by David C. Ibach III
May 23, 2004
"The Ehmke Finale" Set For Friday
Event To Culminate 3-Year-Old Display Of Hanover's Most Famous Resident
"I called him and wasn't talking more than a minute or so," said Hanover Historian Vince Martonis. "I explained my idea and he said, 'No problem, I'll pay for the whole thing.'"
The gesture was fitting from a man whose family name has become synonymous with good-samaritan success in the Silver Creek area for more than 100 years.
This Friday, Martonis will showcase "The Ehmke Finale," a closing tribute to Howard Ehmke, the 1929 pitching hero of the Philadelphia Athletics, who was born and raised in Silver Creek.
The event culminates a three-year-old display of numerous memorabilia from around the country showcasing the life and career of the Town of Hanover's most famous resident. Many of the historical pieces, which Martonis estimates at more than 200, are on loan and must be returned.
"It was important to me to leave it up as long as possible, but I have to get the stuff back," Martonis said.
The Finale is a daylong celebration spearheaded by Martonis, during which three different events are planned.
During normal business hours on Friday, the Silver Creek Post Office will use a commemorative Ehmke Post Office Cancel, which can be used on anything mailed that day.
"I like doing commemorative historical post office cancels," said Martonis, who has presented at least 10 cancels since the mid '80s.
"It's a great way to save local history," he said.
Martonis invites all interested people to bring envelopes, postcards, or any parcel, ready to be mailed to be stamped with this limited-edition cancel. First class postage is required for anything that is to be mailed, other than postcards. But Friday isn't the only day the cancel can be obtained. For the next 65 days, the Silver Creek Post Office will have the cancel on hand to stamp anything that won't be mailed.
"Anyone can walk into the Silver Creek Post Office and have the cancel applied to anything - a book, a postcard, an envelope, anything they want, as long as there is proper postage on it," explained Martonis.
Martonis will be at the Post Office from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. with a display table of Ehmke memorabilia set up. He will also have blank historical Ehmke envelopes and postcards available for use with the cancel. Martonis said the cancel is in high demand from collectors after being advertised throughout the world in postal bulletins.
"It's an interesting way of having people go to the post office with postcards and envelopes and preserve the history on the item," Martonis said.
Most Ehmke memorabilia is in high demand in the U.S. because of his association with the '29 A's, considered by many pundits as one of the greatest teams to ever grace a baseball diamond. The Connie Mack managed team included Hall of Famers Lefty Grove, Jimmie Foxx and Al Simmons.
And then there was Howard Ehmke.
Small Town Boy Does Good
Born in 1894 to Julia and Charles in Silver Creek, Ehmke played on the school's baseball and basketball teams as well as the Silver Creek Horseshoes, the former village adult league team. Raised along with 10 children in a home just on the west side of Walnut Creek on Main Street, Ehmke reportedly built impressive arm strength while working at the family's saw mill, now Ehmke Well Drillers. In 1913, as a member of the Silver Creek High baseball team, Ehmke struck out 21 Jamestown High batters in a 1-0 win.
Ehmke, a 6-foot, 2-inch righty, began his 15-year pro career in 1914 with Los Angeles of the Pacific Coast League. After being sold to the Washington Senators, for whom Ehmke never played, the then 21-year-old came back East and played two games for Buffalo of the Federal League. In 1916, Ehmke moved on to Syracuse, where he posted a 31-4 record in one year, catching the eye of the Detroit Americans (Tigers), for whom he started his final five games of the '16 season, posting a record of 3-1.
With Detroit, Ehmke was teamed for the first time with lifelong rival Ty Cobb. A year after being traded to Boston in 1922, Ehmke held Cobb hitless in a 6-2 Red Sox win over the Tigers in May. Ehmke beaned Cobb during the game, and the two squared off in an infamous fight under the grandstand after the game.
In September of that season, Ehmke threw a no-hitter against his future team, the Philadelphia Athletics. It was Ehmke's sixth straight win. In his very next start, Ehmke threw a controversial one-hitter against the Yankees that many have said should have been a no-hitter. New York's hit wasn't called an error even though the ball bounced off the chest of Ehmke's third baseman.
But Ehmke's baseball career will by-and-large be remembered for two separate events.
