The Fabulous Five

In a previous post (“The Triumvirate,” June 25, 2016) I wrote about my choices for the three greatest ballplayers in history. Now, I turn to pitchers—-the greatest five-man fantasy rotation of all time.  Some may argue with the choices. For example, younger fans may take issue with the picks, which start in the dead-ball era and end in the 1980s. But legendary status takes time to develop: it must age like good whiskey. So, for this old baseball guy, anyone touting Clayton Kershaw or Chris Sale is premature. Their turn will come in time.

First, I wanted three right handers and two lefties; therefore, batters would have to face a rotation of R-L-R-L-R.  I then looked for hurlers with top winning percentages.  Lifetime wins are impressive, to be sure, but if a pitcher had a shorter, but brilliant career, I took him over Cy Young, for example, who won 511 games but pitched ten years in the 19thcentury.  By the way, no pitcher tainted by steroid use made my list (Roger Clemens).

I found eight lists of top ten (or more) pitchers.  I then looked for those with excellent winning percentages and outstanding earned run averages.  Finally, to determine a rough consensus, I looked for five pitchers who made at least four of the eight lists.  Here is my five-man rotation:

WALTER JOHNSON (1907-27).  “The Big Train” is the greatest pitcher ever.  Winner of 417 games, he posted a winning percentage of .599 and an ERA of 2.17.  And dig this: He threw 110 shutouts!  That’s a record that won’t be broken unless pitchers again go nine innings.  He ranks 5th or higher on six of the eight lists, topping two of them.  Incidentally, Johnson was not listed on one of the lists.  That it had Bert Blyleven 5th, Gaylord Perry 6th, and Curt Schilling 14th, explains The Train’s omission.

LEFTY GROVE(1925-41).  I think Grove is the most underrated pitcher ever; this is emphasized here by his making only four of the eight lists.  Grove won 300 games while losing only 141.  That’s a winning percentage of .680!  His ERA of 3.06 was posted in the slugging 1920s and ‘30s.  Of all the pitchers on the lists, his 162-game won-lost record of 19-9 is the best.

TOM SEAVER (1967-86).  Known as “Tom Terrific,” Seaver won 311 games, posting a .603 winning percentage and an ERA of 2.86.  He got on five lists, topping one of them.

SANDY KOUFAX (1955-66).  From 1961 through 1966 Koufax won five ERA titles, and finished his career with a 2.76 and a .655 winning percentage.  He topped one list, making four.

BOB GIBSON (1959-75).  He made five of the eight lists and ranked second on one, behind Seaver.  Gibson won just a shade under 60 percent of his games, compiling an ERA of 2.91, including an awesome 1.12 in 1968.

Now, I would have no argument against two of three lefties—Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton or Warren Spahn—replacing Koufax and Grove.  This is a subjective enterprise.  As for righties, if you prefer Christy Mathewson, Grover Cleveland Alexander or Greg Maddux, that’s fine. One right-hander I would argue against, however, is Nolan Ryan, who won 324 games, but lost 292, a .526 winning percentage.  His 162-game average was 14-13.  His seven no-hitters can’t compensate for that.

In an earlier post (“The Triumvirate,” June 25, 2016) I presented my choices for the greatest three ballplayers in history.  Now I present the pitchers—in the form of the greatest five-man rotation.  You may argue with it, and no doubt will.  Younger fans may take issue because my picks begin in the dead-ball era and end in the 1980s.  But I think greatness—legendary status—takes time to develop; it must age, like good whiskey.  So anyone touting the likes of Clayton Kershaw or Chris Sale is premature.

Here are my criteria:  First, I wanted three righties and two lefties, so that batters would have to face a rotation of R-L-R-L-R.  I then looked for hurlers with a high winning percentage.  Lifetime wins are impressive, to be sure, but if a pitcher had a shorter, but brilliant career, I took him over Cy Young, for example, who won 511 games but pitched ten years in the 19thcentury.  By the way, no pitcher tainted by steroid use made my list (Roger Clemens).

