October 10, 1926: Alexander saves Game 7 as Cardinals clinch their first World Series title

Grover Cleveland Alexander carved his name into baseball history and Babe Ruth was caught stealing, but the most important result of the St. Louis Cardinals’ 3-2 victory over the New York Yankees on October 10, 1926, was simple: for the first time in the World Series era, the Cardinals could claim the title of world champions.

The day previous, the Cardinals had forced Game 7 with a 10-2 victory in New York. Now the Yankees were counting on Waite Hoyt, the 26-year-old right-hander from Brooklyn, to capture their second World Series championship.

Hoyte had earned the win in Game 4 despite allowing 14 hits, as Ruth blasted three home runs. Game 7 marked Hoyte’s eighth career World Series appearance, and he carried a 3-2 record into 1926’s deciding game.

The Cardinals countered with 32-year-old knuckleballer Jesse Haines, who was making his third appearance of the series. Haines threw a scoreless inning of relief in St. Louis’s Game 1 loss before throwing a five-hit shutout in Game 5.

Hoyt looked sharp in the first two innings, working around a two-out single by Rogers Hornsby in the first inning, then retiring the side in order in the second.

Meanwhile, Haines worked in and out of trouble. In the first inning, he walked Ruth and allowed a two-out single to Bob Meusel, but with runners on first and third, he retired Lou Gehrig on a ground ball to Hornsby at second base.

In the second, Joe Dugan singled but Cardinals catcher Bob O’Farrell threw him out attempting to steal second base. Hank Severeid followed with a single, but was stranded when Hoyt bounced a ground ball back to Haines.

Ruth broke the scoreless tie in the third inning with a solo home run into the right-field bleachers. However, the Yankees’ lead would be short-lived.

After Jim Bottomley reached on a one-out single, Les Bell hit a ground ball that appeared tailor-made for a double play, but Yankees shortstop Mark Koenig misplayed the ball. Chick Hafey followed with a fly ball that fell in front of Meusel in left field to load the bases.

The next batter, O’Farrell, hit a lazy fly ball into the left field gap. Meusel called for the ball and settled under it, but to the astonishment of the Yankees’ faithful, it popped out of his glove, allowing Bottomley to tie the score.

With the bases still loaded, Hoyt now faced the Cardinals’ eighth hitter, Tommy Thevenow. In his first full season in the majors, the 5-foot-10, 155-pound Thevenow had claimed the starting shortstop position from Specs Toporcer that season, batting .256 with 63 RBIs. The 23-year-old had been the Cardinals’ leading hitter in the World Series, going 3-for-4 with a home run in Game 2 and tallying two hits apiece in Games 4 and 6. Once again, Thevenow came through, this time with a single to right field that scored Bell and Havey.

“I want to tell everybody that Tommy Thevenow is the best shortstop in baseball,” Hornsby declared after the game. “There are no ifs or buts on this. Thevenow has them all beat. He won the ball game.”[1]

Now holding a 3-1 lead, Haines continued to dance in and out of trouble. In the fourth, he worked around a leadoff walk to  Gehrig, thanks in part to Thevenow’s leaping catch of a line drive off the bat of Severeid. In the fifth, Earle Combs singled and Ruth was issued a free pass, but both were left stranded.

The Yankees finally got to Haines in the sixth. After Thevenow made a nifty, off-balance throw to retire Gehrig, Haines struck out Tony Lazzeri. Dugan singled and Severeid followed with a double that skipped past Hafey in left field, scoring Dugan and cutting the Cardinals’ lead to 3-2. With Hoyt’s place in the lineup next, Yankees manager Miller Huggins called on Ben Paschal to pinch hit and Spencer Adams to run in place of Severeid. The moves didn’t pay off, however, as Paschal bounced the ball back to Haines for the final out.

The Yankees continued to threaten Haines in the seventh. Combs led off with a single and Koenig laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance him to second. With first base now free, Haines intentionally walked Ruth. Meusel grounded into a forceout at second base. With runners on second and third, Haines looked distinctly uncomfortable as he walked Gehrig on four pitches.

When Hornsby arrived on the mound, he realized what was causing Haines’ distress. The fingernail on his right index finger was a loose and bloody mess, and though Haines had toughed it out this far, it was time for Hornsby to call upon his secret weapon – Alexander.

“The bases are packed, Alex,” Hornsby greeted the 39-year-old who had just thrown all nine innings of the Cardinals’ win the day previous.

“Well, if they’re full I’ll have to get rid of Lazerri some way, as I have no place to put him,” Old Pete Alexander replied, according to the next day’s St. Louis Globe-Democrat.[2]

Author Charles C. Alexander provided a slightly different account, in which Alexander told Hornsby that he felt fine before adding, “Three on, eh. Well, there’s no place to put Lazzeri, is there? I’ll just have to give him nothin’ but a lot of hell, won’t I?”[3]

After just three warm-up pitches, he did exactly that, but not before Lazzeri turned on an inside fastball and pulled it into the left-field bleachers, just a few feet foul. Having narrowly escaped giving up a game-altering grand slam, Alexander struck out the Yankees rookie on a curveball that dropped out of the strike zone.

“I said to myself, ‘Grover Cleveland Alexander, you’ve been in this game longer than he has. He’s up there for the first time and he’s got to hit it. You just pitch him another wide curve and he’ll swing at it,’” Alexander recalled. “And I pitched it and he swung and he missed it.”[4]

The score remained 3-2 headed in the final innings. Alexander easily retired the Yankees in order in the eighth, and Herb Pennock did the same to the Cardinals in the top of the ninth. Just three outs away from the championship, Alexander wasted no time, getting Combs and Koenig each to ground out to Bell at third base.

