It’s going to be a while until I’m able to buy another baseball card. I’ve been avoiding eBay and other auction websites. I’m trying to squelch the collecting fever, but there’s always a need in collecting to amass more. I’ve decided instead of moping around about my lack of funds and lack of any new cards, I’m going to focus on what I already own. So continues a series of articles dedicated to my favorite cards.
Grover Alexander (1931 strip card W517 #15): Strip cards were sold in slot machines in, well…strips. Dotted guidelines for cutting separated 3 – 4 photos or drawings of baseball players, movie stars, boxers, etc. Strip cards are not known for innovative design; most are reprints of black and white caramel issues of the 1920s, and the more ‘artistic’ strip cards, while in color, are downright ugly.
One of the most collected baseball strip card sets is the W517 from the early 1930s. Highly affordable for a pre-war set, W517 is chock full of Hall of Famers like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Lefty Grove. The almost postcard size cards also feature unique photos, some of which are portraits, giving an up-close glimpse of the player.
One of the most striking portraits of the W517 set is of Hall of Fame pitcher, Grover Cleveland (Pete) Alexander. With a blank stare, looking disconnected from the world, this is the last card appearance of Grover Alexander. One of the greatest control pitchers ever was back with the Phillies, where 15 years before he won 94 games in three seasons. Alexander posted a 9.14 era in 1930 along with three losses. After his release, he quit the majors, but went on to pitch in the minors and the House of David team.
At the end of his career. At the end of his rope. Alexander’s post-baseball life follows the familiar story of a washed-up former star: fighting a drinking problem, keeping poverty at bay, dropping into obscurity, re-assimilating into society like a prisoner on parole. Adding to his pile of Dickensian troubles, Alexander suffered from epileptic seizures, thought to be caused by a beaning early in his career; shell-shock caused by his horrific experience on the front lines of WWI, including participating in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive where the U.S. suffered 117,000 casualties (1)(2). A few years after being inducted into the Hall of Fame, Alexander was quoted as saying: “I’m in the Hall of Fame, . . . and I’m proud to be there, but I can’t eat the Hall of Fame.” (3)
So, why is this strip card one of my favorites? This card shows what life for an aged player looked like, before pensions and million dollar contracts. It shows a former star facing destitution. It shows what happened to forgotten heroes after the cheers go silent and baseball turns its head.
2. SABR Biography of Grover ‘Pete’ Alexander: http://bioproj.sabr.org/bioproj.cfm?a=v&v=l&pid=140&bid=945