October 1, 1920: Cubs' Pete Alexander outduels Cardinals rookie Jesse Haines in 17 innings
The biggest story in baseball history was breaking in Chicago as the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals took the field in the Windy City to kick off a three-game set to end the regular season. Three days earlier, star pitcher Eddie Cicotte of the Chicago White Sox had testified in a Cook County courthouse before a grand jury charged with investigating rumors of fixing the previous year’s World Series. His confession to participating in the gambling scandal sent shock waves throughout baseball and indeed the country. Charles Comiskey, owner of the White Sox, subsequently suspended seven players implicated in the scheme for their season-ending series in St. Louis against the Browns, all but ensuring that his club would not capture its second consecutive pennant. Headlines in papers across the county called for tribunal to establish order in baseball. Sam Breadon, owner of the Cardinals, got more exposure in the Gateway City than his team when he, and Browns owner Phil Ball, voiced approval of a plan of “‘prominent men’ to assume control of baseball and regulate affairs.”1
Given the gravity of the sandal encompassing baseball, it’s no surprise that a late-season contest between two second-division clubs received scant copy, even in local newspapers. The fifth-place Cubs (74-77), whom manager Fred Mitchell had guided to a pennant two years earlier, were 16½ games behind the Brooklyn Robins, and had lost five of their last seven games. Skipper Branch Rickey’s Redbirds (73-78), one game behind the Cubs in sixth place, were playing their 23rd consecutive game on the road.
The pitching matchup was a classic case of youth versus experience. Toeing the rubber for the North Siders was 33-year-old Pete Alexander, whose 26-14 slate thus far in ’20 had pushed his career record to 234-114. Suffering from a sore right arm and loss of hearing, the results of his service in a field artillery unit in World War I, Old Pete was battling alcoholism and epilepsy as he laid claim to be the league’s best pitcher, who had once won 30 or more games in three consecutive seasons as a Philadelphia Phillie (1915-1917). His opponent was hard-throwing Jesse Haines, a 26-year-old rookie, who had developed into a dependable workhorse despite a lackluster 13-19 record. (Haines was not yet the knuckleballer for which he is best known as being.)
On a cool, autumnal day with temperatures in the 50s, a paltry crowd about 600 was on hand for a Friday afternoon of baseball at the intersection of Clark and Addison, where spectators were treated to one of the best-pitched games of the season.2 “[The] players on each side hustled and battled as if they grand jury was watching them,” remarked sportswriter James Crusinberry in the Chicago Tribune, invoking the legal turmoil encompassing baseball.3
Defensive miscues resulted in each team’s initial run.4 Rogers Hornsby, en route to leading the circuit in batting (.370) for the first of six consecutive seasons and seven times in his storied career, laced a two-out single that center fielder Dode Paskert bobbled, enabling Milt Stock to race home from second in the opening frame. In the second, the Cubs’ Fred Merkle led off by getting hit by a pitch, stole second with two outs, and then scored on Stock’s errant throw to first from the hot corner on Charlie Deal’s grounder.
Alexander, a capable hitter, helped his own cause in the fifth. After William Marriott lined a two-out double down the left-field foul line, Old Pete slapped a single over second base to drive in his career-best 14th run and give the Redbirds the lead. In the next inning, the Cubs wasted a leadoff single by Zeb Terry, who was caught stealing following Turner Barber’s foul out on a bunt. Merkle followed with a double in the left-center gap, but was left stranded.
The Cardinals tied the game, 2-2, in the eighth on Stock’s one-out single driving in Hal Janvrin, who had reached on a fielder’s choice and stole second. On the play Stock advanced to second on the throw home, but Hornsby and Germany Schultz came up empty against Old Pete.
Haines, who had yielded six hits through six innings, commenced one of the best stretches of his eventual 19-year Hall of Fame career. He held the Cubs hitless for 9⅔ innings (and walked three) until Marriott singled with one out in the 16th. The only problem for the Cardinals was Alexander, who bent, but did not break.
