How could there be a more all-American movie than one that stars Ronald Reagan and Doris Day and is about baseball? Tuesday, July 27th at 7 pm, Turner Classic Movies will present “The Winning Team,” featuring our 40th President as Hall of Fame pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander, and Miss Day as Alexander’s wife Aimee. Released in 1952, “The Winning Team” is a good sports biography, and while the film does take poetic license with some of the historic facts surrounding Grover Cleveland Alexander, it does manage to credibly recreate the Major League Baseball landscape of the 1910’s and 1920’s. Reagan turns in a solid performance as Alexander, especially when portraying the great right-hander during the latter part of his career, while Doris Day, as usual, is great as Aimee Alexander.
“The Winning Team” chronicles the career of Grover Cleveland Alexander, starting with his days as a telephone company lineman, whose hobby of pitching for an amateur team leads to major-league stardom. As a rookie with the Philadelphia Nationals in 1911, Alexander won 28 games, and was soon considered the best right-hander in the National League. Unfortunately, Alexander was plagued by occasional dizzy spells, dating back to being hit in the head by a line-drive while still in the minors. His condition worsens while serving in World War I, and when he resumes his career, Alexander, now playing for the Cubs, collapses on the field. Rumors start to spread that Alexander’s physical problems are due to alcohol, and by 1926, Grover Cleveland Alexander is out of baseball. Through the encouragement of his wife Aimee, Alexander attempts a comeback, as Rogers Hornsby (Frank Lovejoy) the manager and second baseman for the St Louis Cardinals decides to gamble on the aging pitcher. Hornsby’s hunch pays off, as the Cardinals and Alexander find themselves in the 1926 World Series, facing the New York Yankees.
Although “The Winning Team” is a fairly accurate depiction of baseball history, the film does trend to stray from some of the actual facts regarding the career of Grover Cleveland Alexander, particularly during the movie’s dramatic climax, which takes place in Yankee Stadium during game seven of the 1926 World Series. “The Winning Team” depicts Alexander as unexpectedly being put into the game in the later innings, and struggling with the fact that Aimee is not there to lend support. Mrs. Alexander is back at the hotel packing, but, hearing on the radio that her husband is now on the mound, she races to the stadium, and finds a seat. Spotting Aimee in the stands, Alexander is able to pitch the Cardinals to a World Series victory. The real story is actually more compelling. It seems that Alexander, after winning game six, was in a celebrating mood . Convinced that he wouldn’t be used in game seven, Alexander hit the booze very hard, and was nursing quite a hangover when manager Hornsby called on him to preserve a 3-2 lead. Facing a bases loaded situation in the seventh, Alexander managed to strikeout Tony Lazzeri, but not before Lazzeri narrowly missed a home run when his long fly down the left-field line twisted foul. Although “The Winning Team” suggests that the final out of the game was a strikeout, the 1926 World Series ended when Babe Ruth was thrown out trying to steal second base.