Connie Mack: The Tall Tactician
This article was published in the 2013 The National Pastime.
He was known as “The Tall Tactician” and was baseball’s grand old gentleman for more than a generation. Statuesque, stately, and slim, he clutched a rolled-up scorecard as he sat or stood ramrod straight in the dugout, attired in a business suit rather than a uniform, a derby or bowler in place of a baseball cap. He carried himself with quiet dignity, and commanded the respect of friend and foe. Widely addressed by players and other officials as Mr. Mack, he and the Philadelphia Athletics were so closely linked for 50 years that the team was often dubbed “the Mackmen.”
Connie Mack’s Hall of Fame career spanned 65 major-league seasons as a player, manager, team executive, and owner. He posted 3,731 wins, a mark that exceeds any other manager’s total by nearly 1,000 victories. He guided the Athletics to nine American League championships and won five World Series titles in eight appearances. He was the first manager to win three World Series titles, and the first to win consecutive titles two times. The valleys were as low as the peaks were high: He also endured a major-league record 3,948 losses, and his team finished last in the American League 17 times. He built his dynasties with rising young players, won championships with the stars he developed, and then sold off those stars when he could no longer afford them.
A journeyman catcher who offered more in the way of innovation and creativity than ability during an 11-year major-league playing career, Mack served as player-manager for the National League’s Pittsburgh (the city was actually known as “Pittsburg” from 1890 to 1911) Pirates for three seasons during the rollicking 1890s, and then for four seasons for the Milwaukee Brewers of the Western League, which became the American League in 1900. In 1901, when the circuit declared it was a major league and began to invade Eastern cities, AL President Ban Johnson asked Mack to establish the Philadelphia Athletics. Mack managed the team through 1950, and was a team owner for the franchise’s entire 54-year existence.
In the early years of the Athletics, Mack skippered some of the Deadball Era’s best teams, winning six AL pennants and three World Series in the league’s first 14 years, primarily with players he discovered on school grounds and sandlots and developed into stars. Faced with financial difficulties because of the onset of World War I and competition for players from the fledgling Federal League, he dismantled his dynasty and endured a decade of miserable finishes. As he advanced into his sixties, many sportswriters and fans suggested the game had passed him by. But he adjusted to the times, opened his checkbook to purchase rising stars from minor-league teams, and built a second dynasty by the end of the Roaring Twenties.
That team won three straight AL championships (1929–31) and a pair of World Series titles, but suffered declining attendance as the Great Depression devastated Pennsylvania’s economy. A pragmatic businessman with no other streams of income other than his ballclub, Mack felt forced to sell off his stars to more solvent teams. Once again, the Athletics tumbled to the bottom of the AL standings, where they would hover for most of the rest of their stay in Philadelphia.
He believed that he would eventually build another winner, and took pride in his ability to discover and develop talented young players. “No other manager in the history of the game ever handled more young players and brought more of them to stardom and to fortune,” the New York Times observed in Mack’s obituary. “But it is probable that he will be best remembered for his sensational scrapping of championship machines…”1
Mack’s enduring legacy is his longevity and his civility. He spent a remarkable 71 years in Organized Baseball, and by the time he left the game, he was a living legend, revered by the public and by those inside the game. Contrary to popular belief, the distinguished old gentleman did swear, and he did yell at his players, but rarely, and usually behind closed doors. He addressed his players by their proper given names; they generally called him “Mr. Mack.”
Sabermetrician and baseball historian Bill James related a story about Mack and Robert “Lefty” Grove, his star pitcher during the glory years of the late 1920s and early 1930s:
Grove was a loudmouth and a hot-head. His manager, Connie Mack, was a quiet, soft-spoken man who didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, swear, or raise his voice. In 1932, after a tough defeat, Grove was in the clubhouse raising Cain, throwing chairs, screaming at people and menacing lockers. Finally, Connie Mack came out to try to quiet him down. Grove was having none of it. “The hell with you, Mack,” he screamed. “To hell with you.” To which Mack responded quietly, as Grove stormed off to the shower, “And to hell with you too, Robert.”2
Cornelius McGillicuddy was born on December 22, 1862, in East Brookfield, Massachusetts, the third of seven children of Irish immigrants Michael and Mary McKillop McGillicuddy. He arrived one week after Robert E. Lee defeated Union forces at the Battle of Fredericksburg (Virginia), and seven months before the Battle of Gettysburg. At the time, his father, who had worked in cotton mills and shoe factories before the war, was serving in the 51st Massachusetts Infantry, and did not return home until July 1863. As was true of many McGillicuddys, the family was known by Mack, except in legal documents.
