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Lost In History

Aug. 19, 1996
Aug. 19, 1996

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Aug. 19, 1996

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Lost In History

From 1929 to 1931, the Philadelphia A's were the best team in baseball, with four future Hall of Famers and a lineup that dominated Babe Ruth's legendary Yankees. So why hasn't anyone heard of them?

In his box festooned with bunting along the third base line, President Herbert Hoover had just quietly flashed the sign that the fifth game of the 1929 World Series was over. The President had buttoned up his overcoat. At his side, his wife, Lou, had taken the cue and pulled on her brown suede gloves. Around them Secret Service men were arranging a hasty presidential exit from Philadelphia's Shibe Park. Yogi Berra had not yet illuminated the world with his brilliant baseball epiphany—"It ain't over till it's over"—so how on earth were the Hoovers to know?

This is an article from the Aug. 19, 1996 issue Original Layout

It was nearing 3:15 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 14, and the Chicago Cubs were beating the Philadelphia Athletics 2-0 behind the elegant two-hit pitching of starter Pat Malone. For eight innings, bunching a potpourri of off-speed pitches around a snapping fastball, Malone had benumbed one of the most feared batting orders in the history of baseball. At its heart were Al Simmons, who batted .334 and hit 307 home runs over his major league career; Jimmie Foxx, who once hit a home run with such force that it shattered a wooden seat three rows from the top of the upper deck at Yankee Stadium; and Mickey Cochrane, who batted .331 in the '29 regular season and is widely regarded as one of the finest hitting catchers ever to play the game.

Now it was the last of the ninth in a game Chicago had to win to stay alive in the Series. The Cubs were down three games to one, and all they needed to return the Series to Chicago was one more painless inning from Malone. Out at shortstop, scuffing the dirt, a 22-year-old Ohio country boy named Woody English had been watching Malone cut down the A's one by one. Only Simmons and Bing Miller, Philadelphia's rightfielder, had been able to rap out hits, a measly pair of singles.

Of the 50 players who suited up that day for the two teams, only English survives, and the 89-year-old former All-Star remembers savoring the prospect of returning to Wrigley Field for Game 6. "Malone could throw real hard, and he was throwing very well," English recalls. "All we needed was three more outs and we were back in Chicago for the last two games. It looked like we had it salted away."

As things would turn out, only the peanuts were salted. For this was the '29 Series, which had already proved to be one of the wildest, most twisting, most dramatic Fall Classics of all time. By the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 5, 24 Series records had been either broken or tied. The Cubs had struck out 50 times, and their surpassing second baseman, Rogers Hornsby, had fanned eight times.

This was the Series in which A's manager and part owner Connie Mack had stunned everyone in baseball by reaching around his pitching rotation—the strongest of its era, anchored by the sensational southpaw Robert (Lefty) Grove—and handing the ball in the opener to an aging, sore-armed righthander named Howard Ehmke. This was the Series in which Philadelphia, losing 8-0 in the seventh inning of Game 4, had come back swinging in what is still the most prolific inning of scoring in more than 90 years of Series history. Finally, this was the Classic that crowned a regular season in which the A's had won 104 American League games and finished a thumping 18 ahead of the second-place New York Yankees, the vaunted pinstripes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri and Bill Dickey.

The 1927 Yankees, who won 110 games and finished 19 ahead of second-place Philadelphia, are traditionally venerated as the finest team ever assembled. In fact, according to most old-timers who played in that era, the 1927 and '28 Yankees and the 1929 and '30 Athletics matched up so closely that they were nearly equal, with the A's given the nod in fielding and pitching and the Yankees in hitting.

"I pitched against both of them, and you could flip a coin," recalls Willis Hudlin, 90, who won 157 games for the Cleveland Indians between 1926 and 1940. "They both had power and pitching. A game would be decided on who was pitching and what kind of a day he had. You could throw a dart between 'em."

In truth, the chief difference between the two teams had less to do with how they played in any given game than with where they played their home games. Many veteran baseball observers believe that the Yankees' far more exalted status in history is due largely to the fact that they played in New York, in media heaven, where the manufacture of myth and hype is a light industry. Regardless, these observers agree that those old A's were the finest baseball team to play in Philadelphia and the greatest team that almost no one remembers.

