The book: “The Grand Old Man of Baseball: Connie Mack in His Final Years, 1932-1956”
The author: Norman L. Macht
The vital statistics: University of Nebraska Press, 672 pages, $39.95. Released October, 2015
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com. And the publisher’s website
The pitch: Combining the 742 pages already documented for “Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball” in 2007, and 720 more for “Connie Mack: The Turbulent and Triumphant Years, 1915-1931” in 2012, Macht has managed to convince the publisher to allow 2,134 pages and hundreds of thousands of words to go beyond the summation of the life and baseball times of Cornelius McGillicuddy, a man who was managing his 50th and final year with the Philadelphia Athletics when Vin Scully began his broadcasting career in Brooklyn in 1950.
Mack died six years later, at age 93.
From exhaustion, perhaps.
The exhaustion that one would even have after reading the 5,700-word piece that Wikipedia fashioned for him.
We won’t pretend to say we made it through the first two editions of the “Tall Tactician” that chronicle in every-so-detailed detail his five World Series titles, his ridiculous amount of 3,731 wins — almost 1,000 more than anyone else, despite a sub-.500 record — and a 10-year-playing career before all that from 1886-96 (the last three as player-manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates).
This third deposit gets through the weight of a far less joyous time in his life than the first two – here, his sons fight over control of the Philadelphia Athletics, watch it go bankrupt at Connie Mack Stadium, then sell it off and can’t stop it from moving to Kansas City.
We’re just pleased that having had nearly six months to get through this final volume, we’re still not sure if the effort this time was inspiring enough to go back and dig through the first two tomes we’d previously set aside, mostly because of intimidation.
Macht, who kind of bears some resemblance to Mack, admits in his preface that something started as a 350-page biography resulted in this 30-year project, as he tried to capture a “fascinating, complicated man who experienced extraordinary successes and devastating failures during the first half of America’s most chaotic century.”
It took so long to produce, Macht also admits, because of his perfectionist editing as well as continually finding new nuggets that led to updating previous chapters. His determination was “to rely on primary sources, seeking something elusive evidence to support a memory or, as was often the case, disprove a tale.”
All of that shows in this edition.
It seems as Macht pretty much dedicated his life to give clarity to another — Mack’s.
But we also know from research that Macht, who, while born in 1929 in Brooklyn yet devoted to the New York Giants instead of the Dodgers, lives today in San Diego and managed in his lifetime to become a stat man for Ernie Harwell in the 1940s with the Atlanta Crackers, serve four years in the Korean War, and produce more than 30 books, including a series of baseball bios for kids. He also did a book on the 1934 Yale-Princeton football game.
This year, Macht was one of four to receive the Henry Chadwick Award by the Society for American Baseball Research “to honor those researchers, historians, analysts, and statisticians whose work has most contributed to our understanding of the game and its history.”
Without trying to spoil anything, we’ll give you the final paragraph of this final book, which pretty much sums up where Macht was trying to take us all these years later.:
“Today, in every ballpark from Little League to Yankee Stadium, the spirit of Connie Mack is in the stands, on cold spring days huddled in his black overcoat, in the dog days of August with a rolled up handkerchief between his long scrawny neck and high stiff collar. And when the music isn’t blaring or the crowd roaring, you can hear him saying, as he did so often, ‘This is a great game, a fine game. It makes people happy, makes them live longer’.”
(If Mack is to live longer in the eyes of future baseball fans, Cooperstown might consider updating the plaque created for him during the 1939 opening — when his managing career still had a decade to go. Not quite sure whatever the ‘BOK AWARD’ is, but is that even worth mentioning in the context of all-time managerial wins, etc.)
The time you invest in any of this is up to you, as you’re likely to become the Connie Mack expert in your community once you get through it all.
Just know that going in, before spending about $120 on the three. See you on the other side.
More to know:
= In 1950, Mack himself came out with an authorized bio: “My 66 Years in the Big Leagues: The Great Story of America’s National Game,” as he’s looking a bit stressed out. It was reissued in 2009.