Connie, a tall, thin boy dubbed “Slats” by his friends, began to play baseball at an early age. He dropped out of school at the age of 14, worked in a local shoe factory, and became the catcher and captain for the town team. At age 21, he decided that his future was in baseball and embarked on a minor-league career. He debuted at Meriden in the Connecticut State League in 1884. In 1885, he played one game for Newark in the Eastern League, then joined Hartford in the North East Connecticut League. In 1886, Mack caught 69 games for Hartford, which had moved up in class to join the Eastern League.
After the Hartford season ended, the Washington franchise in the National League purchased Mack and three others players for $3,500. The 6-foot-2 1/2, 150-pound, right-handed batting beanpole catcher made his big-league debut two days later, on Saturday, September 11, 1886, in a 4–3 win over the Philadelphia Phillies before 1,500 fans at Washington’s Swampoodle Grounds. Although the Nationals won 13 of 26 games the rest of the way—including four by forfeit—they still finished with the worst record in the eight-team NL at 28–92. Over 10 games, Mack collected 13 hits in 36 atbats, recorded 88 bare-handed putouts and 22 assists, and was charged with five errors and 10 passed balls.
From 1887 to 1889, Mack was Washington’s regular backstop, playing an occasional game at first base, second base, the outfield, and even one at shortstop. He batted .201 in 1887 and just .187 the next year, though he did smack a career-high three home runs and steal 31 bases. He batted .293 in 1889, when the Nationals again slid back into the cellar after a seventh-place finish in 1888.
Mack was a leader in the players’ rebellion against the NL’s salary cap and reserve clause that led to the formation of the Players League in 1890. He invested his savings of $500 in the Buffalo club and caught 123 games for the Bisons, which finished last in the eight-team loop. When the PL collapsed after one season, Mack signed with Pittsburgh in the National League.
He spent the next six seasons in the Smokey City. While there, his wife of five years, Margaret Hogan, died in 1892, leaving him with three infant children. He did not remarry until 1910, when he and Katherine Hallahan began his second family, four girls and a boy.
On the field, he was the NL’s leader in catcher fielding percentage in 1891 and 1892. “By that time he had become known as a smart catcher and a reliable batsman in the pinches, though he never was a heavy hitter,” the New York Times remembered.3 Though not highly skilled, he was creative and competitive. He was one of the first major-league catchers to move up from the backstop to just behind the batter, and among the first to block the plate.
He was also cunning, though he cultivated a clean-cut image. He mimicked the sound of a foul tip and was so proficient at catching them that the NL changed its rule so that a batter was no longer out if the catcher snagged a foul tip with fewer than two strikes. In 1893, he intentionally dropped a popup and turned it into a triple play.4 He physically disrupted batters by grabbing or tipping their bats as they swung, and mentally disturbed them by pointing out a flaw or weakness. “Since his minor league days, Connie Mack had continued to work on perfecting the arts of distracting chatter, quick pitches, and bat tipping,” Mack biographer Norman Macht wrote, adding that Mack would feign innocence after the act.5 Hall of Fame catcher and manager Wilbert Robinson remembered that “Mack never was mean like some of the catchers of the day. But he kept up a string of chatter behind the plate, and if you had any soft spot, Connie would find it. He could do and say things that got more under your skin than the cuss words used by other catchers.”6
Though he believed in fair play, Mack was able to take pride in his gamesmanship in an era when gaining an edge was a valued characteristic. “Farmer Weaver was a catcher-outfielder for Louisville. I tipped his bat several times when he had two strikes on him one year, and each time the umpire called him out. He got even, though. One time there were two strikes on him and he swung as the pitch was coming in. But he didn’t swing at the ball. He swung right at my wrists. Sometimes I think I can still feel the pain. I’ll tell you I didn’t tip his bat again. No, sir, not until the last game of the season and Weaver was at bat for the last time. When he had two strikes, I tipped his bat again and got away with it.”7
Mack was spiked and suffered an ankle injury during the 1893 season while blocking the plate against the Boston Beaneaters’ Herman Long. “I was never the same player after that,” Mack later told sportswriter Fred Lieb. “I was slower on the bases and couldn’t stoop as well behind the plate. It would catch me in the calf, where I had been spiked.”8 He caught 70 games in 1894. The Pirates started the season with a 53–55 record before Al Buckenberger was dismissed and Mack was named manager at the age of 32. On September 3, the Tall Tactician earned the first of his record-setting 3,731 managerial wins in a 22–1 walloping of his old team, Washington, in a home game at Exposition Park. The next day, Mack tasted the first of 3,948 losses in a road game at the Polo Grounds.