"Those A's never got the credit they deserved," says Shirley Povich, 91, the retired sports editor of The Washington Post, who covered both teams. "The A's were victims of the Yankee mystique. Perhaps the 1927 Yankees were the greatest team of all time. But if there was a close second, perhaps an equal, it was those A's. They are the most overlooked team in baseball."

Indeed, from 1929 to '31 the A's were a juggernaut quite as formidable as the Yankees had been between '26 and '28. Both teams won three consecutive pennants and two of three World Series; both teams lost a seven-game Series to the St. Louis Cardinals (the Yanks in '26 and the A's in '31). Statistically the New York and Philadelphia mini-dynasties were remarkably even: The A's had a record of 313-143 (.686) between 1929 and '31; the Yanks, 302-160 (.654) between 1926 and '28. And while Philadelphia scored six fewer runs than the Yankees—2,710 to 2,716—the A's had five fewer runs scored against them: 1,992 to 1,997. That represents a difference between the two teams, in net scoring, of only one run.

The Yankees had the best single year at the plate, hitting .307 and scoring 975 runs in 1927. The Athletics' strongest offensive showings came in '29, when they batted .296, and '30, when they scored 951 runs. On defense the A's were clearly superior; over their three-year reign they committed only 432 errors, 167 fewer than the Yankees made during their period of hegemony.

Old-timers assert that if there was any position where those forgotten '29 A's had the edge over the '27 Yankees, it was behind the plate. The Yankees platooned two mediocre catchers, Pat Collins and Johnny Grabowski. In contrast, the A's started Cochrane, a lifetime .320 hitter who competed with the kind of fiery abandon that would one day characterize Pete Rose. On top of all that, Cochrane played his pitchers like violins.

The finest of them was the sullen, hard-assed Grove—"the greatest lefthanded pitcher I ever saw," says Chief Hogsett, 92, who won 63 games for three American League teams between 1929 and '38. Grove was the premier stopper of his era. "He could shut you out any day," Hudlin says. "The Yankees didn't have any pitcher that overpowering."

The Athletics had no compromising weakness. "They had it all," says Ray Hayworth, 92, who caught for the Detroit Tigers from 1926 to '38. "Great pitching and great hitting and exceptional defense. And they first proved themselves to be a great baseball team in the '29 Series."

In the bottom of the ninth that Oct. 14 at Shibe, Malone quickly fanned Walter French, the pinch hitter who led off for the A's, and English again sensed that Game 5 belonged to the Cubs. He was not alone. Hundreds of people in the crowd of nearly 30,000 began watching the game over their shoulders as they made for the exits. Then, just as surely as Malone had the game in hand, it all began to unravel. The pitcher had two strikes on Max Bishop, the A's second baseman, when Bishop slashed a single past Chicago third baseman Norm McMillan and down the line in left. At once the departing crowds stopped in the aisles and at the exits and turned around. Even President Hoover decided not to forsake his seat.

Next up at the plate was Philadelphia centerfielder George Haas. His sad eyes and long, tapered face had inspired his nickname, Mule, but there was nothing plodding about his baseball. Haas was a fluid, quick-jump fielder and, when the screws were tightening, a ferociously intense all-fields hitter. He had batted .313 during the regular season. In fact, he was one of six A's—along with Simmons (.365), Foxx (.354), Miller (.335), Cochrane (.331) and Jimmy Dykes (.327)—who had hit over .310 with more than 400 at bats that year. Haas was heard muttering an oath as he went into the box. The curse, according to Chicago Tribune columnist Westbrook Pegler, was "a noise which the baseball players bandy back and forth from bench to bench during the season and the intent is strictly contumelious."

Malone studied the signs from catcher Zack Taylor and fired his first pitch right into Haas's wheelhouse, and the Mule struck the ball flush, lifting it in a high arc past rightfielder Kiki Cuyler and toward the row houses on North 20th Street, where hundreds of people sitting on makeshift rooftop bleachers and leaning out windows saw the ball bounce on the pavement. For eight innings, according to one writer, Shibe had been as solemn as "a convention of morticians." Suddenly it erupted. "The place went up in a roar," English recalls.

Bishop skipped over second base and then slowed down, waiting for Haas to catch up to him, and shook Mule's hand before trotting on toward home. From the presidential box the mayor of Philadelphia, Harry Mackey, sitting two seats to the left of Hoover, vaulted over the railing and embraced Haas as he swam into the arms of teammates gathered at the dugout.