I found eight lists of top ten (or more) pitchers.  I then looked for those with excellent winning percentages and outstanding earned run averages.  Finally, to determine a rough consensus, I looked for five pitchers who made at least four of the eight lists.  Here is my five-man rotation:

WALTER JOHNSON (1907-27).  “The Big Train” is the greatest pitcher ever.  Winner of 417 games, he posted a winning percentage of .599 and an ERA of 2.17.  And dig this: He threw 110 shutouts!  That’s a record that won’t be broken unless pitchers again go nine innings.  He ranks 5th or higher on six of the eight lists, topping two of them.  Incidentally, Johnson was not listed on one of the lists.  That it had Bert Blyleven 5th, Gaylord Perry 6th, and Curt Schilling 14th, explains The Train’s omission.

LEFTY GROVE(1925-41).  I think Grove is the most underrated pitcher ever; this is emphasized here by his making only four of the eight lists.  Grove won 300 games while losing only 141.  That’s a winning percentage of .680!  His ERA of 3.06 was posted in the slugging 1920s and ‘30s.  Of all the pitchers on the lists, his 162-game won-lost record of 19-9 is the best.

TOM SEAVER (1967-86).  Known as “Tom Terrific,” Seaver won 311 games, posting a .603 winning percentage and an ERA of 2.86.  He got on five lists, topping one of them.

SANDY KOUFAX (1955-66).  From 1961 through 1966 Koufax won five ERA titles, and finished his career with a 2.76 and a .655 winning percentage.  He topped one list, making four.

BOB GIBSON (1959-75).  He made five of the eight lists and ranked second on one, behind Seaver.  Gibson won just a shade under 60 percent of his games, compiling an ERA of 2.91, including an awesome 1.12 in 1968.

Now, I would have no argument against two of three lefties—Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton or Warren Spahn—replacing Koufax and Grove.  This is a subjective enterprise.  As for righties, if you prefer Christy Mathewson, Grover Cleveland Alexander or Greg Maddux, that’s fine. One right-hander I would argue against, however, is Nolan Ryan, who won 324 games, but lost 292, a .526 winning percentage.  His 162-game average was 14-13.  His seven no-hitters can’t compensate for that.

In an earlier post (“The Triumvirate,” June 25, 2016) I presented my choices for the greatest three ballplayers in history.  Now I present the pitchers—in the form of the greatest five-man rotation.  You may argue with it, and no doubt will.  Younger fans may take issue because my picks begin in the dead-ball era and end in the 1980s.  But I think greatness—legendary status—takes time to develop; it must age, like good whiskey.  So anyone touting the likes of Clayton Kershaw or Chris Sale is premature.

Here are my criteria:  First, I wanted three righties and two lefties, so that batters would have to face a rotation of R-L-R-L-R.  I then looked for hurlers with a high winning percentage.  Lifetime wins are impressive, to be sure, but if a pitcher had a shorter, but brilliant career, I took him over Cy Young, for example, who won 511 games but pitched ten years in the 19thcentury.  By the way, no pitcher tainted by steroid use made my list (Roger Clemens).

I found eight lists of top ten (or more) pitchers.  I then looked for those with excellent winning percentages and outstanding earned run averages.  Finally, to determine a rough consensus, I looked for five pitchers who made at least four of the eight lists.  Here is my five-man rotation:

WALTER JOHNSON (1907-27).  “The Big Train” is the greatest pitcher ever.  Winner of 417 games, he posted a winning percentage of .599 and an ERA of 2.17.  And dig this: He threw 110 shutouts!  That’s a record that won’t be broken unless pitchers again go nine innings.  He ranks 5th or higher on six of the eight lists, topping two of them.  Incidentally, Johnson was not listed on one of the lists.  That it had Bert Blyleven 5th, Gaylord Perry 6th, and Curt Schilling 14th, explains The Train’s omission.

