This article was written by Robert D. Warrington
This article was published in the Fall 2010 Baseball Research Journal
It was an overwhelming set of unfavorable circumstances that came together to seal the fate of the Philadelphia Athletics.
It was an overwhelming set of unfavorable circumstances that came together to seal the fate of the Philadelphia Athletics.The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1954. In fact, it was downright bleak. The franchise was beset by problems from all sides. A bad team, sparse crowds, burdensome debt, and internal strife all were set against the backdrop of playing in an old ballpark located in a declining neighborhood with limited parking and bad transportation. Grumblings were being heard from other American League clubs that were dissatisfied with the paltry receipts they were getting from games played in Philadelphia.
It hadn’t always been this way. After their founding in 1901, the Athletics had achieved unparalleled success in Philadelphia baseball. After league titles in 1902 and 1905, the club won four more pennants and three World Series championships from 1910 through 1914. A second dynasty emerged when the A’s won the AL title three years in a row, 1929 through 1931, and the World Series twice (1929–30).[fn]The Athletics’ record of success dwarfs that of Philadelphia’s other major-league team. In 2008, the Phillies won just their second World Series championship after 126 years of playing baseball in the city. In fifty-four years of playing in Philadelphia, the Athletics won five World Series championships. In 2009, the Phillies won their seventh National League pennant. In fifty-four years of playing in Philadelphia, the Athletics won nine American League titles.[/fn] Some baseball historians consider the 1929 team to be the greatest ever to take the field.[fn]Bill Kashatus, Connie Mack’s ’29 Triumph (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1999).[/fn]
Woes on the Field …
Glory days became a dim memory, however, as Connie Mack dismantled his second dynasty, selling off star players, and the Philadelphia Athletics descended into the AL’s second division. Last place was where the A’s typically could be found in the standings. The World War II years were a particularly awful time for the club. The 1943 team was so awful, with a record of 49–105, that it finished 49 games out of first and even 20 games behind the club in next to last place.[fn]In this article, data on the Athletics’ won–lost figures and place in the AL standings are taken from, David S. Neft, Richard M. Cohen, and Michael L. Neft, The Sports Encyclopedia: Baseball, 23d ed. (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin), 2003.[/fn]
- Related link: “A Final Season: The 1954 Philadelphia Athletics,” by Thomas Van Hyning (TNP 2013)
The Athletics showed some signs of resurgence in the late 1940s, finishing above .500 in 1947–49. The 1948 team even contended for the league lead before falling off the pace late in the season. Still, it ended up in fourth place, the club’s only finish in the first division from 1934 through 1951.
The A’s were supposed to be contenders in 1950. It was the golden jubilee of the AL and of Connie Mack’s reign as manager. The club adopted the rallying cry “One more pennant for Connie!” In a blockbuster trade before the season, the Athletics sent four marginal players and $100,000 to the St. Louis Browns for star third baseman Bob Dillinger and outfielder Paul Lehner. The franchise also invested in upgrading Shibe Park. It spent $300,000 to install additional box seats and for other park improvements. In addition, the ballpark’s electrical plant was overhauled for $100,000.[fn]Harry T. Paxton, “The Philadelphia A’s Last Stand,” The Saturday Evening Post 226, no. 50 (12 June 1954): 134.[/fn] These were heady sums for an organization known for its lack of funds.
But 1950 turned out to be a bust for the Athletics. The team never was in contention, and Dillinger turned out to be a major disappointment. He was sold to the Pittsburgh Pirates in July for $35,000.[fn]Mark Stang, Athletics Album: A Photo History of the Philadelphia Athletics (Wilmington: Orange Frazer Press, 2006), 172.[/fn] The Athletics ended the year at 52–102, firmly in the cellar— and a full 46 games out of first place. To add insult to injury, the Philadelphia Phillies won the National League pennant in 1950, further solidifying that club’s status as the ascendant baseball team in the city.
The last four years, 1951–54, of the A’s stay in Philadelphia offered little hope for salvation. After a dismal 1951 season that saw the team wind up in sixth place, a brief glimmer of hope appeared in 1952 when the A’s again clawed their way up to fourth place with a record slightly above .500 (79–75). But it quickly descended into the all too familiar territory of the AL’s second division. The 1953 Athletics finished in seventh place, and the 1954 club notched a woeful record of 51–103, claiming the cellar and trailing the first-place club by a horrifying 60 games
… And at the Turnstile
As a rule, fans flock in droves to watch winners and trickle in sparingly to look at losers. This obvious fact was painfully evident as the fortunes of the Philadelphia Athletics unfolded in the late 1940s through mid-1950s. The 1947 A’s, playing barely above .500 ball, attracted 911,566 fans through the turnstiles at Shibe Park—a franchise attendance record. When the Athletics actually contended for the pennant in 1948, the club set another attendance record, 945,076. It was the last time the A’s would ever outdraw the Phillies.[fn]Athletics’ attendance figures are taken from www.baseballalmanac.com.[/fn]
The disastrously disappointing 1950 Athletics could lure only 309,805 fans to Shibe Park. While the 1952 club boosted the figure to 627,100 with its fourth-place finish, the truly awful 1953 and 1954 A’s teams could achieve figures no better than 362,113 and 304,666 respectively.
Not surprisingly, fan support, or lack thereof, affected the organization’s financial health. The Athletics’ combined profits for the good years of 1947–49 totaled $450,000. However, the 1950 team—it was a flop from the very beginning of the season—wound up losing the franchise $315,000 that year.[fn]Paxton, Saturday Evening Post, 134.[/fn] The Athletics continued to hemorrhage money as the 1950s unfolded. Roy Mack, Connie’s son and club vice president, warned early in 1954, “We can’t stand another year as bad as the last one.”[fn]Ibid., 31.[/fn]
Lean gate receipts motivated the Macks to cut costs wherever they could, even if it meant sacrificing the team’s performance on the diamond. After the 1953 season, the Athletics traded Harry Byrd and Eddie Robinson, whose salaries were on the high end of the club’s roster, to the New York Yankees for minor leaguers and marginal players who drew small paychecks for their services. The Yankees also kicked in $25,000 on the deal.[fn]David M. Jordan, The Athletics of Philadelphia: Connie Mack’s White Elephants, 1901–1954 (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1999), 181.[/fn] This and other belt-tightening player moves helped the A’s trim their payroll from more than $400,000 in 1953 to less than $300,000 in 1954.[fn]Paxton, Saturday Evening Post, 136.[/fn]
Front-office personnel moves were also made to cut costs. General manager Arthur Ehlers, who had been with the club since 1950, was fired after the 1953 season, and his responsibilities were transferred to Earle Mack, another of Connie’s sons, who already held the portfolio of chief scout. This saved the $20,000 salary that Ehlers had been earning. In addition, A’s manager Jimmie Dykes was released after the 1953 season. Shortstop Eddie Joost was named the team’s playermanager at only a 25 percent increase in salary. Again, payroll was saved.[fn]Ibid.[/fn]
The A’s farm system was reduced to six clubs for 1954. With the drawdown, the organization hoped to break even on its minor-league-affiliated clubs, instead of losing money—as much as $200,000—as it had in recent years. Desperate to survive, the A’s could not fund efforts to build a talented supply of ballplayers for the future.[fn]Ibid.[/fn]
The impact of the meager finances was devastating to the club. Jimmie Dykes recalled the desperate nature of the times: “The club was sinking into the quicksand of financial catastrophe. . . . Philadelphia had become indifferent to the Athletics. . . . Long years in the second division were taking their toll. . . . We had no money to plug holes, no bench strength.”[fn]Jimmie Dykes, You Can’t Steal First Base (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott., 1967), 108–9.[/fn]
The Mack-Shibe Leadership
Connie Mack was synonymous with the Philadelphia Athletics. The team’s manager since its inception in 1901, Mack was the “Tall Tactician,” the “Spindly Strategist,” and the “Grand Old Man of Baseball.” In his fifty-year tenure (1901–50) at the helm of the A’s, Mack notched 3,582 victories, a total exceeded only by his 3,814 defeats.[fn]Mack’s career managerial record, 3,731–3,948, reflects three seasons (1894–96) with the Pirates, where he was 149–134.[/fn] As time marched on, the losses mounted faster than the wins. When in 1943 the club experienced a 20-game losing streak, Mack expressed bewilderment and despair. “I can’t understand it,” he observed. “It would seem, under the very law of averages that we would get in a winning game somewhere.”[fn]Frederick G. Lieb, Connie Mack: Grand Old Man of Baseball (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1945), 271.[/fn]
Fans vented their ire at the continual losing, and much of it was directed at Connie Mack. Letters to the A’s made clear the fans’ preferences. One declared, “Why doesn’t he [Connie] step down and give a younger man a chance?” Another wrote, “He should know the parade has passed him by.”[fn]Bruce Kuklick, To Every Thing a Season: Shibe Park and Urban Philadelphia, 1909–1976 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991), 117–18.[/fn] Patrons clearly wanted Mack to go as the Athletics’ manager, and they linked the prospect of his departure to any chance the team would have to turn around its abysmal performance.
The great drawback in having Connie Mack as both president and manager of the Athletics became increasingly apparent as the years passed. Only he could fire himself as manager, and he lingered on far too long in that unfulfilled quest for one more pennant-contending team.