Up in the press box the rhapsodies began. Cy Peterman, writing for The Evening Bulletin of Philadelphia, penned this ode to the homer by Haas: "They sing of joy when long lost sons come home. They prate of happiness when wars are done. But did you ever see a homer in the ninth that tied the score? There, ladies and gentlemen, is joy."

Standing at short, English could feel the game slipping away. In front of him Malone stepped off the mound toward home and stuck out his jaw at his catcher, yelling angrily, "You asked for that one!"

Taylor walked forward and tried to calm Malone. "How was I to know?" the catcher asked. "Bear down now and win it back in the 10th. You're the one to do it."

Just then, up to the plate went the menacing Cochrane, who was hitting .429 in the Series. Malone settled down at once and got the A's catcher to bounce a ground ball to Hornsby for the second out. The pitcher was now one out away from extra innings, but his woes were far from over. The Philadelphia leftfielder, Simmons, with his weak ankles and heavy thighs, went lumbering to the batter's box like Br'er Bear in the Uncle Remus tales, carrying on his shoulder his 38-inch-long club. At times like this nobody, except perhaps Foxx, could stir the crowds at Shibe the way the former Aloysius Harry Szymanski, the son of a Polish immigrant from Milwaukee, could.

Simmons was known as Bucketfoot Al for his unorthodox hitting stroke: Instead of stepping toward the pitcher when he swung, he stepped toward third base, into the bucket. As awkward as the maneuver looked, however, Simmons unfailingly leaned into pitches, driving through them with his left shoulder. Most pitchers were terrified of him because he could drive the ball to all parts of the park. "He had the best power to the opposite field of any hitter I saw," says Hayworth. "He used to hit the ball over the rightfield scoreboard like a lefthanded hitter."

Indeed, for years Simmons's line drives beat like distant drums off the right-centerfield fence at Shibe. On the eve of the '29 Series, in The Evening Bulletin, Ty Cobb had called Simmons "the gamest man in baseball with two strikes on him." Whenever the A's were compared to the Yankees, Simmons was Gehrig to Foxx's Ruth.

For kids who haunted the perimeters of Shibe, Simmons was the grist of legend. This was a time when players often lived in private homes near the ballparks where they played. Simmons lived at 2745 North 20th Street, across the street from Shibe's rightfield fence, in a second-floor bedroom in the home of Mr. and Mrs. A.C. Conwell. Simmons was a notoriously late sleeper, and the discreet Mrs. Conwell would ask neighborhood boys to awaken the star so he would not miss batting practice. One of the lads was Jerry Rooney, whose family lived three doors away, and at age four, he recalls, he entered Simmons's room and whispered to him, "It's time to wake up, Al. You're in a slump, and it's time to go to batting practice."

He was in no slump now. Simmons had an oft-expressed contempt for pitchers. "They're trying to take bread and butter out of my mouth," he used to say. Going to bat against Malone, Simmons treated the pitcher as if he were throwing batting practice. On the second pitch Simmons stepped in the bucket and lofted a drive to right center that looked like a home run. It fell just short, but by the time centerfielder Hack Wilson played the ricochet off the scoreboard, the crowd was on its feet, singing, and Simmons was pulling up at second.

Malone walked Foxx intentionally, setting up a force at three bases, and then Miller stepped into the box, looking for a curve that never came.

Shibe Park, which had opened in 1909, occupied a single city block of North Philly. The stadium, bounded by streets on all four sides, was at the center of a predominantly Irish neighborhood of row houses and small factories. Like a ballpark in a Norman Rockwell painting, Shibe had knotholes in the wooden fence in rightfield where dozens of smudge-nosed boys lined up daily to peer in, as if looking into a giant magic egg. To hear old-timers in Philadelphia remember it, Shibe was a stunning shag rug of deepest green, its paths and boxes and pitcher's mound immaculately manicured, in the middle of a city blackened by factory chimneys and coal-burning locomotives. "Shibe was this perfect place," says Walt Garvin, a 76-year-old Philadelphia native. "Everything was green. No advertisements on the fences. Neat and clean and perfectly kept."

The Phillies played in the dilapidated Baker Bowl, six blocks east of Shibe on Lehigh Avenue, and attending one of their games in those days was tantamount to slumming. From the first year a Philadelphia team played in the World Series--back in 1905, when the New York Giants defeated the A's four games to one--until the Whiz Kids won the pennant for the Phillies in 1950, this was an American League city, a town whose heart belonged to the A's.

