Historical Markers
Connie Mack Historical Marker
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Connie Mack

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
604 Cliveden St., Philadelphia

Dedication Date:
May 30, 1998

Behind the Marker

On the surface, Connie Mack was precisely the sort of avuncular presence that baseball would have gladly invented had he not actually existed. Tall, angular, and gracious to a fault, "The Tall Tactician," as Mack was known, owned the Philadelphia Athletics for half a century. He managed the team in a coat and tie. He aligned his defense by waving players into position with a scorecard from the dugout. He demanded that his players comport themselves like gentlemen, and treated them like gentlemen in return. He was, wrote columnist Red Smith, "a beacon for our time."
Connie Mack sits in the dugout holding a scorecard.
Connie Mack sits in the dugout holding a scorecard.

But scratch Mack's facade, and what lay beneath his starched collar was "no bloodless saint" or "sanctimonious Puritan," but someone "tough and human and clever," wrote Smith. Indeed, Mack was an enterprising businessman who ran a tight payroll and was more concerned about balancing his books than taking the risks that would otherwise be necessary to purchase a championship. "It is more profitable for me to have a team that is in contention for most of the season, but finishes about fourth," Mack once explained. "A team like that will draw well enough during the first part of the season to show a profit for the year and you don't have to give the players raises when they don't win."

Mack didn't give many raises. Under his stewardship, his teams owned the American League cellar for 17 seasons, a mark of futility untouched by any other big league skipper. Which is not to say that Mack didn't relish the taste of victory. When the A's were good, they were very good, winning nine pennants and representing some of the best teams in major league history. Still, Mack knew baseball's reality: at its highest level, it's more a business than a game.

As flinty as his New England beginnings, Connie Mack was born Cornelius Alexander McGillicuddy in 1862, in East Brookfield, MA, while his Irish mill worker father was off fighting the Confederacy. Growing up, Mack worked in a shoe factory and played ball whenever he could. Never much of a hitter, he was a sterling defensive catcher who learned to mimic the sound of a foul tip in an era when any foul tip held onto was an out. His skills didn't go unnoticed. After three solid seasons behind the plate for a series of minor league clubs in Connecticut, Mack got a call from the Washington Nationals of the National League at the end of the 1886 season. For most of the next sixty-four years, Mack would be a major leaguer.

Mack played eleven seasons in all. While a player, he backed markerJohn Montgomery Ward's baseball Brotherhood, the first organization to fight for players' rights, and joined the economic revolt of 1890, jumping from the Nationals to the Buffalo Bisons of the Players League as both player and investor. When the league folded, Mack signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates, managing the club from 1894 to 1896. To help keep his weak-hitting lineup competitive that first season, he froze balls before games to deaden them to opponents' bats. The team's fortune improved over the next two years. But while Mack piloted the Pirates to winning records, owners regularly second-guessed him, and finally fired him. Mack realized he never wanted to be just an employee again.
Mack in uniform 1887.
Mack in uniform 1887

From 1901 on, he wasn't. When the new American League granted its Philadelphia franchise to Ben Shibe, a longtime friend and business partner of Phillies' owner marker Al Reach, Shibe hired Mack to manage the Philadelphia Athletics. Mack, true to his dream to never be just an employee, bought twenty-five percent of the club. Now firmly in charge, the former catcher built his first teams on pitching strength, signing markerEddie Plank and markerChief Bender straight out of college and resurrecting the brilliant but erratic markerRube Waddell. The A's won league titles in 1902 and 1905, but the best was yet to come. Mack surrounded his three future Hall of Fame hurlers with the famed $100,000 infield–a reference to the financial value of the infielders, not their salaries, which were far less than that. Nevertheless, the A's still had the game's highest payroll, and the team responded, winning the World Series in 1910, 1911, and 1913, and another pennant in 1914.

Still, the A's books were in the red, and Mack opted to erase his losses. He refused to match contract offers for Plank and Bender from the new, short-lived Federal League. And concerned that the events of World War I might shut the game down, he got rid of his stars one by one. The A's sunk to the bottom of the standings in 1915 and remained there for the next six seasons.

But Mack wasn't finished. Seeing Sunday baseball as a revenue producer for the Athletics, he attempted for many years to get Pennsylvania's Sunday Act of 1794 - commonly referred to as the "Blue Laws" - repealed or amended to allow major league baseball on Sundays. A court challenge to the law by the Athletics reached the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which decided against the club on June 25, 1927, in a unanimous ruling that baseball was worldly employment and thus in violation of the 1794 act. Mack and other supporters then spent many years trying to convince the state legislature to pass a "local option" bill that gave individual municipalities the right to vote on whether Sunday professional sports should be allowed within their borders. The bill finally marker passed in 1933, when voters in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia overwhelmingly approved the Sunday sports referendum. By that time, however, Mack had already begun to dismantle his second dynasty.

Mack had been building his second championship team since the mid-1920s. With such talented players as Jimmie Foxx, Jimmy Dykes, Mickey Cochrane, Al Simmons, and Lefty Grove, Mack assembled another powerhouse in the Roaring Twenties. The team finished second in 1927 and 1928, won the World Series in 1929 and 1930, then lost in seven games to the Cardinals in 1931. That same year, the Great Depression began taking its toll on the team. Increased unemployment meant fewer patrons at A's games, and banks started calling in loans made to the franchise in the mid-1920s when Mack expanded and modernized markerShibe Park. Saddled with one of baseball's highest payrolls, Mack sold off his most talented players. Before the 1934 season, Grove went to Boston for $125,000, while Cochrane headed west to Detroit for $100,000. Others soon followed on the auction block, including the great Jimmie Foxx. Once again the Athletics headed south in the standings. This time, however, the team never recovered.

The Philadelphia A's remained a mediocre franchise for the rest of Mack's long and frustrating tenure, only once finishing as high as fourth place. Finally, at age 87, after 53 seasons at the helm, Mack hung up his scorecard in 1950. His record for 3,776 wins and 4,025 losses will likely never be broken.

In 1953, Shibe Park - the A's home since 1909 - was renamed the Connie Mack Stadium. Mack died three years later at age 93. Baseball's living link to its own past, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1937, was gone forever.
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