Are you ready for this? Good. How many of these guys do you recognize: Joe Harris, George Burns (nope not the comedian), Ira Flagstead, and Howard Ehmke? The names may strike a chord with a few of you, sound familiar and I dare say a couple of you may even know why. They are the stars of the 1923 Red Sox.
George Burns was the first baseman, he hit .328 and led the team in RBI with 82.
Ira Flagstead played right field and hit .312 with eight homers and 53 RBI.
However, the real star of the team was this man,
He is Howard Ehmke and he was the ace of the pitching staff and he did something in 1923 that had never been done before and is still an American League record.
First it must be understood that the 1923 version of Fenway Park’s Boston Red Sox were in a word, abysmal! They were 61-91 and they finished in dead last place, 37 games behind the Yankees. They entered last place on June 18th with a 6-2 loss against the Browns in St. Louis and they kept a stranglehold on the cellar for the remainder of the season. They hit 34 home runs as a team, their defense had a league worst 5.25 runs allowed and their pitching staff produced a league worst 4.20 ERA.
However, our boy Howard won 20 games! He went 20-17 with a 3.78 ERA accounting for 32% of the teams victories. Two of those wins were very special, very special indeed.
It was Friday September 7th and the Sox were securely entrenched in the cellar 33 1/2 games back. They were in Shibe Park in Philadelphia to take on Connie Mack’s A’s. In the seventh inning, Ehmke was hurling a no-hitter when A’s pitcher Slim Harris (no relation to Joe) stepped in and rifled one to the gap in left centerfield for a double. When the ball returned to the infield, the Red Sox appealed to the umpire that he missed first base. He was ruled out preserving the no-no which Howard completed.
Four days later, Ehmke was on the mound in the brand new Yankee Stadium. New York’s centerfielder Whitey Witt lead off the game and hit a hard ground ball to third baseman Howie Shanks. It bounced off his chest and was ruled a hit by the official scorer Fred Lieb. The only other Yankee to reach base that day, did so on a walk. Lieb refused to relent to the pressure to change the call and Ehmke missed out on throwing back to back no-hitters. However, he still holds the American League record for the least amount of hits surrendered in consecutive games, a total of one!
Howard Johnathan Ehmke pitched four years for the Red Sox, when they were in the midst of what can best be described as their dark ages. He was 51-64 with a 3.83 ERA yet 89 years later he still stands alone, a jewel in the crown of Fenway folklore.
And so it was at this time in Fenway Park history, 1923-26, Howard’s time.