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Feature   Know Your Military

Sports Heroes Who Served: Famous Baseball Pitcher Served With the Army in France During World War I

June 22, 2021 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

Sports Heroes Who Served is a series that highlights the accomplishments of athletes who served in the U.S. military.

Grover Cleveland Alexander was born Feb. 26, 1887, in Elba, Nebraska during the first term of President Grover Cleveland. His family must have been a fan of the president, who was later elected for a second nonconsecutive term, because that's how Alexander acquired his first and middle name.

A 1915 photo of a baseball player posing for a photo.
Grover Cleveland Alexander
Grover Cleveland Alexander, shown sometime in 1915.
Photo By: Charles M. Conton
VIRIN: 150325-O-DO439-001

Although Alexander isn't exactly a household name in the world of major league baseball today, he was very well known and one of the most accomplished players from 1911 to 1930.

From 1911 to 1917, he played for the Philadelphia Phillies, where he made a name for himself as a Triple Crown winner in 1915 and 1916, a National League wins leader in 1911 and 1914-1917, a NL earned runs average leader in 1915 and 1916, and a NL strikeout leader in 1912 and 1914-1917.

A historic photo of a man pitching a baseball.
Grover Cleveland Alexander
Grover Cleveland Alexander, shown sometime in 1915, pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Photo By: Library of Congress
VIRIN: 150325-O-DO439-002

His baseball career was cut short by America's entry into World War I in 1917, when Alexander enlisted in the Army and was assigned to the 342nd Field Artillery, which was part of the 89th Division. He saw combat duty in France with that unit beginning in July 1918. 

While fighting in France, he was exposed to German mustard gas and also developed what was once called shell shock, but today it's known as post-traumatic stress disorder. In the latter part of 1918 he was honorably discharged, having attained the rank of sergeant.

Alexander returned to baseball, this time with the Chicago Cubs, where he again saw success from 1918 to 1926. Highlights there include: the Triple Crown in 1920, NL wins leader in 1920, NL ERA leader in 1919 and 1920 and NL strikeout leader in 1920.

An historical photo of a baseball player pitching a ball.
Grover Cleveland Alexander
Grover Cleveland Alexander pitched for the Chicago Cubs sometime between 1918 and 1926.
Photo By: Courtesy of Grover Cleveland Alexander
VIRIN: 190325-O-DO439-001

From 1926 to 1929, Alexander played for the St. Louis Cardinals, which won the World Series the year he joined. Alexander's pitching prowess was largely responsible for that achievement.

Finally, in 1930, Alexander returned to Philadelphia to play for just one season.

Alexander's 90 shutouts are a National League record and his 373 wins are tied with Christy Mathewson for first in the National League record book. He is also tied for third all time in wins, tenth in innings pitched (5,190), second in shutouts, and eighth in hits allowed (4,868). He also has the most career wins of any pitcher who never threw a no-hitter.

In 1938, Alexander was the only baseball player elected to Baseball's Hall of Fame.

A baseball player looks off into the distance.
Grover Cleveland Alexander
Grover Cleveland Alexander, pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals, sometime between 1926 and 1929.
Photo By: Courtesy of Grover Cleveland Alexander
VIRIN: 260325-O-DO439-001

Alexander attended game three of the 1950 World Series at Yankee Stadium, where he saw the Phillies lose to the Yankees. He died less than a month later, on Nov. 4 in St. Paul, Nebraska, at the age of 63.

Alexander has another connection with a president. He was the subject of the 1952 biographical film "The Winning Team," portrayed by actor and future president, Ronald Reagan.

In 1999, Alexander was ranked number 12 on "The Sporting News" list of the 100 greatest baseball players.

More Sports Heroes Who Served
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Sports Heroes Graphic
Sports Heroes Who Served graphic - with title
Photo By: DOD
VIRIN: 200706-D-ZZ999-903