After getting ahead of Ruth with a 1-2 count, Alexander pitched carefully around the slugger, missing with his next three pitches. That brought Meusel to the plate with the tying run on first base. As Alexander released his first pitch to the Yankees left fielder, Ruth broke for second. Meusel took the pitch for a called strike and O’Farrell fired to Hornsby at second base. Hornsby tagged Ruth as he slid into the bag, and for the first time in franchise history, the Cardinals could call themselves World Series champions.

“Have a heart,” Alexander told teammates who pounded his back in congratulations. “I’ve got to pitch again. I haven’t retired.”[5]

Hornsby, whose mother passed away shortly before the World Series began, caught a train to St. Louis and then to Austin for her burial. Before leaving town, however, the National League’s top star was gracious in victory.

“Our victory means all the more to us because we know that we defeated a great ball club,” he said.[6]

The game proved the Yankees’ last World Series defeat under Huggins. A former Cardinal who played for the Redbirds from 1910 to 1917, Huggins led the Yankees to World Series sweeps over the Pirates in 1927 and the Cardinals in 1928.

“There is nothing to say except that the Cardinals played wonderful defensive ball today – better than we did – and on the basis of their play they deserved to win,” Huggins said. “We were beaten by a great ball club, and I told Rogers Hornsby so when I congratulated him as soon as the game was over.

“Of course, we did not need today’s performance to know that Alexander is a great pitcher. I have said so twice before in this series and I say so again.”[7]

Legendary New York Giants manager John McGraw agreed.

“There you see the man who gave us the greatest pitching feat baseball has furnished since Christy Mathewson shut out the Athletics three times in a row,” McGraw said, pointing to Alexander in the Cardinals’ clubhouse.[8]

In St. Louis, fans celebrated into the early hours of the morning. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, “it was as if dynamite had been planted in a hundred scattered spots and all touched off at the same instant. The downtown exploded in noise. Two minutes after victory the din was deafening. Automobile horns and sirens, back-firing of motors, tin horns, bells that had been muffled in silence for the one moment all turned loose.”[9] Similar celebrations took place in towns in Southern Illinois, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma, and Southeast Kansas.[10]

In the aftermath of the championship, tales began to spread that Alexander had been drunk during his Game 7 performance. Alexander suffered from epilepsy and alcoholism; in fact, his troubles with alcohol had contributed to the Cubs’ decision to release him that summer, allowing the Cardinals to purchase him for $4,000.

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.[11] To minimize the seizures, Alexander self-medicated with whiskey.

According to fellow pitcher Flint Rhem, Alexander had celebrated his Game 6 victory the night before and was dozing in the bullpen with a pint of whiskey when Hornsby called for him. Upon being summoned to the mound, Alexander “staggered a little, handed me the pint, hitched up his britches and walked straight as he could to the mound.”[12]

Doutrich, however, argues that Hornsby had informed Alexander the night before that he planned to use him in relief of Haines if necessary, and that Alexander stayed sober in case he was needed. Alexander’s wife, Amy, disputed the charge of drunkenness, as did Bottomley, Thevenow, Bell, and Hornsby.

Alexander himself said little on the topic. A few days after Game 7, as he prepared to leave St. Louis after a week spent on the stage at the Ambassador Theater, where adoring crowds had heartily congratulated him, Alexander was philosophical about his experience as a World Series hero.

“You know, being an actor and shaking hands and having everybody pat you on the back can almost ruin a guy,” he said. “When baseball fans are strong for you, they’re strong for you, but – come to think of it – what if Lazzeri had hit a home run with the bases full instead of striking out?”

He already knew the answer.

“If that had happened, Lazzeri would be the hero instead of me,” Alexander continued. “I wouldn’t have been a hero. I’d have been a bum.”[13]

Shortly before hopping on a train to Chicago, Alexander offered one more bit of advice: “Don’t ever be a hero,” he said. “If you’ve got to be one, be one, but avoid it as long as you can. It’s been a long, hard week.” He paused. “But I sure appreciated it.”[14]

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[1] Brian Bell, “Weakness of Yankees in Field Gave Title to Cardinals,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, October 11, 1926: Page 8.

[2] “No Place to Put Lazzeri So Alec Struck Him Out,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, October 11, 1926: Page 8.

[3] Charles C. Alexander, Rogers Hornsby (Kindle Android version retrieved from Amazon.com), Page 119.

[4] “‘What If Lazzeri Hit?’ Old Alex Asks, Quitting Town After Week As Hero,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 16, 1926: Page 3.

[5] Brian Bell, “Weakness of Yankees in Field Gave Title to Cardinals,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, October 11, 1926: Page 8.

[6] Brian Bell, “Weakness of Yankees in Field Gave Title to Cardinals,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, October 11, 1926: Page 8.

[7] Brian Bell, “Weakness of Yankees in Field Gave Title to Cardinals,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, October 11, 1926: Page 8.

[8] James R. Dawson, “Alex’s Feat Rates Him with the Immortal ‘Matty,’ Says McGraw,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, October 11, 1926: Page 12.

[9] “Fans in 9-Hour Rampage Give Vent to Noisy Joy Over Cardinals’ Victory,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 11, 1926: Page 3.

[10] “Cardinals Victory Observed in Suburbs,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 11, 1926: Page 3.

[11] 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.

[12] Charles C. Alexander, Rogers Hornsby (Kindle Android version retrieved from Amazon.com), Page 119.

[13] “‘What If Lazzeri Hit?’ Old Alex Asks, Quitting Town After Week As Hero,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 16, 1926: Page 3.

[14] “‘What If Lazzeri Hit?’ Old Alex Asks, Quitting Town After Week As Hero,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 16, 1926: Page 3.

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