That first Athletics-Giants Series, not incidentally, had powerful social overtones. It set the tall, reserved, lace-curtain Irishman from Massachusetts, Cornelius McGillicuddy, against the scrappy shanty Irishman from New York, John McGraw. But the 1905 Series represented something broader than the class divisions among the immigrant Irish on the Eastern seaboard. It symbolized the historic struggle for primacy between the two largest and most prosperous cities in the U.S.: New York and Philadelphia.

In Colonial days Boston had been the first U.S. city in size and importance. But by the end of the 18th century Philadelphia had become ascendant, and so it remained until the mid-1800s, when New York took over as the economic and cultural mecca of the New World. In the early days of the 20th century Philadelphia was the nation's second city, and its teams' most memorable clashes on baseball diamonds--first against the Giants and later against the Yankees--expressed the city's aspiration to reclaim its place as the nation's center.

"The battle between New York and Philadelphia in baseball was symbolic of that battle for urban supremacy," says Bruce Kuklick, Nichols Professor of American History at Penn and author of To Every Thing a Season: Shibe Park and Urban Philadelphia. And at the center of the battle, always, was Mack.

It was he who pieced together the powerful A's team that whipped Chicago in the 1910 World Series, four games to one, and then twice crushed the Giants, 4-2 in 1911 and 4-1 in 1913. And it was Mack who, after selling the stars of those teams to avoid a bidding war with the emerging Federal League, ultimately retooled the A's into an even better team through a series of remarkably sage moves in 1923, the year he bought a curveball artist named Rube Walberg; in '24, the year he took rookies Simmons and Bishop to spring training; and in '25, the year he obtained Cochrane and Grove from minor league clubs and, at the urging of one of his retired sluggers, Frank (Home Run) Baker, picked up a grinning, moonfaced farm boy from the Eastern Shore of Maryland: Foxx.

Thus the A's acquired four future Hall of Famers--Simmons, Grove, Cochrane and Foxx--in two remarkable years. By 1928, still fishing, Mack had plucked Haas out of the minors and added a strapping 6'4" graduate of Swarthmore College, George Earnshaw, who threw a blazing heater and a nasty snake. By then Mack was also recycling through Shibe some of the greatest has-beens in the annals of the game, including Cobb and fellow outfielder Tris Speaker. John Rooney, Jerry's brother, recalls the day in 1928, when he was five, that his father took him to the roof of their row house at 2739 North 20th Street. Pointing to the A's outfielders, the elder Rooney said, "See those three men? I want you to remember them. They are Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Al Simmons. Three of the greatest ballplayers of all time."

The Yankees won successive World Series in 1927 and '28, but the latter year it took all they had to keep the salty, emerging A's from stealing the pennant. New York finished 2 1/2 games in front of Philadelphia, but what hurt Athletics fans was not so much losing but losing to the Yankees. "They were terribly disliked in Philadelphia," says Allen Lewis, who in 1928 was an 11-year-old A's fan and who later would become a baseball writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer and a member of the Veterans Committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame. "The papers used to write 'Noo Yawk Yankees.' It was ridiculous, but they did."

All of which made '29 the sweeter for the waiting. The A's clinched the pennant on Sept. 14. They had become the new irresistible force in baseball. And while Mack had a superb pitching rotation--Grove finished 20-6 and Earnshaw 24-8--it was he, the manager, who threw the most sweeping curve in World Series history. Two weeks before the season's end, Mack secretly decided to start the Series with Ehmke, a 35-year-old journeyman who had pitched fewer than 55 innings during the year. Mack confided his decision to Ehmke, sending him to scout the Cubs, but told no one else.

The press speculated that Earnshaw or Grove would pitch in the opening game, and not even Ehmke believed that Mack would enable him to fulfill his dream of starting in a World Series. As the players warmed up at Wrigley Field, Mack refused to name his starter. At one point Ehmke sat down on the bench next to his manager. "Is it still me, Mr. Mack?" he asked.

"It's still you," Mack said.

Fifteen minutes before game time, Ehmke took off his jacket and started to warm up. Jaws dropped in both dugouts. Grove and Earnshaw stared at each other in disbelief. Ehmke hadn't pitched in weeks. Simmons was sitting next to Mack, and he could not restrain himself. "Are you gonna pitch him?" Simmons asked.

"You have any objections to that?" Mack answered. Simmons shook his head. "If you say so, it's all right with me," he replied.