Any other franchise would have let him go at some point during the seventeen years before 1950, a period during which the club finished in the first division only once. But Mack stubbornly held on, defying the wishes from within and outside the organization that he step aside as manager.[fn]There probably were a number of reasons Mack refused to go gently into the night. Vanity and stubbornness certainly played a part, as well as a refusal to admit that his abilities were leaving him. It is possible Mack also may have hung on in hope of tying his great friend and rival John McGraw for the number of pennants won. McGraw had captured ten National League titles during his tenure with the New York Giants. Mack was stuck at nine AL pennants with the Philadelphia Athletics. [/fn]
As the years passed, Connie Mack’s encroaching senility grew more pronounced. The deterioration in his mind was apparent by the mid-1940s, and the team suffered from his mental lapses. Poor trades, incorrect signals from the bench (the most obvious of which coaches would override), sudden acts of emotional rage,[fn]One particularly notorious incident illustrating Mack’s uncontrolled and spontaneous interference with the club’s fortunes occurred in 1948 when the A’s were contending for the pennant. In the first game of a home doubleheader on June 13, against the St. Louis Browns, Mack sent reliever Nelson Potter in during the eighth inning with the bases loaded, none out, and the Athletics holding a 5–2 lead. Potter had done a good job out of the bullpen up to that point in the season, but in this instance he couldn’t hold the lead. Four Browns’ runners crossed the plate before Mack yanked Potter from the game. When Potter reached the dugout, the visibly agitated Mack questioned whether Potter had done his best and claimed that the $20,000 he had paid to acquire him had been a mistake. Although Mack’s outburst greatly embarrassed him in front of the other players on the bench, Potter took the scolding in silence. He was released on waivers and picked up by the Boston Braves, where he became the top reliever on Billy Southworth’s pennant-winning club. The A’s bullpen was its Achilles’ heel in 1948 and a major cause of the team’s fade in the pennant race. Lou Brissie, a player on that team, opined years later that Mack’s abrupt and ill-advised dismissal of Potter was a key factor in the A’s failure to win the AL title. Jordan, Athletics of Philadelphia, 154–55.[/fn] and lapses into bygone days during gametime (calling out for past players to pinch-hit) all contributed to the team’s woes on the field.[fn]Kuklick, To Every Thing a Season, 114–15.[/fn]
The abysmal 1950 season was the last straw. Sons Roy and Earle pressured Connie, then 87 years old, to give up his managerial role after the season.[fn]Ibid., 117.[/fn] In the end he agreed, but reluctantly. “I’m not quitting because I’m getting old,” he said. “I’m quitting because I think people want me to.”[fn]William C. Kashatus, The Philadelphia Athletics (Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia, 2002), 90.[/fn]
Connie Mack still retained the club’s presidency, although he was little more than a figurehead president, given his mental decline. Jimmie Dykes, who followed Mack as field manager, described in his autobiography a meeting with Connie in 1953: “One day before spring training began I went to Roy Mack’s home to confer with Mr. Mack. He lay in bed. For an hour and a half I discussed the team. I say discussed the team for he was showing obvious signs of his advanced age. His mind often wandered.”[fn]Dykes, You Can’t Steal First Base, 109.[/fn]
A plan of succession had been devised by Connie Mack. He envisioned the Mack and Shibe families perpetually controlling the Philadelphia Athletics (more on the Shibes later). Mack’s intentions were explained in his 1950 autobiography My 66 Years in the Big Leagues:
It is my desire always to have a Mack–Shibe combination in our national game. . . . My son Earle will succeed me as manager of the Philadelphia Athletics. My sons Roy and Connie, Jr ., will be associated in the business end and the financial operations. . . . Some people may charge me with forming a dynasty in our national game. Call it what you will. I assure you that the Macks and Shibes are imbued with the spirit of American democracy and will always remain true to the best traditions of American sportsmanship.[fn]Dick Armstrong, the Athletics’ director of public relations when the book was published, acknowledged years later that he was the ghostwriter of Mack’s “autobiography.” Mack, struggling with mental deterioration by 1950, certainly needed considerable assistance in telling the story of his life. Whether Mack actually uttered these words or they sprung from the fertile mind of Armstrong is open to question. Connie Mack, My 66 Years in the Big Leagues (Philadelphia: John C. Winston, 1950), 5–6.[/fn]
After a brief playing career with the Athletics, consisting of one game in 1910, one game in 1911, and two games in 1914, Earle honed his managerial skills for a decade in the minor leagues. He managed teams in the North Carolina League and the Blue Ridge League. In 1924 he was called back to Philadelphia, where he served as the A’s coach and assistant manager, positions he would hold for the next twenty-six years.[fn]Ibid., 6.[/fn] Occasionally, Earle would manage the club in his father’s absence. He was universally viewed, including by himself, as the A’s heir-apparent manager.[fn]Multiple authors, including Kuklick, Jordan, and Paxton, identify Earle as Connie’s hand-picked successor as manager. See, for example, Jordan, Athletics of Philadelphia, 168.[/fn]
Roy Mack also served his time in the minor leagues, but his role was in the front office, not on the field. He worked as business manager for the Baltimore Orioles for five years and then moved on to become president of the Newark Indians (later Bears). In 1924 he took over as general manager of the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League—an Athletics-affiliated minorleague club. In 1936, Roy was named vice president and secretary of the Philadelphia A’s.[fn]Stang, Athletics Album, 143.[/fn]
Connie Mack Jr., a product of the senior Mack’s second marriage, also joined the A’s hierarchy. He learned the business of baseball while holding various positions—including managing the concession stands at Shibe Park—in the A’s organization in the years before the Second World War. Connie Jr. was appointed assistant treasurer of the Athletics in 1938, and in 1950 he was elevated to the position of club treasurer when Connie Sr. relinquished it.[fn]Mack, My 66 Years, 5.[/fn]
Then there was the Shibe–MacFarland family. Benjamin Franklin Shibe was the original president of the Philadelphia Athletics, and his sons, Tom and John, held the positions of vice president and secretary–business manager, respectively. When Ben Shibe died in 1922, Tom was elevated to the presidency of the club, while John added the vice presidency to his portfolio of responsibilities.[fn]Lieb, Grand Old Man, 263.[/fn]
Tom Shibe died in February 1936. His brother John became A’s president the same month, ensuring that a Shibe would remain in that position. With the positions of vice president and secretary now open, Roy Mack was brought into the front office, taking over both posts. John Shibe lasted less than one year in the job, resigning in August 1936, because of illness; he died in 1937. In January of that year, Connie Mack Sr. became A’s president, a position he would hold as long as the Athletics continued to call Philadelphia home.[fn]Ibid.[/fn]
The death of John Shibe marked a fundamental turning point in the ownership of the Philadelphia Athletics. The 50–50 Shibe–Mack ownership structure that had served the A’s so well came to an end, and now the preeminent voice of the club’s front office belonged solely to the Macks. After John Shibe’s death, Connie Mack bought 141 shares of A’s stock from his estate, thereby giving the Macks majority ownership of the franchise for the first time. The Mack family held 891 shares to the Shibe–MacFarlands’ 609.[fn]Paxton, Saturday Evening Post, 112–13.[/fn] (The MacFarland family name was added to the list of the Athletics’ owners when Ben Shibe’s daughter married Frank MacFarland.)
The Shibe–McFarland family did retain some positions in the front office. Benjamin Shibe MacFarland, son of Ben Shibe’s daughter, served for years as the traveling (road) secretary of the A’s and was promoted to the post of secretary in 1950 when Roy Mack left the job to take on a greater role in helping his aged father run the franchise. Another son, Frank MacFarland Sr., became assistant treasurer in 1950 when Connie Mack Jr. was promoted to treasurer. Finally, grandson Frank MacFarland Jr. entered the A’s front office in 1950 as the new traveling secretary, replacing Benjamin Shibe MacFarland.[fn]Mack, My 66 Years, 5.[/fn]
The diminished role of the Shibe–MacFarland faction in the club’s operation after John Shibe’s death was clearly reflected in the composition of the Athletics board of directors. Members of the board in 1950 were Connie Mack, Sr., Roy Mack, Earle Mack, Connie Mack Jr., and Benjamin Shibe MacFarland.[fn]Ibid.[/fn] That year, 1950, proved far more pivotal for the Athletics off the field than on it. A family feud over control of the organization had been festering for several years and pitted the “first” Mack family against the “second” Mack family. The disagreement boiled over with ultimately disastrous consequences for the club and its fans.
The Family Feud
There were three intersecting fissures in the Mack family—based on marriage, generation, and sex—that created conflict over the question of who would take the reins of power once Connie Mack departed the scene. Mack had two families. His first wife, Margaret, bore Connie two sons, Roy and Earle, and a daughter, Marguerite, before dying at a young age in 1892, less than three weeks after giving birth to Marguerite. Connie married again in 1910, and his second wife, Katherine, gave birth to four girls and one boy, Connie Mack Jr.[fn]Paxton, Saturday Evening Post, 133.[/fn]
Connie Mack wanted his three sons to succeed him in running the Athletics. But between Roy and Earle on one side and Connie Jr. on the other, there was a general divide that soon enough began to manifest itself in their different approaches to running the club. Harry Paxton captured the dilemma in his assessment of the franchise:
Young Connie had come to share the dissatisfaction of many Philadelphians with the cautious, low-budget manner in which the family was operating the team. He was constantly proposing changes—which just as consistently were opposed. In the eyes of Connie Jr., Roy and Earle were old mossbacks blindly resisting progress. To Roy and Earle, young Connie was an interfering upstart with a lot of half-baked ideas.[fn]Ibid., 134.[/fn] The situation was made worse by the mental incapacity of Connie Mack Sr. As club president, he was positioned to arbitrate and settle such disputes, but his lack of fortitude contributed to prolonging the friction. “Old Mr. Mack,” as Paxton notes, “then well into his eighties and grown somewhat indecisive, was swayed first by one side and then the other.”[fn]Ibid.[/fn]
Intent on having his three sons eventually take over the club, Connie Mack transferred 163 of his shares each to Roy, Earle, and Connie Jr. He also gave 100 shares of A’s stock to his wife, Katherine, the mother of Connie Mack Jr. Connie Sr. kept the remaining 302 shares of stock for himself.[fn]Ibid., 133.[/fn]
The daughters of the first and second marriages got nothing. The decision to exclude the daughters, who never had any role in the organization, provoked considerable tension between Connie and his wife. Bruce Kuklick, in his landmark study of the Athletics’ Shibe Park and its place in Philadelphia history, notes that Connie Sr. envisioned the three male heirs—Roy, Earle, and Connie Jr.—running the franchise in concert once he (Connie) gave up the reins of power.[fn]Kuklick, To Every Thing a Season, 112–13.[/fn] Kuklick writes of the discord that resulted from the senior Mack’s decision to exclude his daughters from the ranks of stockholders:
His wife had other ideas. Mack’s plan would ultimately give power to Roy and Earle, the surviving children of the first marriage. The second Mrs. Mack proposed that her husband distribute stock in equal shares to her, to each of her five children (four of whom were female), to Roy, to Earle, and to the children of Mack’s deceased daughter from his first marriage. Controlling interest in the club would then go not to the men but to the family of the second marriage (and, indeed, to the women). So adamant was Katherine Mack that the couple separated, her husband leaving the house when they could not agree.[fn]Ibid.[/fn]
This unpleasantness occurred in 1946–47. The couple reconciled after a few months, but Connie did not relent on the stock allocation. Resentment within the Mack family over the issue lingered, and, as will be seen, it also had adverse consequences for the business relationship between the Mack and Shibe– MacFarland families. The discord would surface with particular ugliness in 1950.
