- The Grand Old Man of Baseball: Connie Mack in His Final Years, 1932–1956 by Norman L. Macht
With this third and final volume of his biography of Connie Mack, Norman Macht has written about 2,000 pages on the venerable icon of twentieth century baseball. Macht's dogged pursuit of the details of the Philadelphia Athletics' owner, president, and manager again provides a comprehensive view of a part of Mack's long life, in baseball and in general (he was active in professional ball for sixty-seven straight seasons, from his first game as a rookie in Meriden, CT, in 1884 until he stepped down from day-to-day control of the Athletics in 1950).
Macht has been at Mack's story for thirty years, and the advantage of his lack of being in a hurry is evident in the book's depth and accuracy. Along the way he gained access to the club's financial records, and interviewed dozens of sources, including fifty former Athletics players (while insisting on confirmation, whenever possible, for their reminiscences). The result is an account of a great (baseball) man's life that is not dependent on the fables that grew up around it. Sports histories depend entirely too much on the approach of the Western editor in the movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, who advised, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." In fact, Macht urges the reader to "set aside the impressions you may have absorbed about Connie Mack and come to this play seeking to understand for yourself the man behind the myths" (xiv).
It is difficult to read The Grand Old Man without a sense of sadness and a [End Page 226] certain amount of frustration, but that's in no way the author's fault. Mack's Athletics had their ups and downs in terms of success, but for the first thirty-one years of his managerial reign they won nine American League pennants and finished in the first division nineteen times. This final volume starts in 1932, when they finished second. But the A's were in the second division by 1934 and never got out again during Mack's years with the team. The steady decline was the result of Mack's failure to adapt to the changing times of the major leagues—the Athletics were slow to develop a farm system, and for the longest time had only a handful of scouts. When baseball geared up again after World War II, Macht writes, "while his competitors had been raising young players on their farms, Mack had been browsing the bazaars for baseball bricabrac … now he was like a shopper at a Goodwill secondhand store, picking up the castoffs of clubs cleaning out their closets" (336).
The situation in Philadelphia wasn't helped by Mack's insistence on turning to his three sons for support and as successors. Two of them, Roy and Earle from his first marriage, are shown not to have been up to the job, and Connie Jr., from Mack's second marriage, was forced out by the other two. Connie Sr., who didn't wear a uniform as manager and, thus, wasn't allowed on the field, depended on Earle to represent him in pitching changes and tiffs with umpires. Earle prefaced his messages with "Daddy says," and the men in uniform had little or no respect for him. Sometimes, when Mack would send Earle to the mound to relieve the colorful pitcher Bobo Newsom, the hurler would just tell him to "get your ass out of here" (299). Older brother Roy, who stayed in the team's offices, was no master of innovation, either. Macht sums up Roy and Earle's contributions by quoting Philadelphia sportswriter James Isaminger: "Connie Mack's sons became senile before Connie did" (472).
Connie Mack did, of course, start to fail, while still nominally in charge of the A's, leaving Roy and Earle with the reins, for better or...