Connie Mack (1862-1956) was a patrician figure who managed more games than anyone else in baseball history. He led the Philadelphia Athletics to nine American League pennants and five World Series championships. Reserved and dignified, Mack left an indelible stamp on baseball.
In his playing days, Connie Mack was a star catcher for Washington in the 1880s and the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1890s. He managed the Pittsburgh team before taking over the Philadelphia Athletics in 1901. Mack eventually became sole owner of the Athletics and did not retire until 1950, at the age of 87.
Early Years in Baseball
Cornelius McGillicuddy was born in East Brookfield, Massachusetts, on December 22, 1862, to Mary (McKillop) and Michael McGillicuddy. By the time he was nine, the tall, thin boy, nicknamed "Slats," was working at a cotton mill. His father died when Cornelius was a teenager, and he became the family breadwinner. At 16, he began work in a shoe factory and became a foreman by the time he was 20.
While working at the factory, McGillicuddy played semi-pro baseball for East Brookfield. When he was 21, the Meriden club in the Connecticut State League offered him $90 a month to play catcher. At that time it was a hefty salary. Meriden shortened his name to "Connie Mack" to fit on scorecards, and the nickname stuck. Mack went on to play for Hartford and then Newark, two other minor league teams. Then, along with four other players, he was sold for the then enormous sum of $3,500 to the Washington team in the National League.
In 1886, Mack played in ten games for Washington and hit .361. But after that season there was a key rule change: batters could no longer call for the pitcher to throw a high or low pitch. When pitchers learned that Mack couldn't hit low pitches, his batting average sunk to .201 in 1887 and to .187 in 1888. He was never a good hitter after that, but he was a good enough fielder that he hung on for eleven seasons as a big-league player. In 1890, he played for Buffalo (in the short-lived Players League), and from 1891 through 1896 he was a catcher for Pittsburgh.
At six foot one, Mack was a tall man for his era, commanding attention with his quiet, deliberate speech. He knew so much about baseball strategy that he quickly became a respected leader. At a time when baseball was a rowdy, disreputable sport, Mack always projected the aura of a gentleman. Devoutly religious, he never swore or drank. After Mack assumed the post of manager at Pittsburgh in 1894, he forbade his players from drinking alcohol during the season. In 1897, he played his last games while managing Milwaukee in the Western League. He managed four years for Milwaukee's owner, Ban Johnson, the pioneer organizer who soon turned the Western League into the American League.
American League Stalwart
Mack was the major force behind the establishment of a Philadelphia club in the American League. The new league wanted to challenge the supremacy of the established National League, represented in Philadelphia by the Phillies. Mack recruited Benjamin Shibe, a manufacturer of baseball equipment, to become president and the club's chief financier. Shibe Park was built for a home field. Some critics derided the new club as the city's "white elephant," a useless acquisition, but Mack turned the insult into a logo, and for decades the team sported white elephants on its uniforms.
Under the leadership of Mack and Rube Waddell, a hard-throwing pitcher Mack had signed in 1900, the Athletics rose quickly to the top, winning the American League pennant in 1902. Mack led the team to a second pennant in 1905 and to its first appearance in the World Series, in which the Athletics lost to John McGraw's New York Giants. In 1903, 1907 and 1909, Mack's club finished second in the league.
In 1910, Mack married Katherine Hallahan. From a previous marriage, he had three sons, Roy, Earle and Connie Jr., all of whom eventually became executives with the Athletics. The club would become virtually a Mack family business.
In 1910 and 1911, the Athletics returned to the World Series and became world champions, beating the Chicago Cubs and then the Giants. The team was anchored by its famous "$100,000 infield" of Hall of Famers Frank Baker, Eddie Collins, Jack Barry, and Stuffy McInnis. Mack said the 1912 team was one of his best, though it finished third. During that season the owners of the New York Highlanders (later renamed the Yankees) offered Mack the manager's job there, but he remained loyal to Shibe and Philadelphia. Again in 1913, the Athletics beat the Giants in the World Series. They repeated as league champions in 1914 but were upset by the Boston Braves in the Series.
Mack often was contrasted with McGraw, the fiery leader of the Giants, because their personalities and leadership styles were so opposite. "Mack, tall, thin as a beanpole, even-tempered, mild-mannered … was as much a father to his players as their manager," wrote baseball historians Lawrence Ritter and Donald Honig. According to historian Harold Seymour, Mack was "serene, mild-mannered, seldom ruffled … the stoically patient leader … inspiring affection and regard." Collins was among many who praised Mack for expressing strong confidence in his players' abilities. "You would have to comb the world to find a man possessed of such ability to make human beings extend themselves," Collins said.
Peaks and Valleys
In his first 14 seasons at Philadelphia, Mack's Athletics finished in first place six times and in second place three times. They had only one losing season. But with the rival Federal League luring star players away and the club's finances dwindling due to indifferent attendance, Mack suddenly sold off all his aging stars. This move forever gained the cautious Mack the reputation in Philadelphia of being a skinflint who cared more about profits than pennants.
