powered by AFI
The working titles of the film were Alex the Great, Alexander, the Big Leaguer and The Big League. As depicted in The Winning Team, Hall of Fame pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander (1887-1950) suffered head injury, epilepsy and alcoholism, yet made one of the greatest comebacks in sports and is still considered one of the most successful pitchers in Major League history. His pitching was considered controlled, graceful and economical, with little wasted motion, and his fastball was hard to hit. Although the major facts of Alexander's life depicted in the film are true, some are presented out of order. According to a modern source, although there were rumors about Alexander's drinking habits, his alcoholism did not affect his playing until much later in his career. Alexander did suffer from double vision after being struck on the head by a ball, and seizures became apparent during his military service in 1918, which also caused partial deafness.
Alexander's greatest years as a player were between 1911 and 1917, when he pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies. He and his lifelong friend, catcher Reindeer Bill Killefer, were sold to the Chicago Cubs in 1917. In 1926, Cubs manager Joe McCarthy sold Alexander to the St. Louis Cardinals. That same year, as depicted in the film, Alexander struck out Tony Lazzeri, then pitched two hitless innings, which insured the Cardinal's victory in the World Series.
Although their appearance in the film has not been confirmed, December 1951 Hollywood Reporter news items add Michael Smith, Michael Howard, Jimmy McGann, Leroy Strand, Barry Buehler and Emil Meyer to the cast. According to a January 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item, James Millican was recalled to the studio to build up his role as catcher "Bill Killefer." Millican and his brother Fred, who made his acting debut in the film, were former professional baseball players. Ronald Reagan, who portrays "Alex" in the film, was a radio baseball announcer before Warner Bros. "discovered" him in the mid-1930s. According to Warner Bros. production notes, portions of the film were shot on location at the Warner Ranch in Calabasas and on Southern California playing fields, including the training field of the Pacific Coast League's Hollywood Stars in the San Fernando Valley.