.
I guess I had every thrill that could come to a pitcher except one. I never pitched a no-hit game. I pitched sixteen one-hitters during my time in the National League and that’s coming pretty close, pretty often.
You know, you think of a lot of funny things that happened in baseball, sittin’ around gabbing like this. I remember when I was with the Cubs, and I was with them longer than any other club, we were playing the Reds in a morning game on Decoration Day. The game was in the eleventh when I went up to bat and I said, “If they give me a curveball, I’ll hit it in the bleachers. My wife’s got fried chicken at home for me.” They gave me a curve and I hit ‘er in the bleachers.