The generational difference that divided Connie Jr. from Roy and Earle strained their ability to cooperate, according to Paxton. The proposals of Connie Jr. to invigorate the Athletics and refurbish Shibe Park were opposed by Roy and Earle because of the sizable price tags associated with the moves. As Roy often pointed out, the last time the A’s had declared a dividend for stockholders was in 1931 (the team’s last trip to the World Series). He was not inclined to spend large sums on the team or its ballpark, preferring instead to keep expenses down, especially given the club’s low attendance figures.[fn]Paxton, Saturday Evening Post, 133–34, 136.[/fn]
In the face of this resistance and supported by his mother, young Connie broke ranks with the “first” Mack family and made an alliance with the Shibe– MacFarland clan before the 1950 season. By adding his 163 shares to his mother’s 100 shares, and combining it with the Shibe–MacFarland’s 609 shares, the coalition amassed by Connie Jr. could outvote his halfbrothers and father 872 to 628.[fn]Ibid., 134.[/fn]
With this shift in power, Paxton notes, the A’s started making major moves, including the investment of those significant sums to improve Shibe Park in 1950; Bob Dillinger was acquired to increase the Athletics’ offensive punch. To introduce some new blood to the coaching staff for the 1950 season, Al Simmons and Earle Brucker were fired and replaced by Mickey Cochrane and Bing Miller.[fn]Ibid.[/fn]
The alliance between Connie Mack Jr. and the Shibe–MacFarland family also recognized that it was time for Connie Sr. to retire as manager, but for several reasons it decided not to press the issue until after the 1950 season. First, the “Golden Anniversary” of the A’s founding and Mack’s longevity as the team’s manager was central to the club’s promotional and advertising campaign for 1950. Removing him during the season would undermine whatever sentimental motivation the club hoped to generate among fans to come to the ballpark to honor the venerable team manager on this special anniversary.
In any case, Mack’s role as manager was actually only marginal. Most on-field decisions and daily operations were being handled by the coaches. Yet another reason for postponing the delicate business of relieving Connie Sr. of his managerial duties was that it was soon apparent that the 1950 season was going to be another losing campaign and that replacing him wouldn’t salvage the situation. He could be eased out later, during the off-season, under the guise of retirement, instead of in a potentially messy effort to try to force him out during the season. The former course would appear voluntary and dignified, while the latter could alienate fans, who might view it as unseemly and harsh treatment for such a revered figure. Roy and Earle actually agreed with Connie Jr.’s group on the need for a new manager.
Shaking up the A’s hierarchy, however, began long before Connie Sr. was eased out as manager at season’s end. At a meeting of the board of directors on May 26, 1950, Earle Mack was removed as assistant manager of the Athletics and replaced by Jimmie Dykes.[fn]Jordan, Athletics of Philadelphia, 168.[/fn] Dykes would direct day-to-day operation of the team and be positioned to take over as manager after the 1950 season. It was also at this meeting that Mickey Cochrane was named the A’s general manager.[fn]Paxton, Saturday Evening Post, 134.[/fn]
Earle’s role as manager in waiting, as Connie Sr.’s hand-picked successor, was ended; he was given the job of “chief scout” in the club’s minor-league system. These moves were orchestrated by Connie Jr.,[fn]Ibid.[/fn] who, according to Kuklick, voted with his allies against his father for the first time.[fn]Kuklick, To Every Thing a Season, 116.[/fn] Outside the Mack family, the move was regarded as positive. Earle was not respected by Athletics players. “You wouldn’t listen to him,” one of them said. Another commented, “Earle, I don’t think he knew too much about baseball.”[fn]Jordan, Athletics of Philadelphia, 168.[/fn]
The split between Connie Jr. and his two older half-brothers was now out in the open. Power was slipping from the hands of Connie Sr., Roy, and Earle. But the situation had become untenable. The Athletics were losing games and bleeding money throughout the 1950 season. Leadership tensions and factional rivalries were contributing to problems on and off the field. Something had to be done to eliminate the fractured hierarchy.
Roy and Earle Take Over
Connie Jr. made the first move. As the 1950 season unfolded disastrously, he came to the conclusion that the Athletics would never prosper under the Mack family. His solution was to sell all the stock to a new ownership group that would have the resources, unity, and drive to resuscitate the club. Young Connie was supported in this conviction by his mother and the Shibe–MacFarland family.[fn]Paxton, Saturday Evening Post, 134.[/fn]
James P. Clark, a local trucking magnate, who two years earlier had organized a syndicate to buy the Philadelphia Eagles football team, expressed interest in buying the Athletics. Baseball writer Art Morrow of the Philadelphia Inquirer broke the story.[fn]Ibid.[/fn] Other groups also showed interest. On June 12, the A’s announced that the club would not be sold in 1950.[fn]Jordan, Athletics of Philadelphia, 169.[/fn] Roy Mack declared that, if Connie Jr., his mother, and the Shibe–MacFarland family wanted to sell their A’s stock, they should first give the other Macks a chance to buy it. “Eventually,” Paxton notes,
this was agreed to. On July 31, it was announced that Roy and Earle—not always in agreement on other things but united on this issue—had been given a thirty-day option to purchase the stock of young Connie’s group. If they failed to do so, then the other side would have forty-five days to buy out Roy and Earle.[fn]Paxton, Saturday Evening Post, 134.[/fn]
The price set for the 872 shares of stock held by Connie Jr., his mother, and the Shibe–MacFarland family was $2,000 a share, or a total of $1,744,000. Connie Jr. did not believe Roy and Earle could raise that kind of money and never expected the option to be exercised.[fn]Ibid.[/fn] He was wrong.
In mid-July, Roy began planning to take out a loan for the money. One of his attorneys, Frank Schilpp, pitched the proposal to Gordon Burlingame, a Philadelphia-based representative of the Connecticut General Life Insurance Company. Within three weeks, a mortgage for $1,750,000 had been approved for the American Base Ball Club of Philadelphia. Shibe Park was used as collateral for the loan.[fn]Ibid., 136.[/fn] Roy and Earle could now buy out Connie Jr.’s group.
The long struggle waged by the Mack family for control of the Philadelphia Athletics ended on August 28, 1950, with the signing of papers in a Philadelphia law office.[fn]Connie Mack Jr. used the money for his stock to open a shrimp business in Florida—far away from his half-brothers and Major League Baseball.[/fn] The stock held by Connie Jr., his mother, and the Shibe–MacFarland family was bought in the name of the club rather than by Roy and Earle as individuals. All of the 872 shares went into the club treasury. The only active A’s stock remaining were the shares held by Connie Sr. (302), Roy (163), and Earle (163).[fn]Paxton, Saturday Evening Post, 136.[/fn]
Ending the family battle over control of the Athletics did not ease the club’s chronic financial straits or result in success between the white lines, but it did create a burdensome debt to repay. Unlike payrolls, mortgages couldn’t be cut. Paxton writes:
The mortgage payments were set at $200,000 a year for the first five years, and $160,000 a year for the next five, at the end of which the principle will be down to $483,000. Without this extra burden, the Mack brothers would be in good shape today . As it is, they still have a tough row to hoe. They can’t afford even moderate losses for very long.[fn]Ibid., 133.[/fn]
After Roy and Earle took control of the Philadelphia Athletics, the franchise broke even in 1951 and 1952, according to Roy, and lost $100,000 dollars in 1953, a disappointing season.[fn]Ibid.[/fn] To help make the mortgage payments in full and on time, the Mack brothers turned over to Connecticut General the rent that the club got from the Phillies to play at Shibe Park.[fn]Kuklick, To Every Thing a Season, 116.[/fn]
Temporarily short of working capital on some occasions, the Mack brothers took cash advances from Jacobs Brothers, the company that now ran the concession stands at Shibe Park, and they may also have borrowed capital from the American League treasury.[fn]Paxton, Saturday Evening Post, 133, 136.[/fn]
But scraping by financially was hardly a formula for long-term stability or success. One observer commented in 1954 that “Roy and Earle have neither the talent nor the money to keep the A’s fighting.”[fn]“Move from Philadelphia?” Time 44, no. 7 (16 August 1954): 37.[/fn] Moreover, although they were now running the show, Roy and Earle were fighting over operation of the franchise. They sniped at each other from different offices in Connie Mack Stadium. (Shibe Park was renamed Connie Mack Stadium before the 1953 season.)
The club announced that it needed at least 13,000 fans at every home game to reach its goal of an attendance of 550,000 for the 1954 season. Reaching that figure, according to the A’s, would enable them to meet their financial obligations. But average attendance at home games throughout the season stayed stuck at less than half that figure, resulting in the endof-year total of only a sliver more than three hundred thousand.[fn]Kuklick, To Every Thing a Season, 119–21.[/fn]
In June 1954, the Mack brothers informed Philadelphia mayor Joseph Clark that they would have to sell the Athletics unless attendance at A’s games leapt dramatically. Sale of the franchise, they warned, most likely would result in its relocation to another city. Roy and Earle may have hoped to rally public opinion around the A’s and improve the club’s finances, but it was an ill-fated gambit. Fans were not roused by threats about the team’s uncertain future. Clark turned out to be an apathetic ally of the Athletics, and the “Save the A’s” campaign largely fizzled.[fn]Ibid., 120.[/fn]
The Macks’ Perspective on the Future of the A’s
Three options loomed large for the future of the Philadelphia Athletics once the 1954 season had ended. First, the Macks could sell the team to Philadelphia buyers who would keep it in the city. Second, the Macks could continue operating the A’s in Philadelphia but share power with new investors who would have money to revitalize the club. Third, they could sell to outside buyers who would move the club elsewhere. What did the Macks want?
Connie Mack Sr., architect of the Athletics’ former greatness, had spent years planning for the franchise to remain under the perpetual control of the Mack and Shibe–MacFarland families. With the buyout of the Shibe–MacFarland and “second” Mack families in 1950, that dream was over, but nonetheless he held on to his vision of the Athletics remaining a Philadelphia franchise and the permanent property of the “first” Mack family. Connie still wanted the A’s to remain the permanent property of the “first” Mack family and for the club to stay in Philadelphia. But his skills and judgment eroded by increasing senility, he was long past being the dominant force in charting the club’s future. A figurehead president who still owned the largest block of A’s shares, Connie Sr. in 1954 could express his preferences, but no longer could he impose his will.
