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The 1929 Athletics (part 1)

 Reading the A's trivia post inspired me to write about the 1929 Philadelphia Athletics. The A's won the World Series in 1929 against the Cubs, the 1930 WS against the Cardinals, and lost the '31 Series to the Cards. The Yankees won the WS in '27, '28 and '32. There was quite an A's/Yankees rivalry even back then. Even then there must have been A's fans who hated the Yankees.

 

This '29 A's team was one of the greatest teams in history. I don't know about all of you, but if I got into time machine and went the '29 World Series I would have no trouble deciding who to root for. Those guys were my A's too. It doesn't concern me too much where their home field is. I wanted to recap 2 awesome games from this magical world series. Game 1 is part 1...

In August of 1929 the A's were in a pennant race, but Connie Mack, the A's manager for 50 years!, called Howard Ehmke into his office to tell him he was being released. According to "Baseball's 50 Greatest Games" by Bert Sugar, Howard said, "Mr Mack, I've never been on a pennant winner before, give me one more chance. There's one good game left in this arm." Amazingly Connie Mack, didn't release Ehmke, but sort of demoted him to scout. He didn't get to go on the last road trip, instead was sent to scout the Cubs against the Dodgers and Giants. When the WS was set to start, Connie Mack said, "Which game do you want to pitch?" Ehmke's answer, "The first one."

The A's had 2 aces that year, Lefty Grove and Moose Earnshaw. Grove (20-6 2.81 ERA) was a flamethrower and a certified badass, who led the league in strikeouts 7 times and ERA 9 times. Earnshaw was no slouch either in 1929 (24-8 3.29).

But Mack surprised everyone by starting soft-tossing Howard Ehmke, who'd only ever led the league in 2 categories, hit batters and earned runs allowed. Reportedly Ehmke was lanky and threw sidearm with a lot of offspeed stuff. I imagine someone who looked and pitched something like Brad Ziegler. While scouting the Cubs, Ehmke himself decided how he would attack the aggressive Cubs lineup. Ehmke's start for game 1 was a surprise even to the A's players. From the book "Chicago in the World Series" by Bruce Alan Rubenstein comes this dialog between manager Connie Mack and the A's star Al Simmons:

As Ehmke warmed up along the sidelines, the Athletics players gawked and muttered bitterly. Finally Al Simmons strode to Mack and asked in a tone of outrage: "Is that fella gonna pitch for us?

Mack stared at his star outfielder and replied softly: "Why yes, he is. Isn't it all right with you, Al?"

Simmons thought and said: "Well, by God if it's all right with you, Mr. Mack, it's all right with me."

For six innings, the 50,740 fans jammed into Wrigley under an overcast and threatening sky witnessed one of the greatest and most unlikely pitching duels in Series history, Howard Ehmke vs Charlie Root.

As the game went on the Cubs batter who before the contest were eager to face the injury plagued Ehmke, grew frustrated with their futility. When Hack Wilson stomped back to the dugout in the sixth becoming the fifth straight strikeout victim a teammate asked what Ehmke was throwing, "Looks to me like a bean bag" said a disgusted Wilson. (A whole post could be devoted to the crazy dimensions and demeanor of this guy, Hack Wilson)

Rogers Hornsby said, "Ehmke had us crazy with that slow motion and slow hook. I never saw a pitcher with such perfect control."

Legendary sports writer Grantland Rice wrote about Ehmke, "The long, lazy right arm of Howard Ehmke sounded the drum beat of woe to fifty one thousand Chicago rooters this afternoon as it fell across the backs of the Cubs like a whip."

In Game 1 of the '29 World Series, Howard Ehmke pitched the game of his life, a complete game with 13 strikeouts, and won 3-1. It was the last major league win of his career. Go A's.

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