Saturday, May 18, 2013

May 18- Chicago Cubs

This is one of the more unusual posts that I’ve put together, but not for the sake of any kind of an oddity. The Chicago Cubs are one of the oldest organizations in not only Major League Baseball, but professional sports in general. I would have thought that to some degree that there would have been a lot more guys within the history of the organization to serve their country, but to my surprise I was wrong. Over the last week or so I’ve come to the realization that it has nothing to do with the players themselves, but more the notoriety that some players have gotten for their service. I suppose a lot of this falls on most Web site I’ve pilfered through only feature Hall of Famers, but then again combing through over 100 years of rosters and comparing them to a list of possible military service is royally time consuming. So, I had to take what I could find.

One of the interesting programs that the Cubs are involved with that I was able to come across is called Me & a Friend. Me & a Friend is a joint collaboration of the USO and the Cubs to provide free tickets to youths 18-years-old and younger who have parents serving their country overseas. The Cubs have also honored discounts for active and retired military personnel who arrive to their games in uniform.

The Cubs record for Memorial Days (since 1971) is 18-22 with three games off in 1984, 1992 and 1999. In 1976 the Cubs split a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Phillies, but outside of that, nothing particularly special happened in any of their games. Sorry. I dug deep!

As I mentioned before it was a little difficult to pull names, and by that I mostly mean that I had difficulty finding a second name for someone who I haven’t written about.

GA: On the list of Hall of Fame players who served time in the military, Grover Cleveland Alexander is number one on the list. Despite starting and ending his career with the Phillies, Alexander’s eight years with the Cubs was the longest tenure of his career. Alexander (also known as Pete Alexander) was one of the greatest pitchers of all-time, and has the third-most wins in the history of Major League Baseball. Alexander was drafted during World War I and spent much of 1918 in France as a sergeant with the 342nd field artillery. Alexander certainly drank alcohol before the war, but after the war he became an extremely heavy drinker as he suffered from severe post traumatic stress and drinking was the only thing that would calm him down. While he was serving in France, he was exposed to German mustard gas and a shell exploded near him, causing partial hearing loss and triggering the onset of epilepsy. Following his return from the war, Alexander suffered from shell shock and was plagued with epileptic seizures, which only exacerbated the problems he already was experiencing with alcohol. Always a drinker, Alexander hit the bottle particularly hard as a result of the physical and emotional injuries he sustained in the war - injuries that plagued him for the rest of his life. People often misinterpreted his seizure-related problems as drunkenness. Combined with hearing loss and epileptic seizures, Alexander was not in great shape throughout the 1920s. And yet he still managed to have some dominant years for the Cubs (who had acquired him from the Philadelphia Phillies right before Alexander was drafted).

"Grover Cleveland Alexander wasn't drunk out there on the mound, the way people thought. He was an epileptic. Old Pete would fall down with a seizure between innings, then go back and pitch another shutout." -Ty Cobb ("Cobb", by Al Stump)

Alexander led the League in strikeouts six times in his career; five times with the Phillies and only once with the Cubs. His best season in Chicago came in 1920 when he won 27 games with a 1.91 ERA and 173 strikeouts, all of which were league-leading. Despite winning the pitching Triple Crown he wasn’t even remotely close to winning the National League MVP. Actually, if you ever get a chance to look at his stats you’ll see that his “mediocre” years were the only times he received votes for the MVP. Even though he made it into the Hall of Fame in 1939, he still got the shaft throughout his career.

The origin of the nickname "Old Pete" is something of a mystery. It is uncertain how frequently Alexander was publicly called by that nickname during his playing days. On his 1940 Playball baseball card he was referred to as "Ol' Pete." In The World Series and Highlights of Baseball, by Lamont Buchanan, published in 1951, the year after Alexander died, on pp. 106–107 the author refers to "Pete Alexander" and "Ol' Pete" in a matter-of-fact way, suggesting the nickname was well-known. When he won his 373rd game on August 10, 1929, one newspaper had called him "old Pete", indicating that the nickname was in public circulation. (The Scrapbook History of Baseball, by Deutsch, Cohen, Johnson and Neft, Bobbs-Merrill, 1975, p. 131).

#14- I have all ready written about Ernie Banks back on April 26th, but there were a few things I didn’t touch on for his career. Banks had started his professional baseball career with the Amarillo Colts in 1948 before signing with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League in 1950. Banks then enlisted in the Army and served his country for two years fighting in the Korean War before coming back with the Monarchs in 1953. Later that year he signed a deal with the Cubs and made his MLB debut on September 17, becoming the first black player to ever take the field for the Cubs.

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