The 1929 Athletics (part 1b)

 Before I write about the other amazing game of the '29 series, I need to explain a little more about game 1. Some commenters have postulated that starting Ehmke in game 1 was a mistake which happened to work out. I have 4 reasons to believe it was not a mistake. I must warn in advance that this post is full of premises and theories.

First of all, what was the world like in 1929? Well it was a world with no TV and just the beginnings of radio. No internet, no Sportscenter, no Baseball Tonight. This is a world where getting the truth out of what happened at a game across the country was tough. Also the NL and AL did not have interleague play, I could imagine the teams barely know the players in the other league.

Reason #1 that starting Ehmke was the right move: Ehmke and Mack hatched a plan

I reported what I read in the last post, that Ehmke said he had one more good game in that arm. But the more I think about the conversation between Connie Mack and Howard Ehmke, the more I think they hatched a plan. I think what really happened is Mack said, "Alright you go scout the Cubs and come back and tell me how to beat them." Ehmke scouted the Cubs, saw what I read about that team which is they were aggressive hitters. He might have gone to the trouble of counting how often they swung at first pitches. He might have noticed tendencies like certain batter chased the outside pitch, certain batters always took pitches in certain locations. When you stop and think about it, give a 35 year old veteran major league pitcher 2 weeks to watch an opposing team play and I think that pitcher can work out a plan for attacking those batters. Probably a better plan than he would have if he didn't have any information or relied on scouts. The other thing Ehmke had going for him was he knew his strengths: an unusual motion, control and off speed stuff. He knew how his stuff would work best against the team he was scouting. I remember reading a quote from Chad Bradford (from Moneyball?). He said, "Deception is all I got." All he could do is keep the batter off balance by changing speeds and putting the ball in unexpected locations. But I have written before on this site, if you can change speeds and locate, you can pitch in the majors and it doesn't really matter if your fastball is not fast. In this game Ehmke struck out 13.  The FOX clowns will trot out that 13 strikeout game every couple of years in a WS broadcast. Another factoid I got from the play-by-play on, if it can be believed, is that of those 13 strikeouts, only 1 was looking. Those Cubs were flailing away at Ehmke's stuff that day. It's not like he threw meatballs and they all happened to be liners into the A's gloves.

My premise is Ehmke was told to go scout then report back, and it was in the 2nd meeting where he told Mack how he could exploit the weaknesses of each Cubs hitter that Mack decided to give him the ball in game 1. Just a hunch.

Reason #2 that starting Ehmke was the right move: Deception.

Reportedly not even the A's players knew Ehmke was starting game 1. No one at all seemed to know except Ehmke and Mack.  I wonder what the papers reported for the probable starters in game 1? Did they even have "probable starters" back then? So if the starter was a surprise to the Cubs, maybe his knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses was also a surprise. reports that Ehmke watched the Cubs from the stands anonymously. I am fascinated by deception in sports. I don't think deception plays much of a role in my line of work or in most people's but it's definitely part of baseball, most games I think. I love to hear the story of the time Lance Armstrong pretended he was on the ropes in a mountain stage in the Tour de France. The pitcher is always trying to fool the batter. The play-action fake handoff is a staple of football. I think the A's outsmarted the Cubs in both who the starter was and how the A's pitcher outsmarted them during at bats.  Some games are won with brute force and superior skills, some are won when one team or player plays smarter.  I love to hear about games won by outsmarting the oposition.  I think this game was one of those. And I give the credit to Connie Mack.

Reason #3 that starting Ehmke was the right move: Lefty Grove was hurt

There are a bunch of colorful stories about how hard Lefty Grove threw. I don't know if they are worth repeating but it is clear he threw HARD. Maybe one of the hardest throwers in history. In his first season, 1924, he led the league in strikeouts and walks. Then he learned how to pitch.  Hall of Fame numbers, wait not just HoF numbers, Koufax type numbers, Sherman's March to the Sea numbers.  He is the case study for the sabermetric premise, "show me a young pitcher with high strikeouts and walks and I'll show you a guy who will dominate later in his career."

This reason also might involve deception. Lefty Grove was 20-6 with a 2.81 ERA and led the league in K's in 1929, but he limped to the finish line. He had injuries to his fingers. I can't find the reference right now, but I don't think it mentioned blisters.  Certainly I can imagine a violent motion and him hurting his fingers. He could pitch, but just a couple innings at a time before his fingers really started to bleed. So in the '29 WS Connie Mack used Lefty Grove in relief.  Again I see signs of brilliance from the manager.

Reason #4 Connie Mack was playing the percentages

Another decent starter from the 29 A's was lefty Rube Walberg, he didnt' start in the '29 series either. According to this site:

Connie Mack was wary of starting his lefties against the fearsome Cubs righties: Kiki Culyer, Hack Wilson and Rogers Hornsby. So he played the odds with his side arming righty. I didn't know that the righty-righty matchup as a plan was already known in 1929. The other thing I think about this whole story is that Connie Mack was an original thinker, like Charlie Finley and Billy Beane. These guys think conventional wisdom might be all wrong. I have always believed the Athletics team is different and looking at the past I believe it has always been true. And I love them for it. Go A's.

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