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12/04/2004 Archived Entry: "Phillies Journal - 1916"
Phillies Journal - 1916
by Max Blue
SIXTEEN IN SIXTEEN
The Renowned Quaker Sets the Bar
First published in Herb Rogoff's One More Inning.
By Max Blue
Opening day: April 12, 1916. It’s a cold, blustery day in Philadelphia, but the baseball cranks in this gritty manufacturing city don’t mind at all. They come from up and down Broad Street, from the Main Line, from across the Delaware River in Camden, and from all around the Delaware Valley to see the defending National League champion Phillies open the defense of their title against what looks like a giant mismatch against John McGraw’s New York Giants, dead last in 1915, 21 games behind the champs. They are here to see the great Alexander, Phillies ace pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander, spin his magic one more time. In five seasons with the Phillies, “Old Pete” has racked up 190 decisions in 188 starts, winning 127 and losing 63. In the 1915 championship season Alexander lead the league in almost every pitching category: Wins-31; Winning percentage-.756; Complete games-36; Shutouts-12; Innings pitched-376; Fewest hits per game- 6.05; Strikeouts- 241; Earned run average- 1.22; Opponent’s batting average- .191. In short, when it comes to pitching, nobody is even close to the man the New York Times beat writer calls “The renowned Quaker.” In 1916 the 29-year-old righthander will set the bar even higher.
The streets around Baker Bowl on Huntington Avenue in north Philadelphia are jammed with far more than the 21,000 lucky bucks who eventually squeeze their way in before the gates are slammed shut. Many of the overflow will take up roosts on rooftops affording a far-off view of the action on the field. But first there are the opening ceremonies. The club owners take the opportunity to present the champion Phillies with handsome monogrammed gold watches as a mark of appreciation for last year’s good work.
Let the season begin. The 6’1” 185 pound Alexander toes the rubber, eyes Giant’s leadoff man Georgie Burns standing in on the right side, and goes into his short economical windup. Alexander is an odd sight on the mound, somehow his uniform is all wrong; it hangs in odd folds from his long, sloping shoulders, and his cap seems too small for his head. But there is nothing wrong with his delivery. His right arm comes across his body turned sideways to the plate, and the ball seems to come out of his shirt front. You have to be quick. Burns sees it only as a blur sinking low and away over the outside corner. It is vintage Alexander, some have called him “Old low and away.” On this day, after a two-inning tune up two days earlier in an exhibition game at Washington, Alexander is in mid season form. Only two putouts are recorded by outfielders, 14 by first baseman Fred Luderus. Alexander himself records seven assists on weak taps from frustrated Giants’ batsmen. Typically Alex fans five and walks one. But the Giants make a game of it thanks to a wild throw in the first inning by normally steady Phillies’ shortstop Dave “Beauty” Bancroft allowing two runs to score. In the fifth inning Giants’ first baseman Fred “Bonehead” Merkle catches a rare Alexander hanging curve and lofts it over the 272 foot right field wall. But never mind, these are the woeful Giants. The Phillies win it in the ninth when, with two out, Stock, the diminutive third sacker grabs a free pass, steals second, and scores after a passed ball and a wild pitch for a 5-4 win. Old Pete chalks up win number one and the Phillies are on their way.
Six days later on April 18th at Baker Bowl, Alex blanks the Boston Braves on five hits for his first shutout of the year. There will be 15 to follow. Sixteen shutouts in 1916, major league record never challenged.
On April 23rd, a much anticipated Polo Grounds matchup of Alexander with Jeff “The Ozark Bear Hunter” Tesreau is postponed because of the threatening aspect of low-hanging clouds. Polo Grounds impresario Harry Stearns takes the opportunity to put his foot down—from now on the peanut vendors and beer hawkers are ordered to speak at all times in low voices to protect the sensitive ears of Polo Grounds fans. The sellers had been shouting as if they were calling to someone a mile away and it will no longer be tolerated.
April ends with the Phillies at six wins two losses and locked in a season-long battle for first place with the Brooklyn Robins and the Boston Braves. Alexander is 3-1 with one shutout.
