October 14, 2012
Two months ago, in the midst of his season-long struggles with his health and his pitching, 35-year old Howard Ehmke was called into Connie Mack’s office, located in the spire above the main entrance to Shibe. He saw the 15 telegrams on the desk of Mr. Mack when he walked in the room. He had cleared waivers. No team wanted him. “Howard,” said Mack when Ehmke had taken a seat. “I am going to let you go. I am sorry.”
“Mr. Mack,” pleaded Ehmke. “Please give me a chance. My arm hasn’t been right, but I’m trying all the time to get it into shape. I’ll even let you suspend me without pay until such time as my arm improves and I can pitch again. I’ve been in the league for a long time and I never have been on a championship team. Just let me go into the World Series and then you can do anything you wish.”
Mack thought it over, then said, “All right, Howard, we’ll just let this rest between ourselves…I’ll give you another chance. And when you tell me your arm is right I’ll take you up.”*
It was a beautiful day for baseball yesterday in Chicago, and that glorious young ballpark they have in Chicago was packed to the gills with over 50,000 fans. Most of them were expecting to see a heavyweight bout between Charlie Root and Lefty Grove. Instead they watched in shock as a few minutes before gametime as sidewinder Howard Ehmke, so close to being released two months earlier, started to warm up. Two months earlier, not a single team wanted Ehmke on their team. And yet here he was, starting Game 1 of the 1929 World Series. Apparently, he thought his arm was right.
The fans were indeed treated to a pitching duel, as Root was every bit as good as advertised. Ehmke, meanwhile, struggled a bit in the first. He allowed a single to Woody English, then Rogers Hornsby caught a hold of one that brought the whole house to its feet, but was snagged just in front of the bricks in right by Bing Miller. Ehmke found himself in trouble again in the 3rd, as the Cubs got runners to 2nd and 3rd with only one out and Hornsby and Hack Wilson the next two at the plate. Disaster seemed eminent. But Ehmke calmly struck out the mighty Hornsby, then did the same to Wilson, and the scoreboard continued to fill with aughts.
Ehmke got stronger as the game went on, striking out the side in the 6th. Root was every bit as effective, keeping the mighty A’s to a mere two hits through 6 innings. But in the top of the 7th, the Beast went into Beast mode. Jimmie Foxx (right) delivered a shot into the left field bleachers, and the A’s took a 1-0 lead.
Ehmke got into trouble again in the bottom of the the 7th, as the Cubs had runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out. But Ehmke coaxed pinch hitter Cliff Heathcote to fly out to shallow left, then struck out pinch hitter Gabby Hartnett.
The game went into the 9th inning with the A’s holding that slimmest of margins. Reliever Guy Bush was on the hill for the Cubs. MIckey Cochrane led off the inning with a single. The Cubs should have then gotten a double play, but young shortstop Woody English booted the ball, and the A’s had runners on 1st and 2nd. Up came Jimmie Foxx. He too hit one right at English…and English flubbed it again! Now the A’s had the bases loaded with no outs, and a Bing Miller single knocked in two. The A’s took a 3-0 lead into the 9th with Ehmke still on the hill.
In the bottom of the 9th, Kiki Cuyler reached 2nd on a throwing error by Jimmy Dykes, and scored on a Riggs Stephenson single. Charlie Grimm followed up with another single, and now the Cubs brought the winning run to the plate in the form of pinch hitter Footsie Blair. But Mack stood by his man, and Ehmke got Blair to groundout. Up came another pinch hitter, Chick Tolson, standing in for the pitcher. And Ehmke ended this most memorable Game 1 by doing what he had done all game…earning a strikeout. It was a World Series record 13th strikeout, and the A’s victoriously headed back to their clubhouse with a 1-0 Series lead.
*quotes come courtesy of an October 9th, 1929 article in the Milwaukee Journal.