Over the next three hours, in one of the most dazzling performances in World Series history, Ehmke struck out 13 batters, then a Series record, with a bewildering array of sneaky-quick fastballs and off-speed curves. Looking loose-jointed and nonchalant, Ehmke at times seemed half asleep. "He looked like he didn't give a damn what happened," English recalls. "He threw that big, slow curveball that came in and broke away from righthanders." All but one Cubs starter, first baseman Charlie Grimm, hit from the right side, and Ehmke twice struck out Chicago's toughest batters--Hornsby, Wilson and Cuyler--throwing junk. "Ehmke was a change from the guys we were used to, who threw hard," English says. "Not many pitchers used that stuff against us."

Ehmke went all nine innings and won the game 3-1. Mack would relish that victory the rest of his days. "It was beautiful to watch," he would recall years later.

"That was the surprise of the century," says Hudlin. "Nobody would have done that but Connie Mack. Howard just wasn't that kind of pitcher. I don't know how Connie figured it. A hunch, I guess. Then Howard went out and made monkeys out of the Cubs."

Ehmke's memorable pitching aside, the Series of '29 showed why that year's Athletics, if overshadowed by the '27 Yankees, have been admired by baseball insiders as one of the best teams in history. Foxx, the first baseman who was known as both Double X and the Beast, hit 33 home runs and batted in 117 runs during the season, and twice he hit prodigious homers in the World Series to put the A's in front to stay: a 400-foot solo shot in Game 1, in which Ehmke pitched so brilliantly, and a three-run line drive that helped propel Philadelphia to a 9-3 victory in Game 2, in which Grove and Earnshaw fanned 13 Cubs between them.

Foxx retired after the 1945 season with 534 home runs, 1,921 RBIs and a lifetime batting average of .325, but numbers hardly express the high and delicious drama he brought to the plate. He used to cut off the sleeves of his uniform to show off his picnic-roast arms, and he could drive balls 500 feet on a line with a whip of his powerful wrists. Stories of his most titanic clouts have all the ingredients of myth. "I think he had more power than Ruth or Gehrig," says Mel Harder, who won 223 games for the Indians between 1928 and '47.

It was Lefty Gomez, the Hall of Fame pitcher for the Yankees, who threw the ball that Foxx drove into the upper deck in Yankee Stadium, splintering the back of that seat. Many years later Gomez was sitting at home with his wife watching U.S. astronauts on television as they walked the surface of the moon collecting rocks in a sack. At one point an astronaut picked up what appeared to be a white object.

"I wonder what that is," said Gomez's wife.

"That's the ball Foxx hit off me in New York," Gomez replied.

After winning the first two games of the '29 Series at Wrigley, the A's went home to Shibe looking for a sweep. The Cubs won the third game 3-1 behind the pitching of Guy Bush, but that merely set up the most spectacular game of the Series--one that drew upon the resources of Philadelphia's most formidable pitcher and all the power of its batting order.

By the middle of the seventh inning of Game 4, the Cubs were winning 8-0, and they were riding the A's mercilessly. In the dugout Bush had been celebrating each run by donning a blanket as if it were a headdress and doing what one writer described as "a mock Indian war dance" along the Cubs' bench.

Mack was at the point of surrendering the game when a frustrated Simmons, who earlier had swung so hard on a third strike that he had fallen down, took a cut at Charlie Root's third pitch in the bottom of the seventh and struck a thunderous home run that bounced on the roof of the pavilion in left, making the score 8-1. Four successive A's batters then hit singles: Foxx to right; Miller to center; Dykes to left, scoring Foxx; and shortstop Joe Boley to right center, scoring Miller. With the score 8-3, George Burns, hitting for pitcher Ed Rommel, popped up to English for the first out.

After Bishop singled to center, scoring Dykes, Cubs manager Joe McCarthy called on Art Nehf to relieve Root, who was booed as he walked off the field. "They ought to have cheered him," English says.

On every afternoon of the '29 Series thousands of people jammed City Hall Plaza in downtown Philly to hear the play-by-play piped through speakers and to follow the movement of steel figures on a large magnetic scoreboard. Hundreds watched from open windows at City Hall and nearby office buildings. On other city corners thousands more gathered around P.A. systems that blared the play-by-play. During Game 4 the crowd's voices rose each time the A's scored in the seventh.