LEFTY GROVE(1925-41).  I think Grove is the most underrated pitcher ever; this is emphasized here by his making only four of the eight lists.  Grove won 300 games while losing only 141.  That’s a winning percentage of .680!  His ERA of 3.06 was posted in the slugging 1920s and ‘30s.  Of all the pitchers on the lists, his 162-game won-lost record of 19-9 is the best.

TOM SEAVER (1967-86).  Known as “Tom Terrific,” Seaver won 311 games, posting a .603 winning percentage and an ERA of 2.86.  He got on five lists, topping one of them.

SANDY KOUFAX (1955-66).  From 1961 through 1966 Koufax won five ERA titles, and finished his career with a 2.76 and a .655 winning percentage.  He topped one list, making four.

BOB GIBSON (1959-75).  He made five of the eight lists and ranked second on one, behind Seaver.  Gibson won just a shade under 60 percent of his games, compiling an ERA of 2.91, including an awesome 1.12 in 1968.

Now, I would have no argument against two of three lefties—Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton or Warren Spahn—replacing Koufax and Grove.  This is a subjective enterprise.  As for righties, if you prefer Christy Mathewson, Grover Cleveland Alexander or Greg Maddux, that’s fine. One right-hander I would argue against, however, is Nolan Ryan, who won 324 games, but lost 292, a .526 winning percentage.  His 162-game average was 14-13.  His seven no-hitters can’t compensate for that.

In an earlier post (“The Triumvirate,” June 25, 2016) I presented my choices for the greatest three ballplayers in history.  Now I present the pitchers—in the form of the greatest five-man rotation.  You may argue with it, and no doubt will.  Younger fans may take issue because my picks begin in the dead-ball era and end in the 1980s.  But I think greatness—legendary status—takes time to develop; it must age, like good whiskey.  So anyone touting the likes of Clayton Kershaw or Chris Sale is premature.

Here are my criteria:  First, I wanted three righties and two lefties, so that batters would have to face a rotation of R-L-R-L-R.  I then looked for hurlers with a high winning percentage.  Lifetime wins are impressive, to be sure, but if a pitcher had a shorter, but brilliant career, I took him over Cy Young, for example, who won 511 games but pitched ten years in the 19thcentury.  By the way, no pitcher tainted by steroid use made my list (Roger Clemens).

I found eight lists of top ten (or more) pitchers.  I then looked for those with excellent winning percentages and outstanding earned run averages.  Finally, to determine a rough consensus, I looked for five pitchers who made at least four of the eight lists.  Here is my five-man rotation:

WALTER JOHNSON (1907-27).  “The Big Train” is the greatest pitcher ever.  Winner of 417 games, he posted a winning percentage of .599 and an ERA of 2.17.  And dig this: He threw 110 shutouts!  That’s a record that won’t be broken unless pitchers again go nine innings.  He ranks 5th or higher on six of the eight lists, topping two of them.  Incidentally, Johnson was not listed on one of the lists.  That it had Bert Blyleven 5th, Gaylord Perry 6th, and Curt Schilling 14th, explains The Train’s omission.

LEFTY GROVE(1925-41).  I think Grove is the most underrated pitcher ever; this is emphasized here by his making only four of the eight lists.  Grove won 300 games while losing only 141.  That’s a winning percentage of .680!  His ERA of 3.06 was posted in the slugging 1920s and ‘30s.  Of all the pitchers on the lists, his 162-game won-lost record of 19-9 is the best.

TOM SEAVER (1967-86).  Known as “Tom Terrific,” Seaver won 311 games, posting a .603 winning percentage and an ERA of 2.86.  He got on five lists, topping one of them.

SANDY KOUFAX (1955-66).  From 1961 through 1966 Koufax won five ERA titles, and finished his career with a 2.76 and a .655 winning percentage.  He topped one list, making four.

BOB GIBSON (1959-75).  He made five of the eight lists and ranked second on one, behind Seaver.  Gibson won just a shade under 60 percent of his games, compiling an ERA of 2.91, including an awesome 1.12 in 1968.

