By: C.G. Morelli
Connie Mack said a lot of things during his career. Of course, it’s easy to say a lot when your career as manager spans half a century. He once said, “Humanity is the keystone that holds nations and men together. When that collapses, the whole structure crumbles. This is as true of baseball teams as any other pursuit in life.” This perhaps recalls the image of the Tall Tactician, a man whose impeccable values and fatherly overtones produced much veneration for him from his arrival in Philadelphia in 1900 until his departure in 1950.
When all was said and done, Mack had compiled 3,731 wins with the Athletics, the most for a manager in baseball history, besting John McGraw by over 1,000 wins. His teams won the World Series five times in that span, and the AL title nine times. Ironically, Mack also racked up 3,948 losses during his tenure as the A’s manager. This total is also, far and away, the worst in baseball history. Mack actually finished in last place 17 times while at the helm of the Athletics. So, I guess it’s fitting that the most successful losing manager of all time would also coin the phrase, “You can’t win ‘em all.”
In fact, even with his staggering total of victories and irreplaceable impact on the game, Mack would humbly tell you that he wasn’t the quintessential baseball skipper. For that title, he’d have to tab one of his contemporaries during the early part of the century. “There has only ever been one manager,” he said, “And his name is John McGraw.”
But, in Philly, he was more than quintessential. He was the Philadelphia Athletics.
Even after a dismal farewell season in ‘50, where his team finished an embarrassing 52-102 to claim last place for the 10th time in 16 seasons, he was still considered the man.
After all, we’re talking about the first manager in history to win three World Series titles, and the only manager ever to win the series back to back on two separate occasions (1910-11, 1929-30). Last time I checked, people in Philly don’t forget stuff like that too quickly, which is probably why Mack could walk down the narrowest, most remote alleyway in the city and still be recognized as the father of Philadelphia baseball even by the stray cats.
But it was because of this prominence, this ultimate feeling of comfort which Mack exuded upon the fans, that his departure spelled the beginning of the end for the A’s in Philly.
The loveable fan favorite, Jimmy Dykes, took Mack’s role and improved the team to a 6th place finish the following season. Even so, attendance plummeted drastically and continued to do so for the next few years. Things just weren’t the same without the Grand Old Man of Baseball staking his post on the dugout steps.
“Any minute, any day, some player may break a long standing record,” he said, “That’s one of the fascinations about the game, the unexpected surprises.”
Perhaps Mack’s departure was one of those unexpected surprises the Philadelphia Athletics were never prepared to face. Or maybe it was the fascination for the game that suddenly left the hearts of the fans and the organization once the venerable leader had fled the battlefield.
Whatever the factor, the A’s would never find a way to recover within the confines of their own backyard. They were sent packing to Kansas City in 1954. Mack died two years later, having spent 66 years in baseball as a player and manager.
After a lifetime of service to the game it’s no wonder Mack once said, “No matter what I talk about, I always get back to baseball.” Somewhere, I’d like to think, Mr. Cornelius Alexander McGillicuddy is having a little chat about baseball as we speak.