No longer destined to manage the club, Earle Mack was content to sell his shares and retire. Like his father, Earle preferred that the Athletics stay in Philadelphia, but he was not insistent that the club remain under sole Mack control or that he be given a position in the new leadership hierarchy. One commentator, writing in 1954, noted that Earle “would be happy to retire,” and Earle himself was quoted as saying, “If the team goes to another city, I won’t go with it.”[fn]Paxton, Saturday Evening Post, 133, 136.[/fn] His inclination to take the money and leave made Earle more of a passive observer of events as they unfolded than an active participant in them.
With Connie’s infirmity and Earle’s docility, the power to decide the Athletics’ future fell, by default, to Roy Mack. As vice president, he represented the A’s at AL ownership meetings, wielded power in the club’s front office, and would represent the franchise in any negotiations about its future. Unlike his brother, Roy wanted to preserve the club as Mack property, with himself in charge. Roy was determined to become the A’s president even if it meant bringing in outside investors to buy out Connie and Earle. Indeed, Roy went so far as to state that he wanted to run the Athletics even if it meant moving the club out of Philadelphia and to a new location.[fn]Ibid.[/fn]
The Philadelphia Athletics board of directors would pose no problems for whatever the Macks decided. Connie Mack Jr. and Benjamin Shibe MacFarland had been removed from the board after they sold their stock in 1950. In 1954, the board consisted of Connie Sr., Roy, Earle, Tommy Richardson (president of the Eastern League and a longtime Mack family friend), and Gordon Burlingame, representing the Connecticut General Life Insurance Company. As a condition of the deal that Roy and Earle made with Connecticut General to secure the loan in 1950 that enabled them buy out other shareholders, it would have a representative on the board. The agreement, however, also stipulated that the representative would have no say in club policy as long as the franchise did not become delinquent in its mortgage payments. In addition, the company would make no effort to have the A’s sold or moved as long as mortgage installment payments continued to be paid on time.[fn]Ibid., 133.[/fn] They always were.
There never was any shortage of suitors seeking to buy the Philadelphia Athletics. As noted, Jim Clark exhibited strong, serious interest in 1950. Earle in 1951 was on the verge of selling his stock to a Philadelphia group that pledged that the franchise would not be relocated and that Connie Sr. would remain the club president. When they heard of the idea, however, Roy and his father pressured Earle to kill the deal, which he did.[fn]Ibid.[/fn]
Reports surfaced that several Philadelphia-based groups were forming in 1954 to buy the A’s and keep the club in the city. Two such initiatives, one organized by advertising executive Babe Alexander and the other by restaurant owner Jim Peterson, were said to be underway, but it is unclear if either of these efforts ever got beyond the talking stage.[fn]Ibid., 136.[/fn] A more serious undertaking was led by Harry Sylk, president of Philadelphia’s Sun Ray Drug Company, who promised to match the price offered by any other potential buyer and to not move the A’s out of the city if Connie Sr., Earle, and Roy would agree to sell their stock to his investment group.[fn]“Move from Philadelphia?” Time, 16 August 1954, 37.[/fn]
No deal was struck to buy the Athletics during the 1954 season because Roy was not prepared to sell the franchise outright. He needed and sought an infusion of funds from outside investors. His goal was to buy out his father and brother, not exit with them in relinquishing ownership. Roy recognized, of course, that any investment group would want a role in running the Athletics. He was prepared to have seated on the board of directors representatives who would replace Connie and Earle—an arrangement along the lines of the one with Connecticut General. But Roy wanted to run the Philadelphia Athletics as its new president, a position he had spent many long years coveting since becoming vice president in 1936.
Exactly what role and influence Roy would have under a new leadership arrangement (that is, once Connie and Earle had left) was a thorny issue for all potential suitors. Most accepted that Roy and his son Connie Mack III would have to be given front-office posts to gain Roy’s acquiescence to a deal. Given Roy’s dubious record in running the club, however, no investors wanted him to become the A’s president or wield operational control of the franchise.[fn]Initial offers to buy the Athletics rested on Roy and Earle agreeing to leave the franchise entirely. Eventually, investors accepted that Roy would have to be retained in some capacity in the club’s hierarchy to obtain his acquiescence to the purchase. Ernest Mehl, The Kansas City Athletics (New York: Henry Holt, 1956), 67.[/fn] Besides, if a “new” Athletics club was going to emerge from the debris of the “old” Mack regime, it would make sense that the change would start at the top, with a non-Mack being put in charge. Roy’s desire for the presidency and its authority remained a stumbling block in negotiations, and he would not be dissuaded from his goal until events forced him to abandon it.[fn]Investors also may have been put off by Roy’s well-known vindictiveness, which is illustrated by a story in Kuklick’s book. When Earle and his wife separated, Earle moved into a small suite off the A’s clubhouse at Connie Mack Stadium. Roy had the water turned off so that his brother could not bathe or use the toilet. Kuklick, To Every Thing a Season, 120.[/fn]
Not all of the potential buyers were Philadelphia-based. Hovering around the Athletics like a vulture circling a wounded animal was Arnold Johnson, a Chicago businessman, investor, and vice chairman of the Automatic Canteen Co. of America. Eager to buy the club and move it to Kansas City, Missouri, Johnson was backed in his bid by the powerful owners of the New York Yankees, with whom he had extensive personal and business dealings. Johnson owned Yankee Stadium.[fn]Arnold Johnson’s relationship with the Yankees’ owners is only mentioned in this story. His business dealings with them, as well as Johnson’s well-deserved reputation as a wheeler-dealer, are examined extensively by Jeff Katz in The Kansas City A’s and the Wrong Half of the Yankees (Hingham, Mass: Maple Street Press, 2007).[/fn]
In August 1954, Johnson officially made his bid to purchase the Philadelphia Athletics, offering $4.5 million for the franchise with the avowed intention of moving it to Kansas City. Johnson’s assessment of the A’s was that there was “nothing wrong that a few million dollars won’t cure.”[fn]“Move from Philadelphia?” Time, 16 August 1954, 37.[/fn] According to some reports, Connie and Earle expressed interest, but the recalcitrant Roy declined the offer, still seeking funds that would enable him to buy out his father and brother so he could take control of the club.[fn]In any consideration that Connie was interested in selling his A’s stock to Johnson, questions must be raised about the influence his wife had on his thinking. Connie was impaired by the ravages of senility, and newspaper reports from the period often have his wife, Katherine, speaking on his behalf.[/fn]
Just Sell the Philadelphia A’s or Relocate Them?
A fundamental question that surrounded the various offers being made to buy the A’s was whether the franchise should be sold to new owners who would keep it in Philadelphia or to new owners who would move it to a different city. Precedent had been established by Major League Baseball the previous two years in dealing with cities that had two clubs one of which was beleaguered. The beleaguered clubs had been relocated.
Boston and St. Louis each had fielded two major league clubs, and in both cases the weaker team had been transferred to a new city in an effort to improve its fortunes. The Boston Braves had moved west after the 1952 season to become the Milwaukee Braves, and after the 1953 season the St. Louis Browns had moved east to become the Baltimore Orioles. The new locations had had an initial galvanizing effect, at least as measured by attendance. The Boston Braves had drawn 281,278 in 1952, and the next year the Milwaukee Braves drew 1,826,397. Similarly, the St. Louis Browns drew 297,238 in 1953, and in 1954 the Baltimore Orioles drew 1,060,910.[fn]Attendance figures are taken from www.baseball-almanac.com.[/fn]
Fan interest in a ballclub recently relocated could not be sustained indefinitely by the initial enthusiasm over its arrival in its new city. Still, the explosion in attendance that followed the transfer of the Braves and Browns to new cities strongly suggested that moving the Philadelphia A’s would produce the same result for the short term.[fn]Indeed it did. The Athletics drew only 304,666 to Connie Mack Stadium in 1954, their final year in Philadelphia. The 1955 Kansas City Athletics drew 1,393,054 to Municipal Stadium.[/fn] This influenced the owners in their deliberations about what to do with weaker franchises. Their goal was not just to stabilize tottering clubs but also to maximize the profitability of gate receipts for all franchises on the road.
Those who felt that selling the Athletics but not moving them was an inadequate remedy to the club’s problems embraced the notion that relocation was essential to the project of rescuing floundering franchises. AL president William Harridge was convinced that the Athletics’ situation in Philadelphia could not be salvaged because the club could never again attract enough fans to save it from financial collapse. His position was that the A’s must be moved.[fn]Mehl, Kansas City Athletics, 56.[/fn] The extent to which Harridge’s belief was shared by AL owners would become apparent as they gathered to discuss what to do about the Athletics.
The AL Owners Meet
On September 28, 1954, AL owners met in New York to discuss the sale and transfer of the Athletics.[fn]Jordan, Athletics of Philadelphia, 184.[/fn] The meeting ended inconclusively, but league owners made it clear that they wanted the problem to be resolved and the Athletics to be returned to sound financial footing. Roy was given two weeks to obtain enough funding to buy the club from Connie and Earle. AL owners met again on October 12 in Chicago, where Roy informed them that he had been unable to raise enough money[fn]Ibid.[/fn] and, after a fair amount of browbeating by Harridge and those owners in favor of the Johnson offer, agreed that that deal should go through.[fn]Mehl, Kansas City Athletics, 71.[/fn]
Earle didn’t need much convincing. He was eager to be bought out and to retire comfortably. “We’re licked,” he said after the September 28 meeting. “We haven’t a chance and I can’t imagine why Roy insists upon trying.”[fn]Ibid., 61.[/fn] On his way to the AL owners’ meeting of October 12, Earle commented that “before I left Philadelphia last night, my stepmother [the second Mrs. Connie Mack] told me that I had to press for a sale to Johnson because, if I didn’t, my father and I would be broke.”[fn]Ibid., 69.[/fn]
Other offers to purchase the club, including those originating from Philadelphia, were rejected as inadequate at the October 12 meeting. “They talked in millions,” Harridge observed about the other suitors, “but they produced no money.”[fn]Ibid., 72.[/fn] Johnson was given the go-ahead to finalize a settlement with the Mack family. In giving his consent to sell Johnson all of the A’s stock, Roy added a proviso that he and his brother be given until the following Monday, October 18, to contemplate and complete the sale.[fn]Ibid., 71–72.[/fn]
An Appearance of Salvation
Little noticed at the meeting was a Philadelphia sales executive, Jack Rensel, who told a story about a syndicate that was being formed to rescue the Athletics and keep them in the city. When Roy announced at the end of the meeting that he was going back to Philadelphia to discuss the club’s sale with his wife, there was Rensel at his heels and whispering into his ear.[fn]Ibid., 73.[/fn]
On October 15, a group of wealthy Philadelphia businessmen, headed by auto dealer John P. Crisconi, announced they could pay top dollar to buy the Athletics and keep the team in Philadelphia. The prospect of a last-minute rescue of the A’s, one baseball historian has written, “had overtones of an old-time melodrama.”[fn]Jordan, Athletics of Philadelphia, 183.[/fn]
It was a dramatic turnabout. The Macks agreed to sell the Athletics to the group of Philadelphia businessmen, and, in an event that was well covered by the press, signed papers formalizing the sale on October 17, 1954.[fn]“Philadelphia Keeps A’s; $4,000,000 Deal,” Chicago Daily Tribune, 18 October 1954.[/fn] This was one day before the deadline Roy had established to finalize the sale of the club to Johnson.