“He was a new type of manager,” the New York Times observed at the time of Mack’s passing. “The oldtime leaders ruled by force, often thrashing players who disobeyed orders on the field or broke club rules off the field. One of the kindest and most soft-spoken of men, he always insisted that he could get better results by kindness. He never humiliated a player by public criticism. No one ever heard him scold a man in the most trying times of his many pennant fights.”9
Pittsburgh posted a 12–10 record the rest of the way and remained in seventh place among the 12 teams in the expanded NL Never the same after the 1893 injury, Mack appeared in just 14 games as a player in 1895, and though the Pirates finished seventh again, they improved to 71–61 and even led the league briefly in August. But they faded quickly, and on September 6 at the Polo Grounds, the frustrated Mack argued a call at second base, and veteran umpire Hank O’Day tossed him out of the game, the only official ejection of the Tall Tactician’s long career. After being thrown out of the game, Mack refused to leave the field. O’Day asked a New York City policeman to remove him, but Mack shook him off and didn’t leave until other officers arrived at the scene. He later said he was embarrassed by the incident. Though extremely passionate and highly competitive, the pragmatic Mack managed to maintain his composure through the rest of his career, because he thought it best for his team.
Mack appeared in 33 games in 1896, 28 of them at first base, and participated in his final major-league contest as a player on August 29, 1896 at the age of 33. The Pirates climbed to sixth place in 1896 with a 66–63 record, but disagreements with the team’s owners led to Mack’s dismissal.
Mack moved on to Milwaukee, and became manager and 25 percent owner of the city’s Western League franchise. Majority owner Henry Killilea told the Tall Tactician, “You’re in charge. Handle the club as if it belonged to you. Engage the players you think will strengthen the team without consulting any directors of the club.”10
Mack skippered the Brewers for four seasons. A player-manager during the first three, he took his last turn in the field as a professional player on September 4, 1899. “Once he gave up playing,” baseball historian Charles C. Alexander observed, “Mack had managed from the bench in street clothes. His high starched collar was basic male attire at the turn of the century, but many years later, long after it had become unfashionable, he would still be wearing one."11 He would also carry a scorecard for the remainder of his career, waving it to send signals to his players on the field. He relied on his experience and understanding of the skills of both his players and opponents to position his fielders.
Concerned with both wins and the box office receipts, Mack assembled and developed a competitive squad that included a talented but mercurial pitcher, Rube Waddell. In 1900, when league president Ban Johnson transformed the Western League into the American League, the Brewers finished second. When he invaded the eastern cities to compete directly with the NL, Johnson tabbed Mack to establish the Philadelphia franchise that would compete against the Phillies in the nation’s third-largest city.
Johnson turned to Charles Somers, the Cleveland owner who had bankrolled several of the other AL entries, to finance the Philadelphia franchise until local ownership could be arranged, and directed Mack to Ben Shibe. Shibe owned the A.J. Reach Company, which manufactured baseball equipment, and a minority share of the rival Phillies. Mack persuaded Shibe to buy 50 percent of the AL franchise from Somers, promising Shibe that Reach would become the sole provider of baseballs for the American League. Mack obtained 25 percent of the franchise himself, and two Philadelphia sportswriters, Frank Hough and Sam Jones, bought the remaining 25 percent, which they sold to Mack in 1912.
The agreement between Shibe and Mack was cemented with a handshake, and wasn’t put on paper until 1902. Shibe served as team president and handled the team’s business affairs, while Mack served as treasurer and managed baseball matters. The agreement endured through Shibe’s death in 1922, after which Mack worked in partnership with Shibe’s sons Tom and John, until their deaths in the 1930s, when Mack became the majority shareholder.
With the partnership in place, Mack needed a place to play as well as players. He solved the first problem by leasing a vacant lot and commissioning construction of Columbia Park. To solve his second problem, Mack turned his attention to his cross-town rivals. With a salary offer of $4,000, Mack lured Napoleon “King Larry” Lajoie away from the Phillies, and signed pitchers Chick Fraser, Bill Bernhard, and Wiley Piatt.
Mack also signed young New York Giants pitcher Christy Mathewson, but Matty jumped back to the Giants. Although Mack accused Mathewson of reneging on his contract, he later referred to him as the greatest pitcher ever. The two crossed paths several times during the next two decades.
Although he did not land Mathewson, Mack did acquire players who made an impact in the AL’s inaugural season of 1901. Lajoie was the American League’s best player, leading the league in batting average (.422), slugging percentage, runs, doubles (48), home runs (14), and RBIs (125). Fraser won 20 games, Bernhard 17, and 25-year-old lefty Eddie Plank won another 17. Mack also added Harry Davis, Socks Seybold, and Lave Cross to the fold. However, the Athletics managed just a 74–62 record and finished fourth in the American League, nine games behind Clark Griffith’s Chicago White Sox, and just ahead of John McGraw’s fifth-place Baltimore Orioles.