One was on April 23, 1922, the day before his 28th birthday, when Ehmke was the visiting starting pitcher in the first game ever played at Yankee Stadium. He gave up a three-run homer to the Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth, and the Red Sox lost 4-1. It was the first of 60 home runs for Ruth that season. Ehmke also gave up the 12th. But Ruth and Ehmke eventually became good friends, so much so that Ehmke was a pallbearer at Ruth's funeral in 1948.
But Ehmke's crowning moment came in 1929 as an aging member of the Philadelphia A's. Ehmke, who was now 35, was thought to possess a tired arm and had pitched in only 9 games the entire season. Mack had enough faith in Ehmke to choose him as his starter in Game 1 of the World Series against the Chicago Cubs.
Ehmke struck out a then record 13 batters in the game which Philadelphia won 3-1. The A's went on to win the Series in five.
Wrote Mack in the Chicago Post-Dispatch after Game 1: "When I talked to Ehmke yesterday morning, I asked him if he was fit and ready. He replied, 'Mr. Mack, I will win the game for you, don't worry.' I never saw better pitching than Ehmke put over."
Ehmke's greatest win was his last, and he retired after the 1930 season with 166 career wins. Ehmke died on March 17, 1959 in Philadelphia.
Remembering The Man
Along with the commemorative Post Office cancel, two official New York State historical marker unveilings will take place on Friday.
One of the markers, which was funded by sales Martonis made during last year's Silver Creek Bicentennial events, will be placed in the village park, behind the third base bench. The other, which William Ehmke privately funded, will be placed in front of Howard's childhood home. According to Martonis, the Ehmke family has played a pivotal role in the remembrance of Howard, not only because of the marker they paid for, but the countless number of Ehmke items that have been donated to the Hanover Historical Center by the family.
Martonis thanks Robert Ehmke and Ehmke Well Drillers for allowing the marker to be placed in front of the Ehmke home.
"I hope that when (William) comes, he's pleased with what he sees," Martonis said. "He doesn't even live here, but he was willing to (pay for the marker).
Martonis hopes the park marker will be an inspiration to any kid who reads its inscription while playing ball in the downtown ballpark, just as Howard Ehmke, a man recently voted as one of the best 100 Red Sox in history, did as a youngster.
"That will be neat for the kids to see when they're down there playing ball," said Martonis. "I would hope it would be somewhat (of an inspiration) because you never know what's going to strike a kid's mind."
The park marker will be unveiled at 6 p.m. on Friday and the Ehmke home marker will be displayed at 6:30. Martonis invites the public to arrive and take pictures as they wish.
The "Ehmke Slide Show Extravaganza" will wrap up the festivities at 7:15 at the Hanover Town Hall on Hanover Street.
There will be an updated Ehmke slide show, including footage of Ehme's pitching performance in the 1929 World Series. The display cases at the Town Hall will be jam-packed with Ehmke memorabilia and refreshments will be served. There will be a number of Ehmke door prizes, including three 1961 Ehmke baseball cards which Martonis is donating from his own personal collection, a collection that has grown steadily over the years.
"Searching for collectibles is how I started with history," said Martonis. "You find a collectible and then you start looking for the history associated with the item. If I can put a few of those in kids' hands, maybe they'll start looking for and saving the collectibles and learning about our local history. That would be great if that happened."
Martonis has done extensive research on the life of Howard Ehmke, not only because the pitcher was a well-known , former resident of Hanover, but because Martonis feels Ehmke should be recognized as a human being.
"It's pretty easy for history to grab me because I get interested in the human aspects of it," Martonis explained.
"Ehmke was not just a ballplayer. He was very much a good man and everything I have read about him says so. He didn't smoke, he didn't drink, and nobody can say a bad word about him.
"He was friends with so many people and the man deserves recognition not just for his feats, but for being the model of behavior of not just a sports figure but of a good citizen," he said.
Everybody, young and old, is invited to come out on Friday to honoir the man who went from local star to World Series hero.
"Maybe it can be best expressed with the words 'take me out to the ballgame'," Martonis said. "And I do plan on having some peanuts, popcorn and Cracker Jacks here for the people. I'll even sing a rousing rendition of 'Take Me Out To the Ballgame' if they want. We'll have a lot of fun."
There will be an Ehmke calendar/magazine filled with pictures and biographical information that Martonis has worked diligently on for some time. The item can be ordered at the Town Hall the night of the extravaganza.
Displays will run at the Town Hall through this year's World Series.