|Before the War: Pete Alexander in His Prime|
During World War I many professional baseball players served in the United States military. These men ranged from obscure players who had only a “cup of coffee” in the big leagues to well-known stars such as Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, and, the subject of this book, Grover Cleveland Alexander. Author Jim Leeke has several books about baseball and World War I to his credit. This book isn’t a biography of Alexander; rather, it is an account of his time in the U.S. Army during the war, preceded by background information and followed by an overview of his postwar life. Throughout, Leeke treats his subject with fairness, sympathy, and respect.
Due to the proactive efforts of Major Malcolm P. Andruss, one of the battalion commanders, the regiment eventually had a world-class baseball team. Andruss set out to assemble a regimental baseball team composed of top-notch players; he wanted to “organize an outfit the equal of which the Army had never known” (p. 20). In the end, the regimental team had five current major leaguers: Alexander (Cubs), Otis Lambeth (Indians), Clarence Mitchell (Dodgers), Win Noyes (Athletics), and Chuck Wood (Dodgers). In addition, there were men who later joined the major leagues and men who had been college stars.
|A Break in Training at Camp Funston: Alexander |
Visited by His Wife, Amy, (R) and Her Friend
Although the regiment played comparatively few baseball games after Alexander joined it, there’s no question that it must indeed have been one of the best teams “over there.” Alexander had minimal time to train as a soldier and artilleryman, let alone play baseball, before he and his regiment departed for France on 26 June.
After spending two months in training in France, Alexander and his regiment moved to the St. Mihiel sector, arriving on 19 September, just three days after the offensive came to an end. The regiment remained in the same general area for the rest of the war, firing their 155mm howitzers in support of their own division and others, including the 28th and 37th Divisions. During more than 50 days in combat, the regiment was shelled and attacked by air. Alexander did well and was promoted to sergeant in October. After the Armistice, he marched into Germany with the 89th Division as part of the Army of Occupation. He returned to the United States and was discharged in April 1919; he resumed pitching for the Chicago Cubs the next month.
After the war, Alexander played well in some years but struggled on and off the field in others. He was just one of thousands (no one really knows how many) of men who returned from the war physically sound but emotionally injured. An occasional drinker before the war, Alexander increased his intake in the years after his return. Although he won a World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1926, he was never the same man. One can feel the sadness in his statement years after the war: “The Great War put an end to my daydreaming of various records” (p. 188).
He was hospitalized several times due to various illnesses and injuries. On one occasion in 1941, a sportswriter poignantly wrote:
Today [Alexander] figured that the shell shock was more valuable than the fame which attended his best performances in baseball. Fame got him nothing. Shell shock got him a bed in a hospital ward and food [p. 197].
Alcoholism also cost him his marriage to Amy Marie Arrant (aka Aimee Alexander); the two were married and divorced twice, and Aimee always cared for the struggling ballplayer. Alexander died alone in his hometown of St. Paul, Nebraska, on 4 November 1950. In later years, Aimee gave him a fine compliment: “His hat never got too small and he was always especially nice to me. He was a very fine gentleman” (p. 203).
|After the War: Sgt. Alexander Looking a Little Fatigued|
Twenty-nine photographs and illustrations and two maps enhance the text. Two appendices, one of which lists athletes in the regiment, plus endnotes and a fine bibliography, complete the book. This is a wonderful addition to Leeke’s work, and highly recommended to anyone interested in baseball and the Great War.
Peter L. Belmonte