by Chuck Korbar
April 1, 1982
Silver Creek’s Howard Ehmke Surprise World Series Starter
And Winner Back In 1929 For A’s
The site was Chicago, the year 1929 and the event the World Series that produced one of the most exciting pages from 100 years of EVENING OBSERVER sports history.
The background behind the first game of the World Series which saw the Philadelphia Athletics stop the Chicago Cubs in five games is pieced together from reference material from the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and the memory of Mrs. Eugenie Ehmke of Silver Creek.
The hero was her brother-in-law, Howard Ehmke, who had already won the 167 games he was to win in major league baseball. He was in this one for one last hurrah.
“He and Connie Mack (legendary A’s owner/manager) would eat breakfast together,” recalls Mrs. Ehmke who still resides next door to the home Howard Ehmke lived in, in Silver Creek.
“Connie Mack had a lot of respect for Howard,” she said.
Howard Ehmke, born and raised in Silver Creek with a lifelong yearning to play big league baseball, had indeed had a banner career. It started in 1915 and included 20 victories with the Boston Red Sox in 1923 including a no-hitter against those same A’s that year.
That’s where Mr. Mack’s respect began.
But in 1929, 35-year-old Howard Ehmke - creator of the side-armed delivery “hesitation” pitch - had seen 15 major league seasons with four different teams.
That year he had pitched just 55 innings and it was no surprise to anyone when Howard Ehmke didn’t accompany the American champions on their final Western swing.
But that was the plan. That’s what Connie Mack and Howard Ehmke had discussed at one of their regular breakfast meetings.
‘You’re pitching the first game, but don’t tell anybody. I don’t want it known,” said Connie Mack to Howard Ehmke, according to a story that appeared much later in the New York Times.
Howard Ehmke was then assigned one of the most unusual missions in all of baseball history—to follow the Chicago Cubs around in those final days of the season learning as much as he could about each batter—and to keep his arm in shape.
Connie Mack surprised all of baseball on Oct. 8, 1929 at Chicago’s Wrigley Field when he name Ehmke the surprise starter of the first game of the World Series.
And Howard Ehmke, receiving one last fanfare, gave it his all. Ehmke struck out 13 Chicago Cubs that day – a World Series record that lasted for 24 years until Carl Erskine of the Brooklyn Dodgers broke it in 1953.
He struck out baseball Hall of Famers Roger Hornsby and Kiki Cuyler twice each and Gabby Hartnett, who was a pinch-hitter, the only one time he faced him. The A’s won, 3-1.
“He was crazy about baseball as a youngster, “Mrs. Ehmke recalls, about the man who stayed in Philadelphia, with his wife Marguerite until his death in 1959.
“His father had a sawmill and a big lot and he’d get his playmates to help with his chores and get his work done so they could all play baseball.”
Howard Ehmke pitched one more season, but never won another game. His lifetime major league record was 167-166, a career with ups and downs.
But nothing like the peak he had reached that autumn day in Chicago when Connie Mack’s “sleuth” turned pitcher once again and made major league baseball history.