Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Remarkable Mr. Mack

I have just finished reading Norman Macht's fine new book, Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball (University of Nebraska Press).

I recommend it to anyone interested in baseball history -- or just U.S. history in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Macht spent 22 years on his Mack project, which covers nearly 700 pages. He states he needed all that "to try to adequately—and accurately—depict just the first half (through 1914) of the life and times of the remarkable Mr. Mack.” Indeed. There was so much to tell.

Connie Mack (1862-1956) was original manager and part-owner of the Philadelphia Athletics, and one of the founders of the upstart American League. He did this for an incredible 50 years. You read that correctly: For a half-century. During that span, he managed some of the best -- and worst -- teams in the history of the game.

By 1914, when his Athletics won their fourth American League title in five years, home and road attendance for Athletics games was suffering. The attitude was that Mack's team was so efficient, workmanlike and colorless, that it was not exciting to buy a ticket to see a squad defeat its opponents with such precision. Imagine -- being too good to be interesting! (The start of the Federal League and the Great War in Europe did not help the Shibe Park turnstiles, either.)

It was at this point -- in the off-season of 1914-15, as Mack dismantled his great but aging team, with the intention of rebuilding another winner -- that Macht's biography ends.

Macht makes no mention of the two players of special interest to me: Red Faber and Ray Schalk. Their Chicago White Sox careers did not take off until Macht's tale ends. Schalk's first full season in the majors was 1913, and Faber opened his major league career in 1914 (when, in one of his first appearances, he one-hit Mack's defending World Champions, giving up the lone hit on a borderline decision in the ninth inning).

However, the biography does have a half-dozen mentions of an American League pioneer with Dubuque ties: Tom Loftus. A St. Louis native who settled in Dubuque, where he owned a tavern, Loftus was major league manager, including of the Chicago Orphans (now the Cubs) and original Washington Senators.

It took a while, but Mack built another Athletics powerhouse, taking them to the World Series three consecutive seasons (1929-31). Incredibly, he managed the team through 1950, when he was 87 years old.

Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball is in the collection at Carnegie-Stout Public Library in Dubuque. Check it out (after I return it!).

Photo: Bain Collection, Library of Congress.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Brian: thanks for the tip on this bio of Connie Mack; I was not aware of it. I'll check my local library tomorrow.

Denny Gill
Chugiak, Alaska