October 10, 1926
Yankee Stadium, Bronx, NY
New York Yankees vs. St. Louis Cardinals
The Yankees had won the pennant by three games over the Indians. Lou Gehrig had his first great season at the age of twenty-three, driving in more than 100 runs while leading the league with 20 triples. Despite Gehrig's commendable efforts, most of the headlines were captured by Babe Ruth, who paced the loop in multiple offensive categories, including homers (47), RBIs (146) and runs scored (139).
In the National League, St. Louis barely managed to fend off Cincinnati. Strong offensive performances from Jim Bottomley, Rogers Hornsby and little known third baseman Les Bell helped the Cardinals capture their first pennant of the twentieth century. The big story in St. Louis during the postseason was veteran hurler Pete Alexander.
Alexander was one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, winning six strikeout titles during his storied career. While fighting overseas during World War I, he was exposed to German mustard gas. A shell exploded near him, resulting in permanent hearing loss. Upon returning to the States, he was plagued by epileptic seizures. He also struggled with chronic alcoholism. His epileptic episodes were sometimes mistaken for drunkenness. Despite his health issues, Alexander won his third triple crown in 1920. While playing for the Cubs, he locked horns with manager Joe McCarthy, who grew tired of the hurler's lack of sobriety and discipline. "Old Pete" (as he came to be known) was traded to the Cardinals midway through the '26 slate. He won 9 games for St. Louis down the stretch, helping them capture the NL pennant.
Thirty-nine years old and approaching the end of his career, Alexander erased any doubts about his pitching abilities when he emerged with complete game victories over the Yankees in Games 2 and 6. With the Series knotted at three games apiece, the Cardinals sent Hall of Famer Jesse Haines to the mound against fellow Cooperstown inductee Waite Hoyt. Before a packed house at Yankee Stadium, the Cards loaded the bases in the top of the fourth. They ended up pushing 3 runs across on an error by left fielder Bob Meusel and a clutch single by Tommy Thevenow. In the sixth inning, the Yankees cut the St. Louis lead to 3-2. They threatened again in the bottom of the seventh, loading the bases with two outs. Haines had developed a blister on his throwing hand and had to be removed from the game. There were several reliable pitchers to hand the ball to, but St. Louis player/manager Rogers Hornsby made a surprising decision, summoning Alexander from the bullpen.
The alcoholic hurler had allegedly spent the entire night celebrating his Game 6 victory. Historians have never been able to definitively determine whether he was drunk, hung over or suffering from symptoms of his epilepsy. Whatever the case, he climbed onto the mound to face hard-hitting Yankee second baseman Tony Lazzeri. With a 1-1 count, Lazzeri lifted a long drive to left field that looked like a grand slam until it hooked just foul. On the fourth pitch, Alexander blew a fastball by Lazzeri to end the inning.
After the Yankees went down in order in the eighth, Hornsby left Alexander on the mound to finish the game. The Cardinals had failed to pad their lead and the score remained 3-2 going into the last of the ninth. Earle Combs and Joe Dugan grounded out, bringing Babe Ruth to the plate. Ruth had homered in the third to put the Yankees on the board then walked in each of his subsequent at-bats. Working carefully to the Babe, Alexander ran the count full before missing the strike zone. The next play has remained a topic of debate for more than eighty years. With Bob Meusel at the plate, Ruth took off running on the first pitch. Despite his considerable bulk, Ruth actually had decent speed and was above average on the base paths. Meusel swung and missed as Cardinals backstop Bob O'Farrell threw to second base. Hornsby applied the tag to end the game.The underdog St. Louis squad had captured their first championship of the modern era.
Ruth's attempted steal has puzzled the masses for years. He explained that he ran because he believed no one would expect it. Though Yankee manager Miller Huggins was not always Ruth's biggest advocate, he defended the slugger's gambit, stating that the play would have been considered heroic had Ruth ended up safe at second. As it was, the Babe had smashed 4 homers in the Series and reached base by hit or walk a total of 17 times. He had nothing to be ashamed of. Alexander wrapped up the Series with a pair of wins and a save (though the statistic was not recognized in those days). He had two more good seasons before losing his effectiveness. "Old Pete" retired in 1930 at the age of forty-three with 373 career victories on his resume.