Remember Connie Mack, Philadelphia Director of Athletics

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The former catcher made his major league debut 135 years ago this month on September 11, 1886. His longevity in the canoe is a feat we will likely never see again in professional sports.


Connie Mack January 7, 1911. / Photograph by Paul Thompson via Flickr

The Phillies have had such a hectic season that you might think second-year manager Joe Girardi could find his job on the line. As it stands, he’s the Phils’ fifth manager since 2013, the year that ended. ended Charlie Manuel’s nine-season tenure. This lack of managerial longevity reminded us of Connie Mack, the Philadelphia Athletics coach known as “The Grand Old Man of Baseball”, and for good reason: he occupied the A’s dugout (in a suit and tie, nothing less) extended from 1901 to 1950.

Add to that his 11-year playing career and the three seasons he has led the Pirates, and you have a total of 65 years in the game. Perhaps even more amazing, his players would have loved it, than they win or they lose. Here are some more facts about Mack, who made his major league debut on September 11, 1886.

About this name …
Mack, whose birth name was Cornelius McGillicuddy, was born in Brookfield, Massachusetts, in 1862 to Irish immigrants. The story that he abbreviated his name to fit in printed sheet music is probably apocryphal, but it’s a nickname for many. He left school after eighth grade to work and help with family finances, but he also played catcher for the city’s baseball team. This led to stints with minor league teams in Connecticut before he was signed by the Washington Nationals. He briefly jumped to the fledgling Players League in 1889, investing his life savings of $ 500 in the Buffalo Bisons, which quickly folded, costing him his investment. He moved on to the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he ended a playing career in which he was primarily known for his opponents who chatted and skillfully imitated the sound of a foul tip hitting the bat. He was probably responsible, in the latter capacity, for a rule change in 1891 which stipulated that a batter had to have two strikes on him to be put out if the catcher caught a free kick. Mack was six feet two inches tall and so slim his player nickname was “Slats.”

After Mack established the Philly A franchise, his team won six of the top 14 American League pennants as well as World Series titles in 1910, 1911 and 1913. But after the team lost the 1914 Series to Boston in four straight games, he won the drastic step of selling the club’s best players – a step he would repeat often enough that in his obituary, the New York Times Noted, “No other manager in the history of the game has ever managed more young players and brought more to fame and fortune. But he is likely to be best remembered for his focus. Sensational scrap of championship machines, the tear of teams that other men would have been keen to lead Sixers, you listen?

Chicken and chicken salad …
When Mack was a manager, the A’s played in Shibe Park at 20th and Lehigh, the first steel and concrete stadium used for baseball. The 23,000-seat park opened in 1909, five blocks west of the team’s former land, the Baker Bowl, which, when built in 1887, was considered state-of-the-art and could accommodate 12,500 fans. Phils Hall of Famer and longtime broadcaster Richie Ashburn once said of Shibe: “It looked like a baseball stadium. It smelled like a baseball stadium. There was a feeling and a heartbeat, a personality that was all baseball. (Ashburn also once said of Shibe’s successor, Veterans Stadium, and Shibe that the difference between them was “like the difference between chicken salad and chicken poop.”)

With his rebuilt squad, Mack led the A’s to back-to-back World Series victories in 1929 and 1930 before losing to the Cardinals in 1931. In total, he had 7,755 games and won 3,731 while losing 3,948 – all records that no other manager has ever approached or will probably ever approach. This Times Obit called him “a new kind of manager,” then explained:

The old rulers ruled by force, often beating players who disobeyed orders or blundered on the pitch or broke club rules off the pitch. One of the nicest, sweetest men, he always insisted that he could achieve better results with kindness. He has never humiliated a player by public criticism. No one has ever heard him scold a man in the most difficult moments of his many pennant fights.

About this elephant …
Yet he was also an uncompromising businessman, once explaining to a cousin: “The best thing for a team is to be in the race and finish second. If you win, the players all expect raises. Another Mack nickname was “the great tactician”; he favored brains over muscles and once traded Shoeless Joe Jackson for a bad attitude. It was perhaps not the wisest strategy; Mack was often strapped for cash and insisted on leading the team himself after most of the others brought in GMs.

As a gentleman as he could be, Mack was never interested in breaking baseball’s color barrier, not even after Jackie Robinson made first base debut for the Dodgers in 1947. The A’s didn’t. signed as a black player before the 1953 season, after Mack’s retirement.

Mack had two sons and a daughter by his first wife, who died after the birth of their third child, and four daughters and a son, Cornelius Jr., by his second. Grandson Connie Mack III served as United States Representative and then United States Senator from Florida from the early 1980s to early 1980s. III’s son Connie Mack IV is a former United States Representative from Florida who is now a lobbyist and was once married to Sonny Bono’s widow, Mary.

Mack was elected to second class Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937. Shibe Park was renamed Connie Mack Stadium in her honor in 1953. In 1955, due to financial difficulties, her family sold the A’s to Chicago businessman Arnold Johnson, who moved the franchise to Kansas City; he moved once again, to Oakland, in 1968. In 1905, Giants manager John McGraw felt that Mack had a “white elephant” on his hands with the A’s – a team, McGraw claimed, that no one else wanted. Mack quickly adopted a white elephant as his team logo, a symbol the As’s still use today. He died in 1956 at the age of 93.

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