In 1914, Mack's team won 99 games and lost 53. The next year, the Athletics won 43 games and lost 109. Mack hunkered down to survive the lean years of World War I. Starting in 1916, his club finished in last place for seven consecutive years before making a slow climb back to contention in the mid-1920s.
Philadelphia became a baseball powerhouse again in the period from 1925 through 1933, led by such Hall of Famers as pitcher Lefty Grove, catcher Mickey Cochrane and slugging outfielder Jimmie Foxx, all players whom Mack had recruited and carefully nurtured. He worked hard to learn about promising young players and sign them, and always made a long-term commitment to their success. Mack prized intelligent, hard-working, self-motivated gentlemen, much like himself, and stocked his teams with former college players.
During the nine years of Mack's second dynasty, the Athletics finished in third place twice, in second four times, and won three pennants, from 1929 through 1931. In 1929, Mack stunned fans and baseball experts by passing up Grove to start journeyman Howard Ehmke in the World Series opener against the Cubs. Ehmke struck out thirteen batters and won the game, and Mack used Grove in the bullpen throughout the Series, which Philadelphia won. After the season, Mack was awarded Philadelphia's prestigious Bok Prize for service to the city; it had never before been given to a sports figure.
The Athletics repeated as world champions in 1930, then lost the World Series in 1931. Mack had what he called "the highest-priced ball club in the history of the game," but once again, Philadelphia fans seemed to tire quickly of all the winning. With the Great Depression deepening, attendance continued to fall. Mack again broke up his team, selling four of his stars to Boston in 1935. "It has hurt me worse to break up my great teams than it has the fans," Mack wrote in an article in 1936 for the Saturday Evening Post. But, as he explained in more hard-nosed terms in his autobiography: "Baseball is strictly a competitive business that must be conducted on sound business principles."
A Symbol of Baseball
In 1937, Mack became the Athletics' president and treasurer. With his own finances tied even more closely to those of the club, he continued to spend little on acquiring established players. In Mack's final 16 seasons, his club became the laughingstock of baseball, never finishing higher than fourth place, and ending up in last place ten times.
Nonetheless, Mack's popularity grew. Fans would come to games just to see him standing in the dugout, waving his scorecard to signal his players on the field. He was named to the Baseball Hall of Fame at its inception as one of fifteen "Builders of Baseball." The Pennsylvania government set aside May 17 as Connie Mack Day. Philadelphia's George M. Cohan wrote a song, "Connie Mack Is the Grand Old Name." In 1941, against his wishes, the name of Shibe Park was changed to Connie Mack Stadium.
In a 1944 poll, Mack was voted the favorite manager of players and sportswriters. That year, a tribute to Mack was held before a home game. He was showered with accolades, and a baseball "dream team" as named by Mack appeared in their old uniforms. Still, Mack refused to retire from the game he loved.
In Mack's later years, he would not appear in the dugout until the game started, always dressed in his crisp blue suit with his high stiff collar. Decades before, most other managers had begun wearing team uniforms; Mack never did. He projected the formality and dignity of a bygone era, and was looked upon as a living baseball relic. Though he was still formally manager, his son Earle and others coaches actually ran the team in Mack's later years. Sometimes he could be heard ordering the names of bygone players into the game.
Historians argue that Mack's dismal final 16 seasons shouldn't diminish his credentials as one of baseball's greatest managers. "Like John McGraw, Mack had a staggering command of the details of the game," baseball researcher Bill James wrote.
Mack didn't retire until after the 1950 season, when he was almost 88. His 53 years as a major-league manager gave him career figures not approached by any other manager. He managed 7,755 big-league regular-season games and 43 World Series games, nearly 3,000 more than McGraw, who is second to Mack in games and victories. Mack's teams won 3,731 games and lost 3,948. He managed almost twice as many losses as anyone else in history; second was Bucky Harris with 2,218. With his refusal to give up despite losing season after losing season, Mack became the enduring, implacable symbol of baseball's resiliency and relentless optimism.
Mack remained president of the Athletics until 1954. After the season, Mack stepped down at the age of 92, and the Athletics moved to Kansas City, almost as if they could not bear to remain in Philadelphia without their founder and symbol. Mack died in Germantown, Pennsylvania on February 8, 1956.
Further Reading on Connie Mack
The Baseball Encyclopedia, Macmillan, 1990.
James, Bill, The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers from 1870 to Today, Scribner, 1997.
McGillicuddy, Cornelius, Connie Mack's Baseball Book, King-sport Press, 1950.
Ritter, Lawrence and Donald Honig, The Image of their Greatness, Crown, 1979.
Seymour, Harold, Baseball: The Golden Age,, Oxford University Press, 1971.