One of the photographs accompanying this story captures the moment: Roy Mack affixes his signature to the documents of sale. Standing in the back row are Roy’s son (Connie Mack III) and members of the syndicate who organized to buy the Athletics. The photograph’s original caption begins: “Philadelphia Athletics baseball team will remain in Philadelphia.”
According to the agreement, nine persons would each hold an equal share of the total stock of the Philadelphia Athletics. The syndicate would put up $4,000,000 to buy the club and get it out of debt. Connie Mack Sr. would receive $604,000 in cash for his 302 shares; Earle would get $450,000 in cash for his 163 shares; Roy would get the same amount as Earle for his shares but would take only $200,000 of it in cash and then, as a partner in the new ownership, would reinvest the remaining $250,000 for his oneninth share of the club. Roy also would be given a senior position in the front office to help run the club.[fn]The position Roy would hold was not specified, nor was the one that would be held by his son, Connie Mack III.[/fn] The Connecticut General Life Insurance Company would get $1,200,000 to pay off what remained of its mortgage on the A’s ballpark. Another $500,000 of the syndicate’s investment would be used to liquidate other debts the club had accumulated.[fn]Chicago Daily Tribune, 18 October 1954.[/fn]
Roy emerged from the meeting apparently delighted. “I have notified William Harridge, president of the American League,” he said, “that we have agreed to sell to this fine group of civic-minded Philadelphia businessmen. I have requested league approval. I am very, very happy to be able to keep the A’s in Philly. That has always been my goal.”[fn]Ibid.[/fn] Harridge instructed Roy to send him a telegram containing complete details of the sale and conceded that Johnson’s gambit to buy the Athletics looked dead. Harridge commented to the press that “it was a case of Roy Mack changing his mind after he told us he was willing to sell his stock to Mr. Johnson.”[fn]Edward Prell, “Harridge Asks Facts on Sale,” Chicago Daily Tribune, 18 October 1954.[/fn]
The Fishers Road Fix
Arnold Johnson was on an airplane flying from Chicago to Philadelphia with his attorney Edward L. Vollers when sale of the A’s to the Philadelphia syndicate was announced. Johnson was thunderstruck at the announcement, which he heard about after his plane had landed. “It doesn’t sound too good to me,” he was quoted as saying. “Roy Mack had a much better deal with me. I was going to make him a vice president at a high salary and he would have been a key factor in the Kansas City setup.”[fn]“Johnson Says His Deal Better One for Macks,” Chicago Daily Tribune, 18 October 1954.[/fn]
Johnson didn’t mention Earle, who was still eager to sell his shares and retire. After the sale to the Philadelphia syndicate was announced, Earle was asked by reporters what role, if any, he would play in the new organization. “I’ll hang around the ballpark,” he said, “and advise a little bit on some of the players.”[fn]Chicago Daily Tribune, 18 October 1954.[/fn]
Roy, however, wanted to continue working in the front office after the club was sold, even if he couldn’t be president, and to secure a management position in the organization for his son, Connie Mack III.[fn]Mehl, Kansas City Athletics, 67, 89.[/fn] This provided some of the leverage Johnson needed to work on Roy and change his mind about selling the Athletics to the Philadelphia syndicate before AL owners met again on October 28, purportedly to finalize the sale of the A’s to new ownership.[fn]The Macks’ decision to sell to the Philadelphia syndicate confirmed Roy’s realization that he could not buy out his father and brother and could not obtain the A’s presidency under new ownership. Roy’s exact position in the A’s hierarchy once the Philadelphia syndicate would take over was never identified; in newspaper accounts of the deal, it was described only as a “senior position.” Clearly implied in these reports, nevertheless, was that the post would not be as club president. Like Earle’s aspiration to become Athletics’ manager, Roy’s dream of being club president was gone.[/fn]
Johnson sought an immediate meeting with Roy to talk over the situation. On the evening of October 17 he sent Roy a telegram, which read in part:
Dear Roy: Unbelievable that you would not talk to me or let me see you before you went off the deep end [that is, agreed to sell the club to the Philadelphia syndicate]. Would appreciate courtesy of you calling me at Warwick [hotel ] in the morning. Suggest you do not sign until you get all the facts. Your future and your son’s future are at stake.[fn]Mehl, Kansas City Athletics, 92–93.[/fn]
Johnson went on in the telegram to tell Roy about certain changes that had been made to the offer that he, Johnson, was making for the A’s. It was now possible for him, Johnson said, to offer Roy “a stock interest in the club in Kansas City, a substantial sum of cash, and a work contract not only for himself but for his son.”[fn]Ibid., 93.[/fn]
The two agreed to meet on Monday morning, October 18, at Roy’s house at 423 Fishers Road, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. The meeting allowed Johnson to make the case that his offer was more lucrative for Roy and his son than the one made by the Philadelphia syndicate. Johnson also stressed repeatedly that his offer came with the assurance that Roy and his son would have roles in the front office of the Kansas City Athletics. Roy’s wife came out on Johnson’s side, describing his offer as meaning “financial assurance for all the parties concerned.” During the meeting, Roy admited that he felt he had been coerced into signing the sale agreement with the Philadelphia syndicate.[fn]Ibid.[/fn]
If in the drawn-out and complicated process of selling the Athletics a single event could be identified as the one at which the club’s fate to leave Philadelphia was sealed, it would be this meeting at Roy’s house on October 18. Johnson acknowledged as much later when he said:
After it was all over and we had the club, Roy mentioned to me that this telegram [the one, quoted above, that Johnson sent on October 17] had turned the trick. It had stated exactly what I was prepared to do. He and his wife talked over the matter and they agreed that as far as their own interests were concerned there were great advantages to my proposition as compared to the one which the Philadelphia group had made.[fn]Ibid., 94.[/fn]
What Made the Difference?
It is difficult to know precisely which features of Johnson’s proposal convinced Roy to turn his back on the syndicate. Ernest Mehl, the Kansas City sports editor, in his book about the Athletics’ relocation hinted at the answer when he wrote that Johnson’s offer “was considerably more attractive.”[fn]Although written more than fifty years ago, Mehl’s book remains the single most detailed account of the sale and relocation of the Philadelphia Athletics franchise. Mehl, sports editor of the Kansas City Star, was an unabashed supporter of moving the A’s to Kansas City and incorporated extensive input from Johnson in the book.[/fn] The differences may have involved the amount of upfront cash that Roy would get for his A’s stock and the circumstances under which he and his son would get positions in the front office under the new ownership. The promise of the front-office positions was common to the offers made by both Johnson and the Philadelphia syndicate. And payment for Roy’s stock was the same in both cases— $450,000. The syndicate deal, however, involved Roy reinvesting more than half of that, or $250,000, to buy a one-ninth interest in the new ownership, and the front-office positions for him and his son were linked to that.
That Roy would receive the full $450,000 in cash from Johnson for his A’s shares, and that positions in the front office for Roy and his son were not dependent on investing any of that money in the Kansas City Athletics—these were probably the deciding factors for Roy as he switched his allegiance from the syndicate to Johnson. Mehl confirms that Johnson gave Roy and Earle each a check for $450,000 for their shares of Athletics’ stock and that Roy and his son were given front-office positions once the club moved to Kansas City.[fn]Mehl, Kansas City Athletics, 108.[/fn]
Whether Johnson’s telegram in which he offered Roy a stock interest in the Kansas City Athletics was ever acted on remains unclear. There was one report that Roy invested a portion of his proceeds from the sale of the Philadelphia A’s to buy stock in the new Kansas City franchise, but the amount was unknown.[fn]Katz, Wrong Half of the Yankees, 109.[/fn] Johnson already had his investment group formed, however, and he did not need—and it is highly doubtful he wanted—Roy as part of that group.
Sabotaging the Philadelphia-Syndicate Deal
Roy’s change of heart made an already convoluted situation even messier. He was legally bound to transfer ownership of the Athletics to the Philadelphia syndicate. That agreement, moreover, had been signed not only by Roy but also by his brother Earle and father Connie, both of whom still supported selling to the syndicate. The AL owners were scheduled to meet at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York on October 28 to review and vote on the sale of the Athletics to the Philadelphia syndicate, because that was the only deal that existed on paper. Roy had already informed league president Harridge and other AL owners of the Macks’ intention to sell the club to the syndicate, not Johnson.
No formal sale agreement existed with Johnson, and, if one was to be concluded, it also would have to be signed by all three of the Macks. Johnson, however, had a powerful ally in the New York Yankees. The influence that the Yankees had on this process was, although exercised primarily beneath the surface, considerable. “In the mid-1950s,” as one baseball historian observes, “what the powerful Yankees wanted was generally what happened.”[fn]Jordan, Athletics of Philadelphia, 183.[/fn] There is no doubt what outcome the Yankees favored. “There’s been no secret about our position,” Yankees president Dan Topping said. “We think it would be best for the American League and best for us to move the A’s to Kansas City.”[fn]“Connie Mack Charges League Is Forcing Athletics to Shift to Kansas City,” New York Times, 30 October 1954.[/fn]
Initially, most AL team owners had responded with “No comment” to news of the Athletics’ sale to the Philadelphia syndicate. Only Walter “Spike” Briggs, owner of the Detroit Tigers, who had consistently supported keeping the A’s in the city, said he was glad the team was staying put.[fn]“Briggs Glad A’s Are Not Moving; Most Clubs Silent,” Chicago Daily Tribune, 18 October 1954.[/fn]
Before the October 28 meeting, stories began circulating that the Philadelphia syndicate had raised only $1,400,000 of its “alleged” $4,000,000 bid for the Athletics. One newspaper headline asked, “Did Syndicate Try to Buy A’s on Shoestring?”[fn]Irving Vaughan, “Did Syndicate Try to Buy A’s on Shoestring?” Chicago Daily Tribune, 30 October 1954.[/fn] Some syndicate members, according to reports published in the press, were anxious to drop out of the deal because they had discovered that rebuilding the Athletics financially was going to be a far more costly project than they had been led to believe.[fn]Ibid.[/fn] While such stories were attributed to “league sources” that were never identified, a circumstantial yet persuasive case can be made that they originated with the Yankees and other AL clubs eager to see Johnson get the Athletics.