Mack once again set his sights on the Phillies, who had finished second in the NL This time, he signed away outfielder Elmer Flick, pitcher Bill Duggleby, and shortstop Monte Cross. But before the 1902 season started, the Athletics suffered a severe setback when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that Lajoie, Fraser, and Bernhard could not play for any team other than the Phillies. The ruling, which was valid only in Pennsylvania, also affected the three new jumpers. Fraser complied with the order, but Mack made an agreement with Somers, and Lajoie, Flick, and Bernhard chose to sign with Cleveland, staying out of Pennsylvania when the team played there, which allowed them to stay in the American League.
With half his team pulled out from under him on Opening Day, Mack had to rebuild in a hurry. He acquired catcher Osee Schrecongost from Cleveland, picked up second baseman Danny Murphy from Norwich, Connecticut, and mercurial lefthander Rube Waddell, who he had managed in Milwaukee, from the California League. Waddell joined the A’s on June 26 and posted a 24–7 record with a 2.05 earned run average and 210 strikeouts the rest of the way. Plank, a 20-game winner for the first time, and Seybold, who hit 16 home runs, an American League record that stood until Babe Ruth hit 29 in 1919, led the Athletics to their first AL pennant.
The flag was the first for the City of Brotherly Love since 1883, and helped the Mackmen win the battle of the box office. The Athletics drew 420,078 to Columbia Park, more than double what they had drawn during their inaugural season, while the Phillies, jilted by the three men who would win the new league’s first five batting championships (Lajoie in 1901 and ’03–04, Ed Delahanty in 1902, and Flick in 1905), attracted just 112,066 to the Baker Bowl (which was called Philadelphia Base Ball Park in 1902). The Mackmen would outperform and outdraw the Phillies for the next 13 years.
NL champion Pittsburgh owner Barney Dreyfuss declined an opportunity to play in what would have been the first “modern” World Series, and manager John McGraw, who had jumped from the AL’s Baltimore Orioles to the NL’s New York Giants during the season derisively labeled the Athletics “a White Elephant,” a term generally used to describe an ornate, impractical, and burdensome possession. Rather than consider it an insult, Mack immediately adopted the pachyderm as the team’s symbol, and attached a white elephant patch to the Athletic uniforms from 1903 to 1928.
The two leagues reached a “peace agreement” in January 1903, which effectively ended the player raiding between them. The Mackmen finished second that season, as Boston earned the right to play in the first modern World Series. Philadelphia finished 14 1/2 games back despite 20-win seasons by Plank and Waddell, and 17 from newcomer Chief Bender. The Athletics closed the gap to 12 1/2 games in 1904 but finished fifth despite 26 wins from both Plank and Waddell.
With largely the same team, the Athletics outdistanced the Chicago White Sox by two games in 1905. Waddell won 26, Plank won 25, youngster Andy Coakley won 20, and Bender added 16. In addition to the strong pitching, the Athletics led the American League in hitting and runs scored.
As fate would have it, the Mackmen faced the New York Giants and Mathewson in the World Series. As luck would have it, the Athletics were without Waddell, who had been injured. Mathewson tossed three shutouts, including a six-hitter in Game 5 to wrap up the series, and McGraw, who had clad his squad in new black uniforms, earned his first world championship. The Athletics scored just three runs in the series, all in Chief Bender’s 3–0 Game 2 win.
The A’s slipped to fourth in 1906, finished one-and-a-half games behind Ty Cobb’s Tigers in 1907, and a distant sixth in 1908. But during that season, Mack began to build his first dynasty, providing playing time for 21-year-old second baseman Eddie Collins, 21-year-old shortstop Jack Barry, and 22-year-old third baseman Frank Baker.
With the three youngsters in the starting lineup and the Athletics playing their home games at newly finished Shibe Park, Philadelphia finished second as the Tigers won their third straight pennant in 1909.
The Mackmen returned to the top in 1910. Jack Coombs won 31 games, Bender 23, and the 34-year-old Plank won 16 as Philadelphia steamrolled first the American League, and then the Chicago Cubs, four games to one in the Fall Classic. Coombs won three games and Bender one to give Mack and Philadelphia their first World Series championship.
Coombs, Plank, and Bender combined to carry the Athletics to a second straight championship in 1911, and 20-year-old first baseman Stuffy McInnis stepped into the starting lineup, along with Collins, Barry, and Baker, to complete what would become known as “the $100,000 infield.” Once again, Mack squared off against McGraw’s black-clad Giants. This time, the Athletics prevailed as Baker hit two key home runs and earned the moniker of “Home Run” Baker. Bender won twice and Coombs and Plank each picked up a victory in the 4–1 series triumph.