Haas went to the plate to face Nehf. The Mule stroked a low liner to center. English turned and saw Wilson lose the ball in the sun. "It went over his head," English says, "and he turned and ran for it." Boley scored. Bishop chased him home. The ball rolled to the wall. Haas rounded third and raced to the plate for an inside-the-park home run. In the A's dugout Dykes pounded on the man standing next to him. "We're back in the game!" Dykes shouted. Reeling under Dykes's blows, the man fell against the bats and spilled them. It was the spindly Mack.

Never once had Dykes seen his manager leave the bench. Mack usually just sat there, dressed in a dark suit, like an undertaker, and moved his fielders around with a wave of his scorecard. But he left his seat that day. "I'm sorry," said Dykes.

The 67-year-old skipper just smiled. "That's all right, Jimmy," he said. "Wasn't it wonderful?"

At Mason's Dance Hall in Philly, in a crowd gathered around a radio set on a table, 12-year-old Carmen Cangelosi leaped to his feet, screaming, as the announcer described Haas galloping home: "They're gonna win now! They're gonna win now!" City Hall Plaza erupted in howls.

The score was 8-7. Nehf walked Cochrane and was relieved by Sheriff Blake. Simmons met Blake with a single to left. Foxx then singled through the box, scoring Cochrane and tying the game up. At Philadelphia's Franklin Field, where Allen Lewis was in a football crowd of 30,000 watching Penn play Virginia Poly, the makeshift baseball scoreboard in the west stands had shown the Cubs leading 8-0. "And then the crowd erupted," says Lewis. "In the bottom of the seventh, they put '8' up on the board. Play on the field stopped, and the players all turned around and looked up. I can still see that today."

Malone was brought into the game to face Miller. Trying to brush the batter back, Malone grazed him with the first pitch, loading the bases. All that English remembers of the waning moments of that historic seventh was the ball cracking off Dykes's bat and flying into deep left, and Riggs Stephenson going back and reaching up but fumbling the ball. "He should have made the catch," English says. The ball bounced off the wall. Simmons and Foxx scored.

The A's led 10-8. Malone then fanned Boley and Burns to end the inning.

When Mack called on Grove to pitch the last two innings, not a boy in all of Philly doubted the game's outcome. Grove was a lanky 6'3", and in his windup he looked like an oil rig: His head and hands and torso rose and dipped rhythmically--once, twice, three times--until they rose a final time and he fired. "I can still hear Grove's fastball popping into Cochrane's glove," says former A's fan John McLaughlin, 77. No one in Grove's day threw a baseball harder, and there are those who believe he threw the hardest of all time.

The Washington Post's Povich remembers a day in the mid-1930s when Bob Feller was the phenom of the hour and was to pitch at Washington's Griffith Stadium against the Senators. The retired Walter Johnson, an old friend of Povich's, was living in Maryland, and Povich invited him out to Griffith to see the kid with the heater, once clocked at 103 mph. "Walter was the most modest man you would ever know," Povich says. "And he's looking at Feller for a couple of innings and saying, 'Oh, he's fast!' Then a little while later he says, 'Oh, my! He's fast!' And then I popped the question: 'Does he throw as fast as you did?' And Walter said, 'No. And I don't think he's as fast as Lefty Grove.'"

Grove's best fastball came in at the letters and rose out of the strike zone. "If you took it, it would be a ball," English says. "But if you had two strikes on you, you couldn't take it. It was that close, and he had great control."

Tales of Grove's exploits abound. One afternoon while leading the Yankees 1-0 in the ninth inning, Grove gave up a triple to the leadoff hitter, shortstop Mark Koenig. Throwing nothing but darts, Grove then struck out Ruth, Gehrig and Bob Meusel. On nine pitches.

Grove had a Vesuvian temper that was quite as famous as his fastball, and he left behind him a trail of wrecked watercoolers and ruined lockers. There were many days when players, particularly skittish rookies, dared not speak to him as he observed the world from the long shadows of his bony scowl. One day in 1931, against the woeful St. Louis Browns, Grove was trying to win his 17th straight game without a loss--and thereby set an American League record--when a young outfielder named Jim Moore, substituting for the ailing Simmons, misjudged an easy fly ball and, ultimately, cost Grove the game, 1-0. Grove swept into the clubhouse like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. He picked up a wooden chair and smashed it into splinters. He then tried to rip off his locker door and settled for kicking it in. His rage unappeased, he tore off his uniform, sending buttons flipping like tiddlywinks, and shredded it like a rag. He bellowed, "Where is Simmons? He could have caught that ball in his back pocket!" Grove refused to speak to anyone for a week, and it was years before he forgave Simmons for staying out sick that day.

