This article was written by Gordon Hurlburt
This article was published in 1982 Baseball Research Journal
The past two decades have seen some season records broken in several baseball categories which had been in the books for a long time. Take, for example, home runs, stolen bases, and strikeouts by pitchers. One record, however, which has stood the test of time is the 16 shutouts hurled by Grover Alexander in 1916.
“Pete” Alexander had broken in as a rookie in 1911 and immediately tied a National League record that year for first-year men with seven blank jobs. This mark stood up for 70 years until Fernando Valenzuela came along in 1982.
In 1915 Alex had pitched his Phillies teammates to the pennant with a sparkling 3 1-10 log and a 1.22 ERA. That year he had blanked his opponents 12 times. Coupled with his 1916 record, it gave him the best back-to-back seasons in that category ever enjoyed by any pitcher. At this point in his career, starting the 1916 campaign, he had won 127 games in just five years, well on his way toward the 373 victories which would put him in the company of Christy Mathewson as the all-time National League leaders. The 29-year-old Nebraska-born hurler had 37 shutouts in those first five years, on his way to a NL career record total of 90.
The 1916 season was an interesting one in several aspects. The New York Giants put on two magnificent winning streaks of 17 straight in May and 26 straight in September – only to finish fourth. In the other league, and in the opposite vein, the Philadelphia Athletics, until recently the strong team of the junior circuit, set a record for mediocrity by finishing 40 games out of 7th place! The Federal League had just had its day, and its players were now finding their places in the two remaining leagues.
Both pennant races had their exciting moments in 1916. In the National League, the Brooklyn Robins had things their way most of the time, but in September they were challenged by the defending champion Phillies, a Braves team still strong from their surprise pennant win of two years before, and the streaking Giants. September began with a 5-game series in Baker Bowl between the Phils and Brooklyns. Alexander started the series off by shutting out the visitors (his 14th of the year), and Eppa Rixey followed that up with another shutout in the second game of the Friday doubleheader. Philadelphia also won the Saturday single game and swept the Labor Day twinbill the following Monday to capture the series and go into a first place tie with the Robins. The following week saw the Phillies continue in the tie and even go ahead by percentage points, only to then drop out as they fell victim to the early stages of New York’s long winning streak at the end of the week.
The Phils continued to chase the Brooklyn team through the month of September. Alex performed remarkably, pitching a doubleheader victory over the Reds on September 23, the second game being his 15th shutout of the season. At the end of the month the Phils took two out of three in Brooklyn, to leave them only a half-game behind with six left to play. The Robins were to complete their season with the Giants, who had just completed their streak; while Philadelphia played its last series with Boston at home. Thus, the stage was set for Alexander’s final shutout of the year. In the opener of the doubleheader starting the final series with the Braves, he blanked the New Englanders and his team moved into first place again. However, the Phils dropped the second game and three of the remaining four with the Braves while Brooklyn took three out of four from New York for the flag. So, in spite of “Pete”s heroics, it wasn’t quite enough to give his club a second successive title. He had nothing to be ashamed of, though; along with his 16 shutouts, Alexander had won 33 games, lost 12, and compiled a 1.55 ERA over 389 innings. He also led in starts, complete games, and strikeouts, and gave up only 50 walks and six home runs.
Some interesting sidelights on the record include the fact that he participated in a record total of 20 shutouts in the season, including four losses by that method; he shut out Cincinnati five times, to equal the mark against one club; and for the second time in his career, he had shut out every opposing club at least once. No other pitcher has ever done that more than once, but Alexander turned the trick in 1913 as well as in 1916, and for good measure he would do it yet again in 1919. Perhaps most remarkable was the fact that nine of his shutouts were at home in Baker Bowl with its inviting right-field fence. To my knowledge, no record book lists “most shutouts by pitcher at home, season,” but it would seem a pretty safe guess that this would be the record right here.