The Athletics slipped to third in 1912, but bounced back to finish 6 1/2 games ahead of Walter Johnson’s Washington Senators in 1913. Once again the World Series matched Mr. Mack and Muggsy, and for the second time, the Athletics won, this time by a four-games-to-one margin as the 37-year-old Plank out-dueled Mathewson in the finale and Bender won two more World Series games.
With three World Series wins in four years, two over McGraw, Mack had earned his reputation as “The Tall Tactician.” Philadelphia cruised to its fourth AL title in five years in 1914 behind the $100,000 infield and the pitching of Bender, Plank, 21-year-old Bullet Joe Bush, 23-year-old Bob Shawkey, and 20-year-old Herb Pennock. The Athletics, like their manager, were efficient. But as tranquil as the season was in Philadelphia, there were storm clouds on the horizon. Like a cyclone, the Boston Braves, mired in last place on July 18, arose in the summer heat, stormed past the rest of the National League, and demolished the Athletics in a stunning World Series sweep.
Mack later claimed his team lost because it had been splintered by the specter of Federal League money. Unwilling and unable to match its lucrative salaries, Mack watched the Federal League lure away Plank and Bender, released Coombs (who had missed two seasons because of illness and injury) and sold Eddie Collins to the White Sox because owner Charles Comiskey could afford a high salary to keep Collins out of Federal League hands.
He refused to renegotiate a three-year contract Baker had signed in 1914, and Baker retired to his family farm and sat out a year before the equally stubborn Mack traded him to the New York Yankees.
Mack’s 1950 “autobiography,” most likely penned by a ghost writer12, justifies his actions:
“After giving the crisis much careful thought, I decided the war had gone too far to stop it by trying to outbid the Federal moneybags. Nothing could be more disastrous at this time than a salary war. There was but one thing to do: to refuse to be drawn into this bitter conflict, and to let those who wanted to risk their fate with the Federals go to the Federals. The first to go were Bender and Plank. I didn’t get a nickel for them. This was like being struck by a hurricane. Others followed. There was only one way to get out from under the catastrophe. I decided to sell out and start over again. When it became known that my players were for sale, the offers rolled into me. If the players are going to ‘cash in’ and leave me to hold the bag, there was nothing for me to do but to cash in too. So I sold the great Eddie Collins to the White Sox for $50,000 cash. I sold Home Run Baker to the Yankees. My shortstop, Jack Barry, told me he wanted to go to Boston, so I sold him to the Bostons for a song. “Why didn’t you hang on to the half of your team that was loyal and start to build up again?” This question has often been asked me. My answer is that when a team starts to disintegrate it is like trying to plug up the hole in the dam to stop the flood. The boys who are left have lost their high spirits, and they want to go where they think the future looks brighter. It is only human for everyone to try to improve his opportunities.”13
When the 1915 season started, Mack hoped that Bush, Shawkey, and Pennock could offset the loss of his veteran pitchers. They weren’t ready. Although the three would combine for 636 wins over their careers, they went just 14–29 for the Athletics in 1915. Before the season ended, he sent Shawkey to the Yankees and Pennock and Barry to the Red Sox. The scuttled squad managed to lose 109 games, and finished 58 1/2 games behind the Red Sox, even though Lajoie, at age 39, returned to the fold. A year later, Larry closed out his career on an even more dismal Athletics squad, one that finished just 36–117. The Mackmen placed last for seven straight seasons, including the final five of the Deadball Era. In 1919, the A’s finished 52 games back and the cross-town rival Phillies finished 47 1/2 back in the NL in a dismal baseball year for the City of Brotherly Love.
In the early 1920s, as Mack neared and passed his 60th birthday, baseball writers and fans openly suggested that the old timer should surrender his spot on the bench to a younger man. But Mack was busy building his next dynasty. The Mackmen finally escaped the cellar in 1922, when they finished seventh. They improved one more place each year between 1922 and 1924, and then jumped to second place in 1925. Shibe Park attendance, which had bottomed out in 1918 at 177,926, jumped to 869,703 in 1925, and Mack plowed his profits right back into the team. By the end of that year, Mack had added future Hall of Famers Al Simmons, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Cochrane, and Robert “Lefty” Grove—all purchased from minor-league clubs—to his roster, which now also included Eddie Rommel, Rube Wahlberg, Jimmy Dykes, and Max Bishop. The Mackmen slipped to third in 1926, then finished second to the “Murderer’s Row” New York Yankees in 1927.