The meeting of AL owners in New York on October 28 provided the forum for Roy, in concert with others sympathetic to Johnson’s bid for the A’s, to torpedo the agreement with the Philadelphia syndicate. “Roy found himself legally bound to the deal which had been made with the syndicate,” Mehl wrote, “but there was one hope in this for Johnson and that concerned the American League. If it refused to grant approval to the syndicate, the contracts with the Macks were abrogated.”[fn]Mehl, Kansas City Athletics, 98.[/fn]
The meeting at the hotel took six hours, and at its end an announcement was made that the sale of the Athletics to the Philadelphia syndicate had failed to receive a vote of approval.[fn]Shirley Povich, “Philadelphia Group’s Bid Voted Down by League,” Washington Post, 29 October 1954.[/fn] A mere majority of five votes (out of eight cast) was required to approve the sale. The final vote was a tie—four in favor of the sale and four opposed. Earl Hilligan, an assistant to Harridge, told the press, “The meeting adjourned to permit the Macks to return to Philadelphia to work out their own problems.”[fn]“League Rejects Syndicate’s Bid for A’s,” Chicago Daily Tribune, 29 October 1954.[/fn]
Recriminations Follow Rejection
The rejection was a staggering blow to the Philadelphia syndicate, who, according to newspaper accounts following the meeting, fully anticipated that the deal would be approved.[fn]Ibid.[/fn] “The decision acted like a bombshell to the members of the syndicate,” Mehl wrote. “They had been confident of triumph; they sensed in the decision a reflection upon themselves. Their resentment was expressed as they glared at the retreating forms of the league directors once the decision had been announced.”[fn]Mehl, Kansas City Athletics, 100.[/fn]
How the owners voted was supposed to be secret, but information on what happened at the meeting leaked out from knowledgeable sources to the press. Several major newspapers reported that Cleveland, Washington, Chicago, and Detroit voted in favor of the club’s sale to the Philadelphia syndicate; New York, Baltimore, Boston, and Philadelphia cast No votes.[fn]“Connie Mack Hits League Run-Around,” Chicago Daily Tribune, 30 October 1954.[/fn] In one account, “Other sources declared that Roy Mack, in a last-minute turn-about, walked out on the Philadelphia deal and tossed his support to Arnold Johnson, the Kansas City buyer.”[fn]Povich, “Philadelphia Group’s Bid Voted Down by League,” Washington Post, 29 October 1954.[/fn]
Roy’s denial that he cast a No vote has to be viewed with considerable skepticism.[fn]“Connie Mack Charges League Is Forcing Athletics to Shift to Kansas City,” New York Times, 30 October 1954.[/fn] According to sources cited in the press after the meeting, he did vote against the deal. Not a single source said he had voted to support it. Syndicate member John Crisconi had no doubt that his group had been the victim of duplicity: “I have reason to believe,” he said, “that someone handed us a double-cross. The citizenry of Philadelphia should join with me in this demand for a complete and public explanation of their [the league owners’] action.”[fn]Ibid.[/fn]
It is clear that Roy did not tell syndicate members of his behind-the-scenes deal with Johnson. There is no evidence to indicate that syndicate members were aware, or even suspected, that at the meeting Roy would abandon the agreement in favor of Johnson’s bid.
Roy, other than denying he had voted against it, was assiduously vague in his statement to the press following the meeting. “I don’t know what to say about anything right now,” he said. “We’ll have a meeting Monday or Tuesday to talk things over.”[fn]Ibid.[/fn] But in at least one newspaper article his attitude was characterized in unambiguous terms: “Roy Mack, who has been the principal figure in the negotiations, is understood to prefer the Johnson deal, which is personally more beneficial to him and his son.”[fn]Joseph M. Sheehan, “American League Rejects Athletics’ Sale to the Philadelphia Group,” New York Times, 29 October 1954.[/fn]
The owners’ meeting allowed Roy to vote to repudiate without legal or financial penalty the sale agreement he had signed with the Philadelphia syndicate less than two weeks earlier. Roy’s No vote, moreover, was critical in sending the Athletics on their way out of town. Had he voted Yes, there would have been a simply majority of five owners approving the sale of the Athletics to the Philadelphia syndicate (with Cleveland, Washington, Chicago, and Detroit also supporting the deal).
Roy withheld not only from the syndicate members but also from his brother and father any indication of his transformational conversation with Johnson before the owners’ meeting. Connie and Earle were in favor of accepting the syndicate’s offer and went into the October 28 meeting expecting that to be the outcome of the deliberations.[fn]Ibid.[/fn] When Roy voted against it, there surfaced “a divergence of opinion” among the Macks about how their stock should be sold, according to an “insider” source at the meeting.[fn]Ibid.[/fn] The failure of the Macks to agree among themselves on what action to take was now an obstacle to their ever approving the sale to the syndicate.[fn]Ibid.[/fn]
Those owners who were unaware of the backroom deal between Roy Mack and Arnold Johnson were mystified and more than a little annoyed that they had come to a meeting to consider an offer that the Macks themselves could not agree on. “I will not come to any more meetings until the Mack family has settled their own affairs among themselves,” Charles Comiskey Jr., owner of the White Sox, told the press. “It seems they can’t make up their minds. There are others who feel the same.”[fn]Chicago Daily Tribune, 29 October 1954.[/fn]
That Connie Mack Sr. was blindsided by his son Roy at the meeting became apparent when before the vote the elder Mack made a personal appeal that the Athletics remain in the city under the ownership of the Philadelphia syndicate.[fn]Kuklick, To Every Thing a Season, 125.[/fn] Some in the room (almost certainly the Yankees’ owners, perhaps others) knew the syndicate deal was doomed, and they may have been momentarily saddened at the sight of the once powerful Connie Mack pleading for a cause that was about to be abandoned through machinations in which his own son was complicit. “Dad was in the league fifty-four years,” Earle said later, expressing his own surprise and despair over the failed vote, “and only one time did he ask a favor. He asked the other owners at the meeting in New York to keep the club in Philadelphia. He didn’t care who owned the club as long as it stayed in Philadelphia. They turned him down. Fifty-four years in the league and they turned him down.”[fn]Jordan, Athletics of Philadelphia, 185.[/fn] By 1954, time had left Connie Mack behind, and now so had baseball.
The Open Letter
Connie Mack released an “open letter to Philadelphia fans” on October 29, read aloud to the assembled press by his wife Katherine, which left little doubt regarding how the “Grand Old Man of Baseball” felt about what had transpired at the owners’ meeting the day before. He began by criticizing AL owners. “They simply don’t want those men [the Philadelphia syndicate] to have the club,” he said. “It’s a runaround with an awful lot of pressure to take the A’s to Kansas City. The Kansas City set-up wants the club. Everything works to that end. No matter what the Macks say or do, the answer still will be Kansas City, of course.”[fn]“Connie Mack Charges League Is Forcing Athletics to Shift to Kansas City,” New York Times, 30 October 1954.[/fn]
Connie Mack saved his biggest salvos, however, for son Roy. “He’s been behind everything since May, telling everybody one thing and doing something else,” the statement read. “Actions speak louder than words, and Roy’s been doing all the talking.” It continued by noting that he, Connie Sr., had thought that at the owner’s meeting “everything was going to be okay” with respect to approval of the sale of the Athletics to the Philadelphia syndicate.[fn]Ibid.[/fn]
Earle, by contrast, was treated favorably in the open letter, if succinctly. “I don’t think it’s any fault of his,” Connie wrote, referring to Earle. “He’s been wonderful about everything.”[fn]“Angry Connie Mack Says A’s Will Go to Kansas City,” Washington Post, 30 October 1954.[/fn]
Mrs. Mack added in an ad hoc comment: “New York wants this club to go to Kansas City, and when New York’s in the back and pushing it, well, there’s your answer.” She concluded the statement by saying that her husband “is feeling terrible about the whole thing.”[fn]“Connie Mack Charges League Is Forcing Athletics to Shift to Kansas City,” New York Times, 30 October 1954.[/fn]
There can be little doubt that the open letter was composed by Katherine Mack, given Connie’s debilitated condition. This “second” Mrs. Mack probably took fiendish delight in using the public forum occasioned by the controversy to join the chorus criticizing Roy for his treachery. There was no love lost between Katherine Mack and the sons from Connie’s first marriage, Roy and Earle.
