- The Grand Old Man of Baseball: Connie Mack in His Final Years, 1932–1956 by Norman Macht
Two thousand pages into what was supposed to be a 350-page project, Norman Macht has delivered the third and final volume of his sprawling opus on legendary baseball manager and team owner Cornelius McGillicuddy, better known as Connie Mack. Picking up the story begun in Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball (2007) and continued in Connie Mack: The Turbulent and Triumphant Years (2012), Connie Mack in His Final Years concludes what must be the definitive biography of baseball’s Grand Old Man.
Connie Mack in His Final Years should be read alongside Macht’s earlier volumes rather than as a stand-alone book. It opens with its subject in a rough spot. Mack is pushing seventy and hearing calls for his retirement. His team, the Philadelphia A’s, are floundering through the Great Depression. Only a few thousand fans attend each home game, red ink dots the balance sheet, and the club is heading for the American League cellar, where it will remain for the next few decades (depending on how pathetic the hapless St. Louis Browns are in a given season). And Mack, who missed the boat on the rush to create minor-league farm systems, has few ways of signing new talent or improving his squad.
Mack emerges as a kind man, a generous teacher, and a competent businessman who is nevertheless trapped in a financial death spiral that is partly of his own making. Rather than emulate the Yankees and other successful franchises that treated baseball as a modern business, complete with general managers, vast scouting networks, and built-in talent pipelines, Mack stubbornly operated the A’s like an old-style, family business. He ran the organization himself, occasionally doling out some minor responsibilities to his sons, two of whom (Roy and Earle) were incompetent and the other (Connie Jr.) constantly at war with his siblings.
Macht places Mack and the many, many games he managed alongside broader histories of both the A’s and of Major League Baseball. Mack steers his rickety ship through the introduction of night baseball, the rise of radio broadcasts, the disruptions of World War II, and the signing of Jackie Robinson. Mack occupies a middle ground on the innovation spectrum, emerging as an early proponent of lighted ballparks but a skeptic toward integration. Macht does not see Mack as racist, but rather as a cautious businessman who is concerned that white fans might not turn out to see black ballplayers.
By the late 1940s, Mack was something of a figurehead. He often forgot his own players’ names and handed over in-game managing duties to his assistants. He retired in 1950 at the age of eighty-seven. In a terrible miscalculation, he handed the reins to Roy and Earle, who promptly bankrupted a team that had always hung from a slender financial thread. Mack remained in the background while his sons sold the team to a Kansas City investor—a tangled and convoluted story that Macht tells in great detail.
The author has scoured contemporary newspapers and magazines and spent the past few decades interviewing numerous players and other associates of Mack. Although this sizable volume does become overly comprehensive at times, diving deep into tangential [End Page 240] issues and getting immersed in the minutiae of baseball’s long season, it must stand as the go-to resource on one of baseball’s most legendary figures.