They finished second again in 1928, and Mack managed three hitters who each had collected more than 3,000 hits. Both Tris Speaker and Ty Cobb closed out their Hall of Fame careers that summer in Philadelphia uniforms. Speaker collected the final 51 of his 3,514 career hits, and Cobb, who had joined the Athletics in 1927, knocked out the final 114 of his 4,189 safeties. Eddie Collins, who had returned to the Athletics in 1927, managed three hits in 1928, raising his career total to 3,314, and would add number 3,315, his last, with a pinch-hit single in 1930. The three made up half of the six players who had reached the milestone by that time— Lajoie, who had spent two stints with Mack, Cap Anson, and Honus Wagner, made up the rest of the exclusive club. (Mack also managed some near misses. After a long NL career, Zack Wheat played his final season in Philadelphia in 1927 and finished with 2,884 hits. Simmons was on his way to 2,927 career safeties.)
The following year, the Athletics embarked on one of the greatest three-year runs in baseball history, winning 313 games in that span, three AL pennants, and a pair of World Series titles.
The 1929 Athletics posted 104 victories, finished 18 games ahead of the Yankees, and crushed the Chicago Cubs four games to one in the World Series. Surprise Game 1 starter Howard Ehmke delivered a completegame 3–1 victory, and the Athletics, trailing 8–0 in Game 4, rallied for 10 runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to win, 10–8. Mack later called Ehmke’s performance “my greatest thrill.”14 Cochrane, Foxx, Simmons, Dykes, Mule Haas, and Bing Miller all batted .300 or better, while George Earnshaw, who Mack had purchased a year earlier from the minors, posted 24 wins, Grove 20, Wahlberg 18, and Rommel 12.
Philadelphia won 102 games in 1930, finished eight games ahead of the runner-up Washington Senators and 16 ahead of the Yankees, and downed the St. Louis Cardinals four games to two in the Fall Classic behind a pair of wins each from Grove and Earnshaw, two homers each from Cochrane and Simmons, and a game-winner from Foxx. Grove won 28 games during the regular season and Earnshaw 22, Foxx homered 37 times and drove in 156 runs, and Simmons hit 36 homers and drove in 165.
In 1931 they were even better during the regular season. The Athletics posted 107 wins to finish 13 1/2 games ahead of the Yankees. Grove posted a 31–4 record, Earnshaw and Rube Walberg each won more than 20, Foxx hit 30 home runs, and Simmons hit 22. But Johnny “Pepper” Martin, the “Wild Horse of the Osage,” collected 12 hits, ran wild, and willed the Cardinals to victory in a seven-game Fall Classic rematch, the finale being a 4–2 win at Sportsman’s Park.
It was the last time that Mack managed a World Series game, as the second Athletics dynasty ended much like the first. This time it was the Great Depression that devastated the city of Philadelphia’s economy. Attendance plummeted while the Athletics had the highest payroll in the league. Mack sold off his stars to owners with deeper pockets, and his team returned to the nether regions of the American League.
The descent started slowly. Foxx smashed 58 home runs and drove in 169 runs, and the Athletics won 94 games in 1932, but finished 13 games behind the Yankees, as New York returned to dominance after the three-year interruption. The Athletics had drawn 839,176 to Shibe Park in 1929, and though they had won three straight pennants, attendance fell to just 405,500 by 1932. In September, Mack sold Simmons, Dykes, and Mule Haas to the Chicago White Sox for $100,000. Two months later, he released Rommel.
In 1933, Mack served as the AL manager for the first All-Star Game, meeting and beating the ailing John McGraw for the last time, when Babe Ruth homered to give the junior circuit the win in Chicago. Mack had missed the opportunity to manage Ruth earlier in his career, turning down a chance to purchase the rookie pitcher from Baltimore owner Jack Dunn in 1914, insisting he had no money to do so.
The A’s slipped another spot in 1933, finishing third. In December, Mack dealt Grove, Walberg, and Bishop to the Boston Red Sox for two journeyman players and $125,000, swapped Cochrane to Detroit for $100,000 and pitcher Johnny Pasek, and packaged Pasek and Earnshaw in a deal with the White Sox that netted $20,000 and another journeyman player.
The Athletics fell to fifth the next year, and dove all the way to the cellar in 1935, when they attracted just 297,138 to Shibe Park. In December, Mack completed the dismantling of his dynasty when he traded Jimmie Foxx in a four-player trade that brought back $150,000 in cash.