Now, I would have no argument against two of three lefties—Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton or Warren Spahn—replacing Koufax and Grove.  This is a subjective enterprise.  As for righties, if you prefer Christy Mathewson, Grover Cleveland Alexander or Greg Maddux, that’s fine. One right-hander I would argue against, however, is Nolan Ryan, who won 324 games, but lost 292, a .526 winning percentage.  His 162-game average was 14-13.  His seven no-hitters can’t compensate for that.

 

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Trumpenstein

In 1952 the United States loaned two billion dollars to France, mired in a war against the Vietnamese, who sought their independence.  Despite the loan, the French eventually lost.  But the loan meant more than money; it was the first step taken on a long road of American involvement in Vietnam.  It ended in a war that killed 58,000 American soldiers and possibly a million Vietnamese.  The United States lost.

The Vietnam War destroyed the presidency of Lyndon Johnson, divided the country, and brought Richard Nixon into the White House in 1968.  The war launched a half-century of Republican pandering to the lowest common denominator.  Nixon exploited the division between working class “hard-hats” and anti-war protester (aided no doubt by a few infantile, leftist radicals enchanted by the fantasy of revolution).  Nixon strategists rolled out the “Southern Strategy”—the wooing of racist Dixiecrats from the Democratic Party into the Republican fold.

In the 1980s the baton of pander was handed to Ronald Reagan, who delivered a cynical “States Rights” speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers were brutally murdered in the 1960s.  Before long, the South went solidly Republican.  As the political pendulum swung further right in the 1990s, the center became right and the right became radical; “conservative” blowhards, formerly confined to bellowing from the backwaters, now spewed from the mainstream; liberals were demonized as traitors by the likes of Ann Coulter.  (For the sake of brevity, I’ve skipped both the Carter and the Clinton Administrations.)

The stage was now set for two of the worst presidential administrations in American history (sandwiched around one of the best).  As the 21st century dawned, mediocrity, personified by George W. Bush, was inserted into the White House by a conservative Supreme Court.  Bush, a precursor of things to come, ignored warnings of a possible attack by Al Qaida.  He then invaded Iraq on false pretences, Iraq having nothing to do with 9/11.  The invasion destabilized the Middle East, sparked the rise of ISIS, and led to a westward wave of desperate refugees This says nothing of the meltdown in the U.S. economy.

The Bush Administration failures led to the election of Barack Obama, who righted the ship and brought eight years of relative calm and progress.  But his tenure did not stop Republican mischief; on the contrary, it increased.  On the very night of Obama’s election, Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor, convened a hasty meeting, where they swore to block every initiative of the new president, no matter their worth.

The Affordable Care Act symbolizes eight years of GOP intransigence.  It’s worth taking a little space to address it.  A conservative plan, first put forth by the Heritage Foundation in 1989, became the target of relentless attack; over 60 votes were taken in the House to repeal it.  Even now, with a Republican president, the GOP pulled its own health plan from the House for lack of votes.  Nonetheless, they could still destroy the Affordable Care Act by voting to repeal the mandatory provision which conservatives loathe.  Regarding that, here’s a quote from the Heritage Plan: “There is an implicit contract between households and society based on the notion that health insurance is not like other forms of insurance protection.  A mandate on individuals recognizes that contract.” And check this one:  “Direct and indirect government assistance should be concentrated on those who need it most.” Sounds like socialism!  Had a conservative president put forth a health-care plan identical to “Obamacare,” Republicans would have hailed its genius.

Almost a hundred years ago, H. L. Mencken said, “Sooner or later the American people will elect as President a narcissistic moron.”  Mencken got part of it right.  Trump got a lot of votes from fellow morons and a few from fools, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that his “election” was manipulated by Vladimir Putin and a handful of anti-democratic billionaires.  (See “Trump’s Money Man” in the New Yorker of March 27, 2017.)

It’s amusing to watch Republicans wrestle with the problem of Donald Trump.  One could almost feel sorry for them.  But Trump, his cabinet, and the people who advise him are dangerous—a threat to democracy.