Alex opens May with a 3-0 win over the Braves, blanks Pittsburgh 3-0 on the 17th, and Brooklyn 1-0 on the 26th. Four of the 16 shutouts will be by 1-0 scores. Alex loses 3-0 to Brooklyn on May 8th and on May 30th is hammered by the Giants—five earned runs in seven innings. He never pitches well in New York. On the season, four of his 12 losses will be by shutout.
Table 1. Alexander’s 1916 Season by Month
Month Starts Complete Games Innings Pitched Wins Losses Shutouts
April 4 4 36 3 1 1
May 6 5 53 5 2 3
June 7 6 60 5 2 1
July 8 7 69 6 2 4
Aug. 8 8 75 6 2 4
Sept. 10 8 86 7 3 2
Oct. 1 1 9 1 0 1
Totals 45 39 388 33 12 16
On August first it is time for the team to turn it up a notch. They are five games behind the first place Brooklyn club and one game behind second place Boston. Alex does his part with four consecutive shutouts. He gets help with solid pitching from Erskine Mayer, Al Demaree, and Eppa Rixey. From August first through the 19th the Phillies win 13 of 15 but then stumble in Pittsburgh and St. Louis, losing six out of eight. But for the month they are 17-10 and open September only three games behind Brooklyn and Boston who are in a virtual dead heat for first.
And now the fun begins. The Phillies are home for eight straight games against Brooklyn and Boston and win them all to storm into a two-game lead in the pennant race. It begins with Alexander recording his record-breaking 14th shutout beating Brooklyn’s Jack Coombs who set the record in 1910. But then a funny thing happens. The Giants become unbeatable. They pound Alexander for 13 hits in seven innings and sweep a four game series on their way to a 26-game winning streak. The Phillies make 12 errors in the four games.
After the giant debacle Alexander takes a step back to look at the situation. He takes a deep breath and loads the team on his back for the stretch run. Beginning on September 12th with a win over St. Louis, he will go the rest of the way pitching every third day. On the 16th he beats Chicago, on the 19th he loses 2-0 to the Cubs. On the 23rd he pitches a doubleheader, beating Cincinatti 7-3 and 4-0, his 15th shutout.
It’s down to the wire. Three games in Brooklyn and a season-ending five games at home against Boston. On Thursday, the 28th at the three-year-old Ebbetts Field in Brooklyn, a record crowd for a week-day game, 20,000 wild and unruly fans do their best to unravel the great Alexander as he carries the banner of Philadelphia to the mound looking for his 32nd win of the season. When the game begins the teams are tied at 57 losses each but the Dodgers/Robins have 90 wins to only 87 for the Phillies. At the end of the day Alexander stands triumphant and the Phillies trail by only a half game, but lead in the loss column.
On Friday it rains so a morning-afternoon showdown is scheduled for Saturday. The Phillies take the morning game behind Eppa Rixey to move into first place and hand the ball to Old Pete who knows what is at stake when the teams square off in the afternoon. Pitching with one day’s rest Alexander needs all the help he can get, but when shortstop Beauty Bancroft breaks an ankle in the first inning the defense collapses. Alex battles five innings to a 1-1 tie until Casey Stengel, the half-nuts Brooklyn rightfielder, kites one onto Bedford Avenue to put Brooklyn ahead to stay.
Two days later back in Philadelphia Old Pete finds a way to blank the Braves on three hits for his 16th shutout, once again putting the Phillies back into first place. But before Alex can get back on the mound the Phillies lose three straight to the Braves while Brooklyn cools off the sizzling Giants to win the pennant.
Incredibly Alex is called on for a save the next day.
Table 2. Alexander’s 1916 Season – Versus Opponent
W L W L Shutouts
1. Brooklyn 94 60 5 3 2
2. Philadelphia 91 62 - - -
3. Boston 89 63 5 2 3
4. New York 86 66 2 3 1
5. Chicago 67 86 5 2 1
6. Pittsburgh 65 89 4 1 2
7. St. Louis 60 93 5 1 2
8. Cincinnati 60 93 7 0 5