After his team stormed back to take the lead in Game 4 of the '29 Series, Grove took to the mound for the final two innings. He faced six batters and blew the ball past four of them. Hornsby, swinging late, flied to Miller to end the game.

There were celebrations in the streets of Philadelphia that night. The A's miraculous victory was the biggest story of the day. No wonder Hoover and his wife went north behind the locomotive President Washington to be on hand for Game 5.

Prohibition was still the law, and as Hoover walked across the field to Shibe's presidential box at 1 p.m., the crowd chanted, "Beer! Beer! We want beer!" What the crowd ended up with was something even headier: Simmons standing on second with the score tied in the bottom of the ninth, and Bing Miller, known as Old Reliable, at the plate. Miller was looking for his favorite pitch—"He was the best curveball hitter in the league," old-timer Hayworth says--so Malone whipped two fastballs past him for strikes.

"I thought, It will be another fast one," Miller would later recall. So he shortened his grip and moved closer to the plate. Malone threw another fastball, and Miller swung. To this day English can see the ball flying over Hornsby's head, dropping in right center and rolling toward the fence. Simmons charged home to win the game 3-2. The Series was over.

Mack always said that the 1929 World Series was the greatest he ever saw, and that a diorama of that final moment should be built and set in a special corner at Cooperstown: Here is Wilson chasing Miller's double to the fence. Over there is Simmons plowing toward home, his spikes chopping up dirt on the path. In the middle is Malone, standing on the mound with his head down. And there is Hoover on his feet, applauding, and Mayor Mackey leaping from the box again, this time tossing his hat in the air, while all the A's charge out of the dugout onto a perfectly manicured patch of green.

It was the last World Series game that America would watch in innocence. Fifteen days later, on Black Tuesday—Oct. 29, 1929—the stock market would crash, and the country would begin to slide into the Great Depression. Nothing would ever be the same. While the A's would win the World Series again in 1930 and a third straight pennant in '31, their fate would mirror the desperate nature of the times. By the end of 1932, scrambling to stay afloat financially, Mack had sold Simmons, Dykes and Haas to the Chicago White Sox for $100,000. In December '33 Mack sent Grove, Walberg and Bishop to the Boston Red Sox for $125,000 and two nobodies, and Cochrane to the Tigers for $100,000 and one nobody. Foxx hit 58 home runs in 1932 and another 128 in the three years after that, but following the '35 season, Mack sold him to the Red Sox for $150,000 and two players. Through the 1930s and '40s the A's never got near another pennant and often had the worst team in baseball.

Of course, New York won the battle for urban supremacy. The A's were Philadelphia's last illusion of ascendancy. The poignant aftermath to all this was that the Yankees led the lobby that drove the A's out of Philadelphia and into Kansas City for the 1955 season. Like conquered slaves, the Kansas City A's became a sort of farm team for the Yankees, and over the years they helped feed New York players such as Roger Maris and Clete Boyer. The A's moved to Oakland in 1968 and won three straight World Series, from 1972 to '74. Then, when owner Charles Finley began feeling financial pressures, much as Mack had years before, the Yankees fed on Oakland's remains. Two of the A's best players, Jim (Catfish) Hunter and Reggie Jackson, figured prominently on the Yankees' 1977 and '78 championship teams.

The A's of '29 to '31 left a generation of Philadelphians with memories of what it was like to have a team that ate the great Yankees for dinner, with Cubs on the side. Today, most fans who recall the A's of that era well are in or nearing their 80's. What they all remember most vividly is that '29 World Series—the day Ehmke whipped the Cubs, the day the A's scored 10 in the seventh and the day Simmons scored from second to win the final game.

Carmen Cangelosi still remembers sitting in Mason's Dance Hall and listening to that seventh inning of Game 4 on the radio. "That inning made me a baseball fan for life," says Cangelosi, 78, a retired graphic artist. "I was an Athletics fan for life. I still know all the players. I know where they played. I know their nicknames: Bucketfoot Al. Double X. Old Reliable. Lefty. Mule. I know that 10-run inning and who scored and how they scored. Just like it was yesterday at Mason's. I remember when they won the World Series. There was a buzz in the air. An energy. You felt good about yourself, about your city, about everybody around you.