Between 1935 and 1946, the Athletics finished last nine times in 12 years. Mack, who turned 75 after the 1937 season, missed the final 34 games of that campaign and 91 more in 1939 because of illness. His son Earle, who had played five games for Philadelphia’s pennant-winning teams in the 1910s and managed in the minors before he joined his father as a coach and heir apparent in 1924, served as the interim manager. Many thought that once the Grand Old Man retired, Earle would become manager and his half-brother Connie Mack Jr., would manage the team’s business affairs. It never happened. Earle served a Prince Charles-like apprenticeship, serving 27 years as bench coach, with just the two interludes, before he was reassigned as chief scout in 1950.
By the late 1930s, Tom and John Shibe, who partnered with Mack after their father’s death, had also died, and the Tall Tactician purchased shares from John Shibe’s estate that gave the Mack family a majority ownership. Named team president in 1937, he was unwilling to give up the responsibility for baseball operations and ran the ballclub like a small business. With baseball as his primary business, Mack never had the money to compete against owners who had become wealthy through other financial endeavors, but he continued to aspire to make his team more profitable and rebuild another dynasty. In 1938, he reached an agreement with the Phillies to share Shibe Park, embracing his box office rivals as a tenant. In 1939, he added lights, and the Athletics became the first AL team to play night games at home.
They may have been better off in the dark. The Athletics continued to finish last in the early 1940s as the United States entered World War II, though Al Simmons became the latest in a legion of former players to rejoin Mack as a coach, a list that included Ira Thomas, Danny Murphy, Eddie Collins, Eddie Rommel, and Jimmy Dykes.
In 1943, the Athletics suffered through a 20-game losing streak on their way to another eighth-place finish. But in 1944, a season that saw most able-bodied young men in military rather than baseball uniforms, the St. Louis Browns won their only AL pennant, and the Mackmen climbed to sixth place.
They slid back into the cellar the following year, and the two after that, before making Mack’s modest last hurrah. The Athletics posted a winning record in all three seasons between 1947 and 1949, finishing fifth twice and fourth in 1948. Attendance, which ran as low as 233,173 during the lean seasons, spiked to a three-year average of 891,052. Bolstered by the box office receipts, Mack at long last had cash to spend. But while he may have dreamed of another dynasty, his age, financial situation, unwillingness to embrace and build a minorleague system, and a reluctance to add minority players (because he believed Philadelphia fans wouldn’t accept them) doomed the dream to failure.
After three straight winning seasons, Mack optimistically embarked on the 1950 campaign, but at the age of 87, suffered through a 50–102 season. The Athletics drew just 309,805 to Shibe Park, while their tenants, the Whiz Kid Phillies, won the NL title and attracted more than a million fans for the fifth straight year.
Mack endured lapses of memory, napped during games, and made bad coaching decisions that his assistants quietly reversed during the 1950 season. Despite his vow that he would not step down, he was too old to physically carry on, and, despite their promise in August that he would not have to, his sons, Earle and Roy, urged him to surrender his spot in the dugout. On October 18, 1950, at the age of 87, Connie Mack retired as manager of the Philadelphia Athletics, with a tally of 3,731 wins (3,582 with Philadelphia) and 3,948 losses (3,814 with the A’s), both major-league records. Mack said, “I’m not quitting because I’m getting old, I’m quitting because I think people want me to.”15
Jimmy Dykes, one of many former players who had returned to serve as a coach for Mack, and who had replaced Earle as the top assistant, was named manager. Dykes guided the team to fifth- and fourth-place finishes the next two years, but the Athletics slipped to seventh in his final season, 1953, and finished last under Eddie Joost in 1954.
Mack stayed on as team president, though his sons took on more and more of the duties as he aged. Roy and Earle (his sons from his first marriage) had acquired nearly 80 percent of the franchise’s stock by August 1950, including shares from Connie Mack Jr. (his son from his second marriage) after considerable squabbling among the children from the two marriages (the turmoil had resulted in a temporary separation from his second wife, Katherine in 1946–47).16 To acquire the shares, Roy and Earle heavily mortgaged the club through the Connecticut General Life Insurance, and the debt-laden club once again faced financial difficulty as attendance continued to fall. “Toward the end he was old and sick and saddened, a figure of forlorn dignity bewildered by the bickering around him as the baseball monument that he had built crumbled away,” veteran sportswriter Red Smith wrote.17
Though his legacy and career winning percentage had been eroded by the string of last-place finishes, Mack was revered by those in the game, and the public. Shibe Park was renamed “Connie Mack Stadium” in 1953 and continued to house both the Athletics and the Phillies, who were still winning the battle of the box office between the two. The other AL owners, unhappy about their share of the low gates at Philadelphia—just 362,111 in 1953 and a paltry 304,666 in 1954—urged the Macks to sell or move the team.