So shed no tears for the Grand Old Party.  Donald Trump is the culmination of 50 years of Republican pandering.  They created him, and they must deal with him.

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Rule 5 and Other Baseball Terms

Recently I stopped for a red light on a busy street in Portland.  In front of me an SUV sported a vanity license plate:  RULE 5.  Now there’s a ball fan, I thought, who knows the game and isn’t averse to showing it with pride, if not a dash of conceit.  I followed him a few blocks hoping to catch him and ask him about it, but I lost him at the next light.

 

But it gave me an idea for a post.  A lot of fans may be familiar with certain baseball terms, but aren’t sure of their meaning.  So here’s a small list of partial definitions garnered from the Dickson Baseball Dictionary (and door stop; the tome is hefty, nearly a thousand pages).

 

Rule 5 draft:  A draft of unprotected minor-league players, in which major-league clubs select in reverse order of their winning percentages at the close of the preceding championship season, with teams from each league choosing alternately.  A player not on a major-league 40-man roster is eligible to be drafted.  [Certain conditions apply, but for brevity’s sake, I’ll keep this short.  See the dictionary for complete definitions; I highly recommend the Dickson; it’s chock full of interesting facts and etymology.]

 

Incaviglia Rule:  A rule that a player selected in the first-year player draft cannot be traded within a year of being drafted.  The rule was adopted after Pete Incaviglia was drafted by the Montreal Expos in 1985 and refused to sign, forcing the team to trade him.  [Inky was not a great player, but got a rule named after him.]

 

wand:  A baseball bat.  1ST USE.  1872.  “Trumbull took up the ashen wand” (George G. Small, A Presidential Base-Ball Match, p. 23).

 

WHIP:  Abbrev. For walks plus hits per innings pitched.

 

wins above replacement (WAR):  The number of wins a player is responsible for beyond the replacement level at the player’s position.  The measure was devised by Clay Davenport.

 

can of corn:  an easily caught fly ball; a high, lazy fly ball that allows a defensive player time to stand under the ball and catch it easily.  [The etymology of this term was thought for years “to come from the old time grocery store where the grocer used a pole . . . to tip an item, such as a can of corn, off a high shelf and let it tumble into his hands . . . .”  Other theories have emerged, but the grocer catch seems to hang on as the best.

Well, that’s enough for now.  I may throw in a few more the next time I’m too lazy to come up with a proper post.  Cheers! Pitchers and catchers are reporting!

 

 

 

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2017 Hall of Fame Vote

I would vote for only two players on the 2017 ballot:  Mike Mussina and Vladimir Guerrero, a first timer on the ballot this year.  They’re similar players:  Neither logged an absolutely off-the-chart season, but both had long careers of sustained excellence.  Guerrero never led the league in batting, RBI, or home runs, but hit .318 and averaged 34 homers and 113 RBI per season for 16 years.  For Mussina’s record, see my posts of September 18, 2013 (The Cooperstown Case for Mike Mussina) and January 10, 2016 (Mussina v. Schilling).

To avoid ambiguity, I don’t advocate any player tainted by PED use or rumored as such.  That’s why I don’t include Manny Ramirez and Ivan Rodriguez, first timers this year.

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11-8-16: The Election of Illusions

No one understands the human heart at all who does not recognize how vast is its capacity for illusions, even when these are contrary to its interests, or how often it loves the very thing that is obviously harmful to it.

-Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837)

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Sid and Murray Talk Baseball

Sid and Murray used to meet in a park and play catch while talking baseball.  Not long toss, mind you. They were both pushing 80, so they stood about 50 feet apart and lobbed the ball in that slow, nonchalant manner of professional ballplayers.  “Shoulder high, Muhray,” Sid would shout.”  C’mon, you can’t hold a proper conversation when the throw comes in at the knees.”  “Yeah, yeah, I know, shoulder high, glove side,” Murray would respond as he caught Sid’s return toss.

