The book: “Connie Mack: The Turbulent and Triumphant Years 1915-1931”
The author: Norman L. Macht
The vital stats: University of Nebraska Press, 720 pages, $39.95
The pitch: Five years ago, Macht churned out the acclaimed “Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball” (a new paperback version is now available, at thls link and this link). He used more than 675 pages to chronicle Mack from birth (1862), playing professionally, managing the Pittsburgh Pirates to two losing seasons, trying to reinvent himself in the minor leagues, then becoming owner/manager of the Philadelphia Athletics through the 1914 World Series. And at the time, Macht said he needed 22 years to complete that.
After accounting for Mack’s first phase in the game, the journey continues at Macht speed.
Here, Mack’s teams floundered, with seven last-place finishes, in part because World War I took many of his top talent. But Mack rebuilt the A’s to championships from 1929-’31, with Jimmy Foxx, Mickey Cochrane, Lefty Grove and Al Simmons. The greatest team ever? Many believe so.
An excerpt: From page 262:
“Once the war was over over there and the world was safe for democracy, it was time to get ahead, make money, party. From 1916 to 1921 the number of automobiles in the nation triples … Historians disagree over just when what Westbrook Pegler called ‘the era of wonderful nonsense’ had begun. … Fads became rages, rages became crazes: crosswordl puzzles, mah-jongg, flagpole sitting. … Sports idols Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Red Grange, Bobby Jones — all were ballyhooed …
“Among managers, Connie Mack got the most ‘godding’ treatment, even from the acerbic Pegler. In an effort to emphasize Mack’s uncommon civility in a tobacco-chewing environment, wrote Joe Williams of the New York World-Telegram, the press ‘created an image that made him seel like a cross between a professional greeter and the granddaddy of the Rover Boys.’ Mack wasn’t profane, but he wasn’t all ‘goodness gracious’ by any means. The press created and perpetuated the myth. Mack, always conscious of his public image, did nothing to correct it.”
From page 608:
“On the road Connie Mack would often walk through the pass gate and climb to the last row of the lower stands to sit for a while watching batting practice or infield practice before going down to the dugout. Occasionally his wife and one of his daughters might accompany him on a trip to New York or around the western circuit. One day in August, Westbrook Pegler (left) waited for Mack at Yankee Stadium’s press gate. Although Pegler had a reputation for writing with acid, not ink, he revered Connie Mack …
“They talked about players’ salaries. Mack said his highest-paid players were saving their money (during the Depression).
“‘I like them that way,’ Pegler quoted him. ‘A player who is saving his money isn’t going in for a lot of gol-damn foolishness.’
“Mack said he didn’t object to frivolous conduct in one man, ‘but I won’t keep that kidn of man on my club because he won’t go out alone.’ …
“Three weeks later, Pegler visited Mack again at Shibe Park and talked about the old days …
“When Pegler began a question with, ‘Back in your day,’ the sixty-eight-year-old Mack interrupted him. ‘Back in my day? What was my day? My club has won two pennants in a row and we’ve just about won another. Isn’t this my day? Isn’t it possible that next year will be my day too?’ …
“‘If baseball weren’t fun for me,’ he told Pegler, ‘do you think I would be trouping in cold spring weather and terrible summer heat year after year to make money?'”
How it goes down in the scorebook: Two down, one to go.
Cornelius McGillicuddy, Sr., will likely forever hold the record for most wins as a manager (3,831) as well as the most losses (3,948). The number of pages Macht will have used to chronicle his career, by the time he’s finished, will never be topped, as well.
Some anticipated this volume would cover Mack from 1915 to his death in 1956, but it stops about 25 years short — yes, this will be a three-part biography, longer than what Ken Burns did with “Baseball” in a miniseries.
Macht, a prolific member of the Society for American Baseball Research, has already written more than 30 books, but seems most focused on writing the most indepth version of one person’s life — aside from the fact Mack has already written “My 66 Years in The Big Leagues” (linked here), originally published in 1950, six years before his death.
No, we didn’t get through this whole Mack 2.0. For the sake of time, and to get this included in the “30 for 30” series, we did the best we could to consume as many turns of the pages before the reality of the situation stepped in.
Could we read it all? Eventually. But then we’re also behind a bit on “War and Peace.”