October 3, 1926: Cardinals even the 1926 World Series behind the heroics of Alexander and Southworth

The first World Series game victory in St. Louis Cardinals history came courtesy of two players discarded by their previous teams earlier that season.

After falling to the New York Yankees in Game 1 of the 1926 World Series behind a complete-game, three-hit performance by Herb Pennock and two RBIs from Lou Gehrig, the Cardinals turned to 39-year-old veteran Grover Cleveland Alexander, commonly called Old Pete Alexander. Now in his 16th major-league season, Alexander had already cemented his place in baseball history leading the league in wins six times – including 33 wins as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1916 – and leading the league in innings pitched seven times.

By 1926, however, Alexander was epileptic and an alcoholic. In The Cardinals and The Yankees, 1926: A Classic Season and St. Louis in Seven, author Paul E. Doutrich suggests that Alexander’s epilepsy may have been caused when he was struck in the head by a pitch and exasperated by his service as an artillery sergeant during World War I.[1] To minimize the seizures, Alexander self-medicated with whiskey.

Alexander was 3-3 with a 3.46 ERA for the Chicago Cubs in June 1926 when he was suspended indefinitely for violating team rules. When the Cubs waived him a few days later, Branch Rickey was out of town.[2] Instead, team owner Sam Breadon, with manager and star second baseman Rogers Hornsby’s blessing, signed Alexander for $4,000.[3] Down the stretch, Alexander went 9-7 with a 2.91 ERA, helping the Cardinals capture the National League pennant by two games over the Cincinnati Reds.

The Yankees countered with Urban Shocker, a veteran spitballer who led the league with 27 wins for the St. Louis Browns five years earlier. Shocker had gone 19-11 for the Yankees during the 1926 regular season, posting a 3.38 ERA over 258 1/3 innings.

Both pitchers threw scoreless first innings. After Shocker worked around singles from Bob O’Farrell and Tommy Thevenow in the second inning, Alexander was not as fortunate. Bob Meusel led off the inning with a single and was driven in by Tony Lazzeri. Cardinals left fielder Chick Hafey made a strong throw on the play and may have thrown Meusel out at home, but in all the noise Alexander thought O’Farrell was shouting at him to cut the ball off and prevent Lazerri from advancing to second.

After Joe Dugan singled to right and Alexander struck out Hank Severeid, the Yankees attempted a double steal and the Cardinals caught Lazerri between third and home. Alexander, however, committed a throwing error that allowed Lazerri to score the second run of the game.

“I had not pitched in 12 days and in the first two innings I had some trouble in getting started,” Alexander said. “Finally, I got the range and my arm got warmed up. After that I found I had as good control as I ever had and I just worked along smoothly.”[4]

Down 2-0, the Cardinals got on the scoreboard in the top of the third. Taylor Douthit and Billy Southworth each singled to lead off the inning, and after Hornsby laid down a sacrifice bunt, Jim Bottomley singled into right to tie the game.

With the score once again even, Alexander hit his stride. After allowing a single to Earle Combs to lead off the third, Alexander retired the next 21 batters he faced. In the fourth inning, he struck out Gehrig, Lazzeri, and Dugan in order on his way to 10 strikeouts in the game.

“Alexander had more speed than usual and his curve was breaking more sharply than usual,” Hornsby wrote in a column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “O’Farrell tells me he had more speed than he had shown all season. He also worked his change of pace very effectively.”[5]

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Shocker was finding his groove as well. After Bottomley tied the score, Shocker retired the next 11 batters he faced.

“Shocker pitched a good game until the seventh inning but we were in a hitting mood and we were sure to find him before long,” Hornsby wrote.[6]

In the seventh, O’Farrell doubled into the left-field gap to lead off the inning and Thevenow followed with a single. Alexander popped out and Douthit flied out to shallow left field, bringing Southworth to the plate.

Southworth was another midseason acquisition for the Cardinals, who obtained him from the New York Giants in exchange for Heinie Mueller. Since arriving in St. Louis, the 12-year veteran had batted .317 with 11 homers and 69 RBIs.

“I traded Southworth for Mueller because of my friendship for Rogers Hornsby,” Giants manager John McGraw said in 1928. “Hornsby, I knew, could win a pennant if he had an old head, a steadying influence in the outfield. The Giants, I knew, did not have a chance to win, so I gave Hornsby the break and traded Southworth for Mueller.”[7]

While this was likely a convenient rewriting of history on McGraw’s part, Southworth indeed played a crucial part of the Cardinals’ success. With two on and two out, Shocker delivered a pitch that the Post-Dispatch’s J. Roy Stockton said was, “not a fast ball inside, but a half speed ball inside. Or perhaps it was a spit ball. At any rate it was inside and Southworth swung.”[8] The ball landed in the right-field seats to give the Cardinals a 5-2 lead.

Two innings later, Thevenow hit an inside-the-park home run off Sad Sam Jones to produce the final 6-2 score. With the Cardinals’ first World Series victory in franchise history on the line, Alexander retired Mark Koenig, Babe Ruth, and Meusel in order in the ninth.

“You will have to give the credit to Alexander,” Hornsby said. “He pitched a wonderful game and there wasn’t a time that every man on the team did not feel confident that Alex would be able to win. Even after the Yankees got off to their two-run lead the men were very confident and expected it in every word and action.”[9]

Yankees manager Miller Huggins agreed that Alexander, who allowed just three hits and walked one, proved the difference.

“We couldn’t hit Alexander. That’s all there is to it,” he said. “Alexander pitched an almost perfect game. He had everything on the ball and we just couldn’t connect. Against some other pitcher we probably would have done much heavier hitting.”[10]


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[1] Paul E. Doutrich, The Cardinals and the Yankees, 1926: A Classic Season and St. Louis in Seven (2021), Kindle Android version retrieved from Amazon.com, Location 1076.

[2] John Heidenry, The Gashouse Gang (2007), PublicAffairs, Page 38.

[3] Charles C. Alexander, Rogers Hornsby (2013), Kindle Android version retrieved from Amazon.com, Location 1850.

[4] Vernon Van Ness, “Alexander Deserves Credit for Victory, Both Pilots Say,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, October 4, 1926: Page 11.

[5] Rogers Hornsby, “‘We Will Be a Better Ball Club Every Way, Harder Than Ever to Beat,’ Hornsby Says,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 4, 1926: Page 19.

[6] Rogers Hornsby, “‘We Will Be a Better Ball Club Every Way, Harder Than Ever to Beat,’ Hornsby Says,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 4, 1926: Page 19.

[7] Paul E. Doutrich, The Cardinals and the Yankees, 1926: A Classic Season and St. Louis in Seven (2021), Kindle Android version retrieved from Amazon.com, Location 1041.

[8] J. Roy Stockton, “‘Old Pete’ Retires 21 Consecutive Batters And Fans 10 Yankees,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 4, 1926: Page 19.

[9] Vernon Van Ness, “Alexander Deserves Credit for Victory, Both Pilots Say,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, October 4, 1926: Page 1.

[10] Vernon Van Ness, “Alexander Deserves Credit for Victory, Both Pilots Say,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, October 4, 1926: Page 11.

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