A Sweet Caporal advertisement featuring Grover Cleveland Alexander:
“Sweet Caporals have led the smoke league for a great many years. For real flavor and satisfaction you can’t beat them.”
Shortly before the 1915 season, Damon Runyon, writing in The New York American compared Alexander and Walter Johnson:
“Whenever we see Grover Cleveland Alexander pitching at top form, we conclude that he is the greatest right-handed pitcher in the land, and we cling to that conclusion until Walter Perry Johnson comes along with a line of his best pelting. Then we decide that Walter is the greatest, and we hold that decision to the day that ‘Alex’ reappears.
“In short, our mind–probably none to stable at best–does a heap of vacillating between these Western wonders, and we are certain of only just one thing with respect to their ability–which is that it’s either Grover or Walter who is the greatest righthander…You may think that (Christy) Mathewson, or (Dick) Rudolph, or Bill James or Willie (Bill) Doak is greatest, and we have no doubt that you can produce just as many arguments in support of your belief…but it is our opinion that Johnson and Alexander today stand head and shoulders above all the rest.”
Runyon said that neither, however, were better than Mathewson when Matty was at his best:
“They are both great pitchers, but there have probably been many just as great–and there has been only one Mathewson.”
Runyon also claimed that players who faced both Alexander and Johnson agreed that one was the better pitcher:
“Ball players who have hit against both men–or rather who haven’t hit against them, for there is never much hitting against Walter or Grover–say that the Nebraskan is the better of the two. They say he has as much ‘stuff’and knows how to use it better than Johnson.”
Most important to Runyon, he said, was that he preferred watching Alexander pitch:
“As a matter of personal choice, however, we would rather watch Alexander work than Johnson: To us, it seems that he has more natural grace in the box…than the big Washington propeller. There are mighty few pitchers who come under the head of things of beauty when they are working, but ‘Alex’ is one of them.”
As for a forecast for the coming season, Runyon said:
“Some fans are dreaming this year of seeing Alexander and Johnson as opponents in the first game of the 1915 world’s series, but they are mostly Philadelphia and Washington fans who are having those dreams, and we doubt if the dreams will come true.”
Both pitchers were dominant that season.
Johnson was 27-13 with a 1.55 ERA for a team, true to Runyon’s prediction, could only dream of a pennant–finishing fourth.
Alexander, however, was 31-10 with 1.22 ERA and did pitch the first game of the World Series for the pennant-winning Philadelphia Phillies–he won the opener 3 to 1, beating Ernie Shore and the Red Sox, but Boston came back and won four straight, including Dutch Leonard‘s 2 to 1 victory over Alexander in Game 3.