The Macks resisted, but Roy and Earle were pressured by the New York owners to sell the team to Arnold Johnson, a Chicago vending machine magnate who owned the Yankees farm team in Kansas City. When Earle and Roy finally agreed to sell, the other AL owners unanimously voted to accept the deal. Upon hearing the news that the Athletics would move away from Philadelphia, the 91-year-old Connie Mack collapsed.
He bounced back and endured the summer of 1955, his first outside of organized baseball since he embarked on his playing career in 1884. In early October, he fell and suffered a hip fracture that required surgery and was using a wheelchair when he celebrated his 93rd birthday on December 22. In early February, he fell ill while at his daughter’s house.
Connie Mack died in Philadelphia on February 8, 1956, at the age of 93 “of old age and complications from hip surgery.”18 Hundreds of fans, friends, former players, and baseball executives turned out for the funeral at St. Bridget’s, his parish church. He was buried at Holy Sepulchre Catholic Cemetery in Philadelphia. He was survived by Katherine, four daughters, three sons, and 24 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. One grandson, Connie Mack III, the son of Connie Mack Jr., served in the US House of Representatives from 1983 to 1989, and represented Florida in the US Senate from 1989 to 2001. One great-great-grandson, Connie Mack IV, also served Florida in the US House of Representatives from 2005 to 2013.
Mack received many honors during his long career. He was proudest of the Bok Award, which was presented to him for his service to the city of Philadelphia in 1929. The honor had always gone to someone prominent in the arts or professions. In 1941, the City of Philadelphia and State of Pennsylvania both declared May 17 “Connie Mack Day.”
In December 1937, 13 years before he retired as the Athletics manager, Mack was selected for induction into Baseball’s Hall of Fame, along with his old nemesis, McGraw, and old ally, Ban Johnson. In June 1939, Mack was honored at the dedication of the Hall of Fame Museum at Cooperstown. His plaque there called him “Mr. Baseball.”
Decades after both he and his beloved Athletics departed, The City of Brotherly Love continues to honor the Mackmen legacy. Mack was posthumously inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame in 2004, and was among the inaugural group selected for the Philadelphia Baseball Wall of Fame. The Wall stood inside Veterans Stadium—where the Phillies moved when they left Connie Mack Stadium after the 1970 season—until 2004, when they moved into Citizens Bank Park. There, a new Wall includes only Phillies contributors, and the names of the Athletics’ honorees now appear on the base of a lifesized statue of Connie Mack, attired in a business suit, waving his rolled up scorecard, outside the ballpark. It is a fitting tribute to the man who meant so much to baseball in Philadelphia.
DOUG SKIPPER has contributed to a number of SABR publications and profiled more than a dozen players and managers for the SABR Baseball Biographical Project. A SABR member since 1982, he is active in the Halsey Hall (Minneapolis) Chapter and the Deadball Era Committee, and is interested in the history of Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics, the Boston Red Sox, and old ballparks. A market research consultant residing in Apple Valley, Minnesota, Doug is also a veteran of father-daughter dancing. Doug and his wife have two daughters, MacKenzie and Shannon.
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- 1. “Connie Mack, Mr. Baseball, Dies in Philadelphia at the Age of 93,” New York Times, Feb. 9, 1956, 1, 36.
- 2. Bill James, The New Bill James Historical Abstract (New York: Free Press, 2001), 848.
- 3. The New York Times, Feb. 9, 1956, 1, 36.
- 4. Norman Macht, Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007), 97-98.
- 5. Macht, 99-100.
- 6. Macht, 99-100.
- 7. Macht, 100.
- 8. Frederick Lieb, Connie Mack (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1945), 40.
- 9. New York Times, Feb. 9, 1956, 1, 36.
- 10. Macht, 131.
- 11. Charles C. Alexander, John McGraw (New York: Viking Penguin Books, 1988), 116-117.
- 12. Connie Mack. My 66 Years in the Big Leagues, The Great Story of America’s National Game (Philadelphia: Universal House, 1950), 35-36. According to Philadelphia Athletics historian Bob Warrington, “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. “Departure Without Dignity: The Athletics Leave Philadelphia,” Baseball Research Journal, 39 (Fall 2010), 113.
- 13. Mack, 35-36.
- 14. Mack, 46-48.
- 15. William C. Kashatus, The Philadelphia Athletics (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing 2002), 90.
- 16. Robert D. Warrington, “Departure Without Dignity: The Athletics Leave Philadelphia,” Baseball Research Journal, 39, (Fall 2010), 113.
- 17. Robert Schmuhl, Making Words Dance: Reflections on Red Smith, Journalism, and Writing (Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Publishing 2010), xxiii.
- 18. Ted Davis, Connie Mack: A Life in Baseball (Lincoln, NE: Writers Club Press, 2000), 215.