Making Final Arrangements
The Philadelphia syndicate fell apart quickly. “All I know is we were looking to the Macks to gain league approval for us,” member Ted Hanff commented. “They did not because they either were unwilling to do so or unable to do so. As far as I’m concerned, this is the end.”[fn]Ibid.[/fn]
Told by AL owners to go back to Philadelphia to work out their own problems, the Macks were left with the choice of resuming negotiations with Johnson or trying to operate the club for another year. Connie Mack in his open letter said that “there isn’t a chance” the family would run the A’s in 1955, citing insufficient funds. He also made clear his belief that selling the club to Johnson was the only agreement that would gain league approval.[fn]Washington Post, 30 October 1954.[/fn]
“There is no news to give anyone,” Earle was quoted as saying on November 1. “We’re just waiting— for what I don’t know—but we’re waiting.”[fn]“Athletics’ Status ‘Still in the Air,’” New York Times, 1 November 1954.[/fn] During the period between the AL owners’ meeting on October 28 and their next meeting on November 8, Roy conveniently remained unavailable for comment.[fn]Ibid.[/fn]
Arnold Johnson was anything but dormant. With Roy now in the bag, he went to work on Earle. From the owners’ meeting in New York, Johnson returned to Philadelphia to meet with Earle. In a session that “lasted all day and into the night,” Johnson and his lawyer Vollers used “every possible argument” to try to persuade him. “At last, he capitulated,” according to Mehl, but, ever diffident, made his agreement “subject to his father’s approval.”[fn]Mehl, Kansas City Athletics, 101–2.[/fn]
Johnson then met with Connie Mack and his wife.[fn]According to Mehl, Johnson got an assist from Connie Mack’s chauffeur, Chuck Roberts, who supported Johnson’s bid to get the club. Roberts took Johnson up the back stairs to the Macks’ quarters. While some members of the Philadelphia syndicate still trying to salvage their proposition were waiting in the lobby to see the Macks, Johnson was upstairs closing the deal.[/fn] After a brief discussion, Katherine Mack, now the primary decision-maker, agreed to the sale. She dispatched a letter to Harridge. It read in part: “This letter is being sent to you by Cornelius McGillicuddy, Earle T. McGillicuddy and Roy F. McGillicuddy to inform you that we have made an agreement with Arnold M. Johnson to sell all of the stock of the Philadelphia Athletics. This agreement contemplates the transfer of the franchise to Kansas City.”[fn]Mehl, Kansas City Athletics, 110.[/fn]
Johnson paid $604,000 to Connie Mack for his 302 shares of stock, and $450,000 each to Roy and Earle for their respective blocs of 163 shares. Johnson also assumed $2,000,000 of debt that the A’s had accumulated. For his money, Johnson got the Athletics and their ballpark.[fn]Ibid., 130.[/fn]
Of course, Johnson didn’t want Connie Mack Stadium, and Robert Carpenter, president of the Phillies, reluctantly bought it, paying $1,675,000 and lamenting that he had no alternative, as the Phillies would have to continue playing there. Carpenter noted that owning the ballpark would be much more expensive for the Phillies than remaining as lessees. Since the Phillies started playing at Shibe Park/Connie Mack Stadium in mid-1938, they had paid as rent to the Athletics only ten cents on each admission.[fn]“Phils Forced to Buy,” New York Times, 9 November 1954.[/fn]
The End Comes
The final act was played out at the meeting of AL owners on November 8, 1954. The session opened with Roy urging that the sale of the A’s to Johnson be approved and that the new owner be permitted to move the club to Kansas City. Obtaining a simple majority, or five votes, to approve the sale of the Athletics to Johnson was a foregone conclusion. New York, Baltimore, Boston, and Philadelphia were sure votes, and Charles Comiskey Jr. of Chicago had signaled that he too would support the transaction now that the Mack family was united on how it wanted to proceed.[fn]Mehl, Kansas City Athletics, 120, 124.[/fn]
But that was only a partial victory for Johnson. A three-fourths majority, or six votes, was required to approve the relocation to Kansas City. Cleveland, Washington, and Detroit still preferred that the franchise remain in Philadelphia, but Johnson had no intention of keeping it there. Following a lengthy discussion between Johnson and the owners, Tigers owner Spike Briggs switched his vote.[fn]Ibid., 123–24. Briggs commented at the time that he decided to vote to approve Johnson because “I finally got sick and tired of all this wrangling and wanted to restore harmony to the American League.” In a shot aimed at the Yankees’ overtly aggressive support of Johnson’s bid, Briggs added, “I also want to prove to some folks I am not so antiYankee as I have been pictured.” John Drebinger, “Athletics’ Transfer to Kansas City Wins Final American League Approval,” New York Times, 9 November 1954.[/fn] This gave Johnson the ultimate victory he had so earnestly sought for so long—not only owning the Athletics but moving them to Kansas City.[fn]To gain the owners’ approval, Johnson had to agree to “divest myself of all interest in the home of the Yankees [Yankee Stadium] within a period of 90 days.” Much of the opposition to Johnson at the November 8 meeting stemmed from concern over “his rather close association with Dan Topping, president and co-owner of the Yankees.” Drebinger, New York Times, 9 November 1954.[/fn]
In a gracious, albeit meaningless, gesture, Johnson announced after the November 8 meeting that Connie Mack would be the “honorary president” of the Kansas City Athletics.[fn]Jordan, Athletics of Philadelphia, 185.[/fn] In 1955, Connie Mack attended the first Opening Day of the Kansas City Athletics. A photograph in Mehl’s book shows him sitting in the third row behind Johnson, other club officials, and invited guests, including former President Harry Truman.[fn]The photo is one of the series of photos that follow page 64 of Mehl’s book.[/fn] Connie Mack no longer commanded front-row seats at Athletics’ games.
There are plenty of fingers to point and culprits to identify in explaining why the Athletics failed to remain in Philadelphia. The fate of the A’s rested primarily in the hands of three flawed men—one whose greatness advanced age had eroded and two who did not possess the ability to fill the resulting void in leadership. That is the great tragedy of this affair—it ultimately dashed any realistic hope that the club might survive to play again in Philadelphia.
Connie Mack: On several counts, Connie Mack bears heavy responsibility for the Athletics’ demise. His stubborn refusal to relinquish his role as manager in his later years and to pass the baton to a younger, more attuned baseball man did not improve their prospects of ever climbing out of what had become for them perennial second-division finishes. Prolonged periods of losing eroded fan support, undermined the club’s financial soundness, and hindered any sustained or robust effort to rebuild it into a contender.
Equally damaging was Connie Mack’s refusal to give up the president’s post when he could no longer carry out its responsibilities effectively. The fractious fighting between the sons of the “first” Mack family and the coalition between Connie Mack Jr. and the Shibe–MacFarland family could have been stopped only by the firm hand and wisdom of the franchise president. By the 1950s, the time for Connie Mack Sr. to exercise such authority had long since passed. He was, as noted, swayed by one side and then the other. He became a captive of others’ machinations rather than their master. A cascade of events and the preferences of others dictated developments that would cripple and eventually destroy a franchise that he had helped found and spent most of his life nurturing.
In addition, Connie Mack was fixated on “the name of Mack, the house of Mack” being forever associated with the Athletics.[fn]Kuklick, To Every Thing a Season, 113.[/fn] The narrowness of his thinking ultimately forced the senior Mack to depend on Roy and Earle to perpetuate the empire. But, as Kuklick points out, they were “undistinguished men” not up for the task of overseeing a major-league franchise that would be successful on the field or profitable at the gate.[fn]Ibid.[/fn] This became evident when, after the Second World War, the Athletics performed more like “a gentle comedy.”[fn]Kashatus, Philadelphia Athletics, 71.[/fn] By 1954, they were “a truly bad ball club.”[fn]Jordan, Athletics of Philadelphia, 181.[/fn] At his insistence, Connie Mack built “the house of Mack” to govern the Athletics, but it was a house built on sand, and it slipped away as Mack’s abilities left him.
Connie Mack should have acted more quickly and decisively to expand the Athletics’ ownership by bringing in partners with deep pockets, entrepreneurial drive, a willingness to restructure and invigorate the organization’s operations (especially the farm system), and a determination to rejuvenate the front office with new personnel possessing baseball acumen and awareness of how the business of baseball had changed and was being conducted after the Second World War.[fn]Charles C. Alexander, Our Game: An American Baseball History (New York: MJF Books, 1991), chap. 9 and 10.[/fn] Doing that, however, would have meant sharing control of the Athletics outside the family. Mack’s resistance to what he considered such an unpleasant prospect eventually resulted in the family’s loss of the A’s entirely.
For an example of the powerful impact that new and plentiful money could have on a club’s fortunes, Connie Mack needed look no further than Bob Carpenter and the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies had long been a poverty-stricken franchise fielding bad teams when the wealthy Carpenter family bought the club in 1943. The renaissance that followed was unmistakable. “The Carpenters brought to the Phillies front office a substantial bankroll,” Donald Honig writes in his history of the club, “a quiet dignity, and the stability that flowed therefrom.”[fn]Donald Honig, The Philadelphia Phillies (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992), 121.[/fn] Rich Westcott in his own history of the Phillies echoes the observation: “Bob Carpenter poured his energy and his family’s fortune into the team. . . . Perhaps Carpenter’s chief contribution to the Phillies, though, was the dignity he gave to a flimsy franchise. Bob changed the image of the club, giving it a respectability it had for so long been lacking.”[fn]Rich Westcott and Frank Bilovsky, The Phillies Encyclopedia, 3d ed. (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2004), 374–77.[/fn]
That the Phillies’ star began ascending in the late 1940s under new and inspired ownership with deep pockets, just as the A’s star was descending under old and tired ownership with empty pockets, only compounded the sense of the A’s decline after the Second World War.[fn]As evidence of the Phillies’ transcendence in Philadelphia, their home attendance figures more than doubled those of the A’s in 1953 and 1954.[/fn] By 1954, the A’s star had been eclipsed, and now they were disappearing over the horizon.
Earle Mack: There is remarkably little to write about Earle Mack’s role in the sale of the Philadelphia Athletics because it was so negligible. His passivity made Earle more a bystander than participant in the whole affair. Quotations from Earle cited earlier in this story illustrate his subservient role. In them, he refers to his stepmother’s instructions to sell to Johnson, his bewilderment over what would happen next after league owners rejected the Philadelphia syndicate deal, and his willingness to sell his stock to Johnson subject to his father’s approval. Newspaper accounts published between late October and early November 1954 focus very little on Earle because he was such a marginal presence in events as they transpired.
Earle had long labored in the Athletics’ organization, briefly as a player and then as a coach and field lieutenant. But, it was always in the shadow of his father, and as Kuklick points out in his book, Earle acted “without motivation of his own.”[fn]Kuklick, To Every Thing a Season, 113.[/fn] Earle summarized his feelings after the November 8 meeting by commenting, “I’m glad it’s over, but naturally I’m terribly disappointed that the Athletics had to leave Philadelphia.”[fn]“Griff Loses Fight When Briggs Votes For Move,” Washington Post, 9 November 1954.[/fn] He was not alone in being disappointed, but it is unlikely Earle could comprehend just how much he contributed to the disappointment that so many shared.[fn]Earle Mack used the money he received from selling his A’s stock to get into the prefabrication-construction business. He never worked in baseball again. Stang, Athletics Album, 202.[/fn]
Earle could have played a pivotal role in the sale of the Philadelphia Athletics, but he did not possess the fortitude—nor could he summon the determination— to do more than follow a trail that was being blazed by someone else. His father, Connie, was too infirm to lead from the front, so it fell—by default and not through ability—to Roy Mack to do so.