They argued a lot, in a congenial way.  Murray liked Mays over Mantle.  “Mantle was the greatest, Sid, you gotta admit it.  He was faster than Mays until he screwed up his knee on that goddamn irrigation gizmo.”

“Bull crap” said Sid.  “Mantle mighta been faster, but Mays was more agile.  Mantle would never have snared Wertz’s drive, even before the gizmo got his knee.”

“Maybe so, but remember, Mantle was a switch-hitter, the greatest ever.  We can agree on one thing, I bet—Snider was not in their class.”

“Jesus, Muhray, that’s a little harsh.  But you’re right.  The Duke played in Ebbets Field.  What a friggin bandbox.”

And so on they would banter while tossing lazy lobs under the sun in the park.  One day, Murray said, “You know, I had a dream about us last night.”

“Oy, now I gotta listen to your dreams all of a sudden?  Have you turned into a woman?”  Sid threw the ball back to him, shoulder high.

“C’mon, Sid, men dream, for chrissake.”

“Sure, but they keep it to themselves.”

Ignoring Sid, Murray continues.  “It was a baseball dream.  I dreamed that we made an agreement.  Whoever dies first, he comes back and lets the other know if there’s baseball in Heaven.  Well, I died first in the dream.  So I show up here in the park and sit next to you on that bench over there.  You say, “Well, is there baseball in Heaven?”  I say, “I’ve got good news and bad news.  The good news is there is baseball in Heaven; the bad news is you’re pitching tomorrow.”

“Jesus, Muhray, that gag’s got whiskers it’s so old.  Still, I love it.”

Sad to say, neither Murray nor Sid made it to the pearly gates.  They ended up in hell.  It turns out both had violated several religious laws, including consorting with ladies of the night in their youth and repeatedly taking the lord’s name in vain.  Oh well, they thought, Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company, as Ambrose Bierce once put it.

But of course, company notwithstanding, it was quite hot down below.  One day as they were out for a grueling walk, Sid complained about the heat for the umpteenth time.  “Goddamn, it’s hot, my feet are killing me.”

“Stop whining, Sid, for chrissake.  You’re wearing a friggin’ t-shirt.  I gotta wear this wool sweater.  ‘Don’t forget to wear a sweater Murray,’ Rose says when I left the house that day.  Oy.”

Suddenly, the temperature in hell plummets to 20 degrees below zero.  Sid and Murray stop in their tracks, turn to each other and shout in unison, “Holy Cow, the Cubs just won the World Series!”

Sid and Murray used to meet in a park and play catch while talking baseball.  Not long toss, mind you. They were both pushing 80, so they stood about 50 feet apart and lobbed the ball in that slow, nonchalant manner of professional ballplayers.  “Shoulder high, Muhray,” Sid would shout.”  C’mon, you can’t hold a proper conversation when the throw comes in at the knees.”  “Yeah, yeah, I know, shoulder high, glove side,” Murray would respond as he caught Sid’s return toss.

They argued a lot, in a congenial way.  Murray liked Mays over Mantle.  “Mantle was the greatest, Sid, you gotta admit it.  He was faster than Mays until he screwed up his knee on that goddamn irrigation gizmo.”

“Bull crap” said Sid.  “Mantle mighta been faster, but Mays was more agile.  Mantle would never have snared Wertz’s drive, even before the gizmo got his knee.”

“Maybe so, but remember, Mantle was a switch-hitter, the greatest ever.  We can agree on one thing, I bet—Snider was not in their class.”

“Jesus, Muhray, that’s a little harsh.  But you’re right.  The Duke played in Ebbets Field.  What a friggin bandbox.”

And so on they would banter while tossing lazy lobs under the sun in the park.  One day, Murray said, “You know, I had a dream about us last night.”

“Oy, now I gotta listen to your dreams all of a sudden?  Have you turned into a woman?”  Sid threw the ball back to him, shoulder high.

“C’mon, Sid, men dream, for chrissake.”

“Sure, but they keep it to themselves.”

