Connie Mack: Civil War to Whitey Ford

I was recently researching some facts about the 1950 season, which was Connie Mack’s last as a manager. It has always struck me as fascinating that rookie Whitey Ford actually pitched in the major leagues with Connie Mack in the opposing dugout.  In Mack’s first year as a manager, 1894, he managed against King Kelly. Talk about spanning the generations.

The 1950 World Series ended on Oct. 7, with Ford the winning pitcher in the final game of a four-game sweep, Yankees over Phillies. Ten days later, more news came from Philadelphia: 87-year-old “Mr. Mack,” 50 years the manager of the Athletics and 66 years in the majors (he had been a catcher in the 19th century), was retiring.

In a “hastily called luncheon press conference, two score newspapermen and sportscasters sat in stunned silence,” as Connie delivered his news. (I feel awkward saying “Connie,” for even now, 58 years later, Mr. Mack feels more properly respectful).
It was of interest to me that on April 22, 1950, “Connie Mack Day” had been held in Philadelphia, with a parade down Broad Street. Mr. Mack sat in a convertible, was cheered by the crowd, received a scroll from President Truman and a truckload of scrolls signed by more than one million fans the “world over.” 

As part of the celebration of the day, the Philadelphia-based publisher John C. Winston released My 66 Years in the Big Leagues: The Great Story of America’s National Game, by Connie Mack. It was a long-awaited memoir that was virtually a history of the game by an eyewitness to most of it. 

And right there on page 5, it says, “But you have to make the break sometime and this 1950 season seems to be the most logical time. It will be a most strenuous year for me and, when it is over, I will consider that I have earned a rest from the vigorous activities of a long life.

“I am therefore able to announce, here and now, my plans.

“In complete accord, my associates in the Mack and Shibe families have begun to prepare for my retirement.”
So, hmm, did nobody read this? Everyone sat in “stunned silence,” when he announced his retirement six months later?
Talk about making a major statement and having no one notice. None of the reports of “Connie Mack Day” mentioned his book, let alone his announcement.  And, it would seem, Connie did little to draw attention to it.

And they wonder why publishers hire publicists now!

Mack was born on Dec. 22, 1862, while his father was away fighting in the Union Army. Here was someone born during the Civil War who was active in the game when Whitey Ford was pitching. I still find it hard to get away from that connection. Was there an older working man in the country in 1950? 

Longevity was rare in his family. How about this description of scarlet fever or diphtheria coming into his home: “My little sister, Mary Augusta, only a year old, died in my arms.

“My sister Nellie, who was about 13 years old, also died during the epidemic.

“Gene, my youngest brother, who was ill much of the time, came to Philadelphia but died here as a young man. Dennis also came to Philadelphia, where he was a night watchman at the ballpark. One time he was hit by a baseball bat, an injury from which he never fully recovered, and he too passed away. Another brother died of the flu in the epidemic of 1918.”
This really is a lovely book though. There is no credited co-author, and even scanning the acknowledgements, it is hard to tell if he did it himself or worked with someone else. It almost surely had to be done with an uncredited local sportswriter. By the late 1940s, conventional wisdom had it that Connie was not, let’s say, on the top of his game. The writing project would have been an enormous undertaking.

But what a life! When he tells of his childhood, you know you are reading of the years when Lincoln, Johnson and Grant were presidents. His entry into the game came before there was an American League. When he names an All-Star team (obligatory in most books like this), you know he has actually seen them all, or at least the American Leaguers. He picks an “All-Star Team for Today,” with pitchers Bob Lemon, Hal Newhouser, Ellis Kinder, Harry Brecheen, Howie Pollet and Joe Page (no Bob Feller?); catchers Birdie Tebbetts and Roy Campanella (no Yogi Berra?); infielders Stan Musial, Bobby Doerr, Vern Stephens and Bob Elliott; and outfielders Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Ralph Kiner. Of DiMaggio, he says, “He ranks with the great Babe Ruth in the ability to draw people into the ballparks.”

As a manger for 50 seasons, he went through two dynasties: the Athletics of the 1900s, with Home Run Baker, Eddie Plank, Chief Bender and Rube Waddell, and then the A’s of the late 1920s and early 1930s, who ate into Yankee pennants with Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, Mickey Cochrane and Lefty Grove. In both cases, he sold off his best players to keep the team afloat. In the end, most of his seasons were spent trying to make payroll and trying, unsuccessfully, to finish in the first division.
Known for his sportsmanship and good character, it was nice to discover that Connie donated all of his royalties for this book to the Junior Baseball Federation of Philadelphia to use in buying baseball equipment. Perfect.

The book was $2.50 in hardcover, $1 in paperback, and there was an abridged “salesman edition” that also exists in the collectors market today. 

Connie Mack died in 1956 at the age of 93, having lived long enough to see his beloved Athletics relocate to Kansas City. The Phillies continued to play in Connie Mack Stadium until moving to Veterans Stadium in 1971, when the name Connie Mack faded from the daily sports news.

And yes, that is his great-grandson, same name, who is a U.S. Congressman from Florida, recently married to Sonny Bono’s widow, Mary. (His father, same name, was a U.S. Senator). So if you happen to Google Sonny Bono and King Kelly and up comes a Connie Mack column, you’ll know you’ve come to the right place.

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