Roy Mack: For fans of the Philadelphia Athletics, the role of villain in this story belongs most clearly to Roy Mack. He went from supporter of retaining the Athletics in Philadelphia to conspirator in delivering the club to Kansas City. In Roy’s defense, it is apparent he took the deal that held the greatest financial benefit for himself and his family, both in terms of money received for A’s stock, and position held in the new ownership structure. In doing so, however, personal gain took precedence in Roy’s calculations over any intention to keep the Athletics in Philadelphia. This provided the opening that Arnold Johnson was able to exploit in crafting his strategy to gain control over the A’s, extract the team from Philadelphia, and relocate it to Kansas City.
Roy was the only member of the “house of Mack” who could have thwarted Johnson’s ambitions to control the Athletics. With Connie impaired by old age and the weak-willed Earle looking for someone to tell him what to do, only Roy was left to thwart Johnson (and the New York Yankees) by insisting that the club be sold to an owner who would keep it in Philadelphia. A weak man,[fn]Kuklick, To Every Thing a Season, 125.[/fn] Roy was not fit for that role and actually wound up providing critical assistance to Johnson in torpedoing the Philadelphia syndicate deal and paving the way for the A’s departure from the city.
Necessity, not preference, compelled Johnson to seek out and buy Roy’s allegiance. It is evident that Johnson’s dealings with Roy left him disenchanted with the man. Once he had purchased the A’s stock of Connie, Earle, and Roy, Johnson ordered his lawyer Vollers to get the stock out of Roy’s name first and to do so immediately.[fn]Mehl, Kansas City Athletics, 111.[/fn] Johnson, moreover, had told the press on October 17 following announcement of the sale of the Athletics to the Philadelphia syndicate that he had intended to make Roy “a key factor in the Kansas City set-up.” After Johnson had obtained the club and approval to move it to Kansas City, he announced that Roy (and Earle) would be given threeyear contracts with the new organization to work “in some capacity.”[fn]Drebinger, New York Times, 9 November 1954.[/fn] Roy was given the ceremonial position of vice president in the Kansas City Athletics franchise, but he had no real authority in the operation of the club.[fn]Stang, Athletics Album, 202.[/fn] Recognizing that he was nothing more than an anachronistic appendage from a by-gone era, Roy left the Kansas City Athletics after a year.[fn]Ted Taylor, Philadelphia Athletics by the Numbers (Bloomington, Ind.: Xlibris, 2009), 19.[/fn] Earle did not accept the position offered by Johnson.[fn]Jordan, Athletics of Philadelphia, 185.[/fn]
Roy’s descent from being “a key factor” in the new organization before the sale to working for it “in some capacity” after the sale made clear that Johnson’s courtship of him was based on expediency alone and not borne of inclination or respect.
While Roy certainly does not stand alone in bearing responsibility for the departure of the Athletics from Philadelphia, he was the one who first succumbed to the siren’s song of greater personal gain that Johnson sang. Avarice replaced allegiance in guiding Roy’s behavior. At all of the critical AL owners’ meetings, it was Roy Mack who sat at the table representing the Athletics; it was his hand that went up in the air to vote against the Philadelphia syndicate’s offer, to vote for Johnson’s bid, and to approve the club’s relocation to Kansas City.
Arnold Johnson: If there is a hero in the sale of the Philadelphia Athletics, it’s Arnold Johnson. Of course, to Kansas City he’s a hero, for bringing it a major-league franchise. To Johnson’s credit, he overcame many, often seemingly insurmountable hurdles to acquire the A’s. He persevered in the face of numerous delays and considerable uncertainty to get what he wanted.
But it was a pyrrhic victory for him, and the misfortunes he encountered subsequently may bring a faint smile to the most hardened of Philadelphia fans. The A’s were an awful franchise during their relatively brief stay in Kansas City. While reaching as high as sixth place only once (1955), the Kansas City Athletics could most commonly be found in or near the cellar of the American League.
Johnson died in 1960 during spring training, after suffering a heart attack. He left his 52 percent share of the club to his wife and young son. Johnson’s wife quickly remarried and in late 1960 sold the stock to Charlie Finley for $1,975,000. Finley then bought out the remaining 48 percent of shares held by a Kansas City investment group and became sole owner of the Athletics.[fn]Roy Mack was not one of the other shareholders bought out by Finley. So, if Roy had ever had stock in the Kansas City Athletics, he had sold it prior to Finley’s acquisition of the franchise in 1960.[/fn] After a tumultuous tenure in Kansas City, where its on-field performance did not improve, Finley moved the club to Oakland following the 1967 baseball season.[fn]Donald Dewey and Nicholas Acocella, Total Ballclubs (Wilmington, Del.: Sports Media Publishing, 2005), 298–99.[/fn]
New York Yankees: In assessing why the Athletics left Philadelphia, some mention must be made of the New York Yankees. It is clear that Yankees’ owners meddled in the sale of the Athletics to ensure that the transaction was done to satisfy their interests. Dan Topping’s statement, quoted earlier, about the transfer of the A’s being “best for us,” leaves no doubt about whose behalf they acted on. For the Yankees, that meant arranging for Johnson to become the A’s new owner and Kansas City the club’s new home. Their backing helped Johnson outdistance other suitors seeking the Athletics, and the Yankees’ assistance was indispensable in sabotaging the Philadelphia syndicate’s offer to buy the franchise.
Impartiality was not a criterion embraced by the Yankees in assessing the various offers made to buy the Athletics from the Mack family. As noted, the Yankees had an extensive business relationship with Johnson, and he was their favored candidate. New York had a farm team in Kansas City, the Blues, that would have to be moved elsewhere if the Athletics shifted there. Johnson, ironically, owned Blues Stadium in addition to Yankee Stadium. Fears of collusion between Johnson and the Yankees’ owners were heightened when New York announced immediately after the November 8 meeting that it was waiving the indemnity payments due it for pushing its farm affiliate out of Kansas City to make room for the Athletics.[fn]Ibid., 297.[/fn]
In a broad sense, Johnson and the Yankees complemented each other in their effort to attain their shared goal. Johnson’s job was to deliver the deal to buy the A’s, while the Yankees’ role was to deliver the votes of AL owners to approve the club’s sale and relocation. It was an effective partnership. With president Will Harridge’s connivance, the Yankees used their influence to convince AL owners to approve the club’s sale and relocation. At the same time, the Yankees worked to ensure that Johnson would be welcomed into the fold of AL owners when his bid was considered.
The Yankees were rewarded handsomely for their efforts. The Kansas City Athletics became little more than a New York farm club on a major-league level.[fn]Katz, Wrong Half of the Yankees, chap. 10–13.[/fn] Between 1955 and 1960 (the period when Johnson owned the A’s), the Yankees and Athletics completed sixteen trades involving fifty-eight players. In most cases, the trades brought the Yankees prized prospects while leaving the Athletics with over-the-hill stars.[fn]Dewey and Acocella, Total Ballclubs, 297.[/fn] The Yankees won the AL title five times during that six-year period and the World Series twice.
A compelling argument can be made that the ultimate beneficiaries of the Athletics’ sale and relocation were the fans not of Kansas City but of New York.
A Last Look Back at the Detritus of Deplorable Doings
Two of the great losers in the Athletics’ sale and departure were Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. On a cold November day in 1954, both the City of Brotherly Love and the Keystone State lost representation in the American League. Teams from that league would no longer visit during the regular season—at least not until the advent of interleague play in 1997. The distinction that Philadelphia and Pennsylvania had enjoyed since 1901, having a club in both major leagues, was now gone. The loss diminished their stature in baseball and all of sports.[fn]Other cities and their states suffered similar fates during this period. In addition to Boston losing the Braves in 1952 and St. Louis losing the Browns in 1953, New York lost both of its National League franchises, the Giants and Dodgers, when they moved west after the 1957 season. The Giants landed in San Francisco, the Dodgers in Los Angeles.[/fn]
Some in baseball recognized that the luster of the game itself was tarnished by the shabby, albeit selfinduced, manner of Connie Mack’s departure from the game. Baseball Magazine dedicated its March 1955 issue to the A’s longtime skipper. John Ford, paying homage to the man, wrote:
Baseball will be a little different this year, a little sadder, for the era of one of the game’s greatest figures is over. For the first time in seventy years organized ball will have to go it alone without one man, a man who, more than any other, symbolized what baseball has meant to America. That man, of course, is Cornelius McGillicuddy—Connie Mack.[fn]John Ford, “The End of an Era,” Baseball Magazine 91, no.1, (March 1955): 6–9.[/fn]
Ford attributed the Athletics’ demise to the fairweather and fickle fans of Philadelphia, noting that “when he [Mack ] saw, finally, that the city would no longer support the team he agreed to the sale.”[fn]Ibid., 9.[/fn] In offering that superficial explanation, Ford never addressed why the fans had withdrawn their support. To do so honestly would have meant criticizing Connie Mack in a way and to an extent that would have conflicted with Ford’s goal of bestowing praise.
In placing the sale and relocation of the Athletics in historical perspective, one author has written, “And when the end came, it came in a tragicomedy of fits and starts, of sloppy, confusing procedures which left fans and supporters in both Philadelphia and Kansas City unhappy and disillusioned.”[fn]Jordan, Athletics of Philadelphia, 183.[/fn]
It was an overwhelming set of unfavorable circumstances that came together in 1954 to seal the fate of the Athletics. Failed franchise leadership (the Macks), inadequate sources of revenue (vanished patrons), burdensome debt (Connecticut General and others), an aging ballpark (Connie Mack Stadium), an indifferent city administration (Mayor Clark), a suddenly invigorated rival (the Phillies), a powerful advocate for the club’s relocation (the Yankees), a willingness to relocate troubled franchises (Braves and Browns), and an able suitor (Johnson) all combined in 1954 to end the A’s stay in Philadelphia. It is doubtful that any lesser combination of these factors would have been sufficient to compel the team to leave. Together, they produced enough momentum to make that outcome inevitable.
The process also was punctuated by opportunities to keep the Athletics in Philadelphia. The opportunities passed by unrealized, however, because none of the men positioned to seize on them were both willing and able to do so. This fact more than any other made the Athletics’ departure from Philadelphia a journey without honor.
BOB WARRINGTON, a member of the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society, has written extensively about the history of baseball in Philadelphia.