Ignoring Sid, Murray continues.  “It was a baseball dream.  I dreamed that we made an agreement.  Whoever dies first, he comes back and lets the other know if there’s baseball in Heaven.  Well, I died first in the dream.  So I show up here in the park and sit next to you on that bench over there.  You say, “Well, is there baseball in Heaven?”  I say, “I’ve got good news and bad news.  The good news is there is baseball in Heaven; the bad news is you’re pitching tomorrow.”

“Jesus, Muhray, that gag’s got whiskers it’s so old.  Still, I love it.”

Sad to say, neither Murray nor Sid made it to the pearly gates.  They ended up in hell.  It turns out both had violated several religious laws, including consorting with ladies of the night in their youth and repeatedly taking the lord’s name in vain.  Oh well, they thought, Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company, as Ambrose Bierce once put it.

But of course, company notwithstanding, it was quite hot down below.  One day as they were out for a grueling walk, Sid complained about the heat for the umpteenth time.  “Goddamn, it’s hot, my feet are killing me.”

“Stop whining, Sid, for chrissake.  You’re wearing a friggin’ t-shirt.  I gotta wear this wool sweater.  ‘Don’t forget to wear a sweater Murray,’ Rose says when I left the house that day.  Oy.”

Suddenly, the temperature in hell plummets to 20 degrees below zero.  Sid and Murray stop in their tracks, turn to each other and shout in unison, “Holy Cow, the Cubs just won the World Series!”

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October Surprise

In early September, 1929, Connie Mack, manager of the Philadelphia Athletics, had a problem.  His team had pretty much clinched the American League pennant, but his likely opponent in the World Series, the Chicago Cubs, featured a lineup of hard hitting right-handed batters, including three future Hall of Famers (Rogers Hornsby, Hack Wilson, and Kiki Cuyler).  Mack’s problem?  Two of his three best starters were left-handed (Lefty Grove and Rube Walberg).  The third was a righty (George Earnshaw), but Mack wanted to pitch him later.

Looking over the schedule for mid-September, Mack noticed that the Cubs would be in Philadelphia playing the Phillies at the same time the A’s were hosting the White Sox.  An idea popped into his mind:  In the first game of the World Series he would start Howard Ehmke, a journeyman in the twilight of his career.  Ehmke, was a right-hander with a tricky sidearm delivery that just might bamboozle the Cubs.  Mack took him aside and laid out his plan:  He would provide Ehmke with tickets for the Cubs series—good seats with a view of the Cubs’ batters.  Ehmke, unnoticed in the stands, would study them and take notes.  By the time the series was over, he would see approximately 12 at bats from each hitter.

Howard Ehmke was not a great pitcher, but he was a smart guy.  He was expected to enroll at Brown University after high school, but instead chose a career in baseball.  After several years with the Tigers and Red Sox, during which he did pitch a no-hitter and won 20 games one year, he came to the A’s in 1926.  Now, three years later at the age of 35, he was a spot starter who pitched only 54 innings with the Athletics.

When Connie Mack announced Howard Ehmke as his starting pitcher in Game One of the 1929 World Series, it shocked the baseball world.  Sportswriters and fans could not believe that Mack bypassed the likes of Grove (20-6), Walberg (18-11), and Earnshaw (24-8), for Ehmke.

On October 8, 1929, in front of 50,000 fan crammed into Wrigley Field in Chicago, Ehmke beat the Cubs, 3-1.  He pitched a complete game, striking out 13 batters (a World Series record at the time), including two strikeouts each against those three future Hall of Famers, Rogers Hornsby, Hack Wilson, and Kiki Cuyler.  The A’s went on to take the Series 4-1.

Ehmke retired the following season.  He started his own business in Philadelphia—manufacturing tarpaulins.  He’s credited with developing the first canvas tarps that covered baseball infields.  Howard Ehmke died on March 17, 1959.  He was 65.

Note:  Information for this post is from an article by Gregory H. Wolf in Baseball-Reference.com and the SABRE Bio Project.

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