by Terry Niebel
September 13, 1998
Ehmke's Week To Remember Celebrates 75th Anniversary
It was 75 years ago this week that Silver Creek's Howard Ehmke turned in one of the most remarkable pitching performances in the annals of baseball history.
During a four-day period, September 7-11, 1923, the lanky Boston Red Sox right-hander would narrowly miss being given official credit for being the first major league pitcher to throw back-to-back no-hitters, an honor that would be awarded 15 years later to Cincinnati's Johnny VanderMeer.
Following is an account of those two memorable games.
September 7, 1923
Shibe Park, Philadelphia
In this game between the Boston Red Sox and Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics, Ehmke, acquired from Detroit in the off-season, had become a star for the last-place Bosox. In this particular game the Boston right-hander would use a combination of side-arm pitches and slow curves to completely baffle the Philadelphia Mackmen.
The first inning would see Boston catcher Val Picinich single to left field with one out. Picinch would advance to second on a sacrifice bunt and to third on a balk by the pitcher Garris. Picinich would score the game's first run on a single to left by Sox clean- up hitter Ira Flagstead.
The second inning would witness a sensational catch by Ehmke. The Silver Creek native had thrown a pitch to the White Elephant's Heine Scheer who sent a line drive back through the pitcher's box headed straight for center field. Ehmke, falling off the pitcher's mound toward third base, stuck his glove hand behind his back and somehow made the catch.
The game remained uneventful until the sixth inning when Philadelphia's pitcher Slim Harris hit a fly ball over the left fielder's head. The light hitting Harris would race all the way to second for his annual extra base hit, but in the excitement of having actually hit the ball, would forget to touch first base. The ball was relayed to the Boston first baseman who touched the bag and Harris was immediately called out.
In the top of the eighth, the Beantowners would score three times to make the score 4-0. In the bottom of the eighth, Philly batsman Welch sent a liner to left field. Boston's Menosky came in on the ball, reached down about knee-high to make the catch, only to have the ball strike his glove and roll out. The umpires would rule the play an error, thus preserving the no-hit game.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Bosox star retired the side in order.
Ehmke had just won his 18th game of he season and entered the record books for having pitched a no-hit, no-run game.
September 11, 1923
Yankee Stadium, New York
In this game, rookie George Pipgras pitched for the league-leading New York Yankees against Ehmke for the last place Boston Red Sox.
It would not take long for the most controversial play of the game to take place. In the bottom of the first, Yankee leadoff hitter Lawton "Whitey" Whitt would connect for a slow bouncer to Howard Shanks, the Boston third baseman. The ball bounced off his glove, hit his chest and a speedy Whitt beat the throw by a step. Both participants of the play, Whitt and Shanks, as well as the two managers, most of the players, and a vast majority of the 15,000 fans were of the opinion that the play was an error. The only opinion that really counted was that of the official scorer, and his opinion would not be known until after the game.
Ehmke would not have any more trouble in the first inning. In the second inning he would walk Wally Shang with two outs, but the next batter would force Shang at second base. For the next five innings the game would be a pitcher's game with Ehmke facing and retiring 15 straight batters, including Babe Ruth who he struck out on three straight pitches in the fourth inning.
In Boston's top half of the seventh, Norman McMillan singled to center, stole second, and reached third on a wild throw. Ehmke then followed with his third hit of the game, a single to left field scoring McMillan. Picinich smashed an inside-the-park home run between Yankee outfielders Whitt and Meusel, giving Boston a 3-0 lead.
The game over, Ehmke received a tremendous ovation from the 15,000 Yankee fans who believed they had just witnessed history. The first person to congratulate the Boston right-hander was home plate umpire Tommy Connolly. Ehmke continued to accept accolades from players on both teams.
It was not until later in the dressing room that he learned the "error" had actually been scored as a hit and his opportunity for baseball immortality had just vanished.
For his part, Howard Ehmke never publicly questioned the scorer's decision. However, others did on his behalf. Umpire Tommy Connolly, a 25-year veteran umpire, was quoted as saying, "If ever a pitcher worked a no-hit game, Ehmke did against New York. If ever an infielder made an error, Shanks did on Whitt's grounder. It was a great pitching exhibition that will fail to get its proper place in the Hall of Fame, because the scorer erred."
Bill Dineen, another umpire who officiated in the game with Connolly had this to say: "I have made lots of bad decisions but never one that compared with scoring Whitt's grounder to Shanks a base it. It was a bad error on an easy chance."
Yankee manager Miller Huggins was reported to have said that he intended to write American League President Ban Johnson, giving his version of the hit and would try to have the decision changed in order to give Ehmke the credit due. However, the official decision ruling the play a hit was never reversed.
Question: Many people know the first home run hit in Yankee Stadium was by Babe Ruth, but who was the pitcher?
Answer: Howard Ehmke of the Boston Red Sox – Opening Day, April 18, 1923, in the third inning.