The Cardinals squandered excellent chances to take the lead in the ninth, 10th, 12th, and 16th innings, but could not find a clutch hit. Doc Lavan led off the ninth with a laser that bounced off Alexander’s chest, reported the St. Louis Star and Times.5 Old Pete recovered to field the ball but his throw was late to first. Lavan moved up a station on a sacrifice bunt, but was left stranded. Heinie Mueller walked to lead off the next inning and then advanced to second on Stock’s single, bringing Hornsby to the plate. After Alexander punched out Hornsby, he walked Schultz to load the bases, but retired Lavan to end the threat. The 12th inning might have been the most exciting. The Redbird loaded the bases on singles by Mueller and Stock sandwiched around Alexander’s throwing error on Janvrin’s sacrifice bunt. Alexander dispatched the next three hitters on routine popups, including Hornsby’s fly to shallow right with no outs. After squandering Hornsby’s leadoff single in the 15th, Haines and Mueller lined consecutive one-out singles in the 16th, only to come up empty yet again. Thankfully Rickey was a well-known religious man; other skippers would have probably let loose profanity-laced invective by this point.
After Alexander worked around a two-out single by Lavan in the 17th, Babe Twombly singled to center, the first Cubs leadoff hitter to reach base since the eighth inning. Haines, who had pitched into extra innings three other times this season, including tossing 13 innings in a heartbreaking 3-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates in his second start of the season, could be forgiven for tiring. After he fanned Terry, Barber rapped a single to push Twombly to third. Haines intentionally walked Merkle to load the bases and set up a play at any base. To the plate stepped Paskert, hitless in his previous six trips to the plate. With the outfield playing in, Paskert singled to left to drive in the winning run, ending the game in 2 hours and 45 minutes.
Paskert’s hit secured Alexander’s league-leading 27th victory. The 17-inning outing was the longest in Old Pete’s career, though he was far from at his best. He yielded 16 hits and walked three while facing 69 batters, yet surrendered only one earned run. In the last dominant season in his Hall of Fame career, Alexander also paced the senior circuit in ERA (1.91), innings (363⅓), complete games (33), and strikeouts (173). Haines’s career-longest 16⅓-inning outing ended in a bitter loss, his 20th, in a game he probably should have won had his teammates connected off Alexander when it most counted. He faced 59 batters, fanned eight, walked four, and surrendered 10 hits; two of the three runs off him were earned. Haines, who ultimately played for the Cardinals for 18 seasons, leading them to five pennants and three World Series titles, concluded the season with an NL-most 47 appearances and a career-best 301⅔ innings. Given the moniker “Old Jess” in his later years, Haines retired as the franchise leader in wins (210), complete games (209), appearances as a pitcher (554), and innings pitched (3203⅔).
The pitching adversaries in this game teamed up in one of the most famous games in Cardinals and World Series history on October 10, 1926. Facing the New York Yankees in Game Seven at Yankee Stadium, Haines departed with a 3-2 lead, with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh, the knuckles on his right hand bleeding from his mesmerizing hard floater. Alexander, whom the Cardinals had acquired on June 22 that season, entered in what is regarded as one of the best relief appearances in the history of the Fall Classic. He fanned Tony Lazzeri to end the threat, then set down six of the next seven batters, issuing only a walk to Babe Ruth in the ninth to secure the Cardinals’ first world championship.
This article appears in "Wrigley Field: The Friendly Confines at Clark and Addison" (SABR, 2019), edited by Gregory H. Wolf. To read more stories from this book online, click here.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also accessed Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and SABR.org.
1 “High Baseball Court Favored by St. Louis Men,” St. Louis Star and Times, October 2, 1920: 4.
2 James Crusinberry, “Cubs Go 17 Innings to Beat Cards, 3-3; Aleck Mound Hero,” Chicago Tribune, October 2, 1920: 15.
4 Neither BaseballReference.com or Retrosheet.org has the play-by-play for this game; however, a detailed play-by-play is available at “Haines Battles With Alexander in Chicago Park,” St. Louis Star and Times, October 1, 1920: 20.