“FENWAY'S BEST PLAYERS”
Howard Jonathan Ehmke was born on April 24, 1894, in the small town of Silver Creek, located on the banks of Lake Erie, about 35 miles southwest of Buffalo, New York.
Howard, a tall and lanky youth, pitched for Silver Creek High School and also hurled for a local town team, the Horseshoes. An affluent family, the Ehmkes sent their children in the summer to Camp Tecumseh in Moultonborough, New Hampshire, where Howard pitched for the camp team and competed against other local nines. It was widely expected that Howard would follow his brothers’ footsteps and enroll at Brown University, but when his brother Charley moved to Los Angeles, Howard followed him in 1913. He attended Glendale High School for one year.
The Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League signed Howard. Playing against mature competition, the 20-year-old won his first eight decisions and immediately attracted the attention of big-league scouts. By June major-league teams were scrambling to sign the player who was routinely compared to Walter Johnson.
Howard, who finished the campaign with a 12-11 record and 2.79 ERA, was also courted by several teams in the Federal League. In August, he was sold to the Washington Senators for an estimated $7,500, but the youngster was in no rush to sign a contract that didn’t give him a portion of his sale price.
In 1916 he signed with the Syracuse Stars of the Class B New York State League. En route to winning a league-high 31 games and a 1.55 ERA, while leading the club to the league title, he once again attracted national attention when confusion arose about the legal owner of the player’s rights.
He “jumped” to the “outlaw” Federal League by signing with the Buffalo Blues. Plagued by elbow miseries, his season with the Blues was a bust. When the Federal League disbanded after the season, his future was unclear.
In July the Detroit Tigers purchased Howard from Syracuse. The Tigers, in a heated pennant race with the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago White Sox, promoted him in early September. He made his first start in September and tossed a complete-game seven-hitter to defeat the Cleveland Indians. While Detroit won only four of its final 11 games to finish in third place, Howard took personal satisfaction by tossing his fourth straight complete game to defeat the Senators and Walter Johnson, and finish the season with a 3-1 record.
He began his first full season in the major leagues by losing his first three decisions, and came down with a sore arm.
In the wake of the US’s entry into World War I, Howard enlisted in the Navy and missed the entire 1918 season. He was stationed at the Submarine Base in San Pedro, California, where he pitched for the camp team and rose to the rank of Musician 2nd class.
Discharged from the Navy in March 1919, Howard tossed a complete game to defeat Cleveland on Opening Day. Despite missing almost three weeks in August with a “lame arm,” hee finished with a 17-10 record, completed 20 of 31 starts and posted a 3.18 ERA.
Howard got off to a miserable start in 1920, losing his first five starts. He turned his season around by winning nine of his next 10 starts and posting a 1.79 ERA from July to August.
The 1921 season got under way in Detroit with great anticipation with the hiring of living legend Ty Cobb as player-manager. However, the next two years were anything by pleasant for Howard as his relationship with his feisty skipper grew increasingly acrimonious.
While the Tigers’ seventh-place finish in Cobb’s first year as skipper tempered expectations for 1922, the media reported on trade rumors involving Howard and his falling-out with the Georgia Peach. The mild-mannered pitcher abhorred Cobb’s unsportsmanlike play. Whereas Cobb was uncouth, ornery, racist, and a nasty drunk, Howard was described as a fellow of gentle soul, soft spoken, diffident, shy. In his personal habit he never tasted liquor or tobacco.
He split his 34 decisions in 1922, and once again posted a high ERA of 4.22. In October, he was shipped to the Boston Red Sox
Howard arrived on a Red Sox club that had finished in last place in 1922. While the Sox repeated their cellar-dwelling finish in 1923, Howard was described as an inspiration to his teammates and became a fan favorite at Fenway Park.
For a terrible team that won just 61 games in 1923, Howard corralled 20 of them, lost 17, and posted a sturdy 3.78 ERA. While winning 20 games for last-place Red Sox, he tossed a no-hitter and came within an official scorer’s controversial call on what appeared to be a muffed ball of his second straight no-hitter four days later.
The 30-year-old hurler might have enjoyed his best season in 1924 for the lackluster, seventh-place Red Sox despite tying for the AL lead with 17 losses. He won 19 games, led the league with 315 innings pitched, finished second in complete games (26), starts (36), and strikeouts (119), and cracked the top 10 in ERA (3.46) for the only time in his career. Howard tossed a career-high four shutouts and twice won 11-inning complete games.
In spring training in 1925 he was diagnosed with a “twisted ligament” and was sent to a hospital in Rochester, New York, where he contacted influenza. His 9-20 record was misleading. He led the AL with 22 complete games in 31 starts, and his 3.73 ERA in 260.2 innings ranked 12th in the circuit.
Howard, despite being the only consistent contributor, had endured constant trade rumors for the cash-strapped club since his acquisition in 1922. He had pitched erratically for Boston in 1926, winning just three of 13 decisions with a miserable ERA (5.46).
In June he was traded to the Philadelphia Athletics and finished with a combined 15-14 record, completed 17 of 32 starts.
The year 1927 started out bad for Howard and got worse. In January he was among a group of players who testified in Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis’s investigation into charges that Chicago White Sox players had paid Detroit Tigers pitchers to “slough” off in an early September 1917 series.
During spring training he was slowed by tonsillitis and then hampered by chronic arm pain and finished with a 12-10 record and 4.22 ERA
In 1929, while the A’s cruised to the pennant with a 104-46 record, Howard was relegated to a spot starter, logging just 5.2 innings. His returned to the A’s in 1930, but made only three ineffective appearances before announcing his retirement in May.
After retiring from baseball with 166 wins and 166 losses, in 1930, Howard founded a company that produced the first tarpaulins that could be spread over baseball infields.
On March 17, 1959, Howard Ehmke died at Germantown Hospital Philadelphia at the age of 64. According to his death certificate, the cause was acute meningitis.