By now aged and mentally infirm, Mack watched in bewilderment as the business he had built fell apart. Broke and in debt, Roy and Earle feuded over the sale of the team. In a never-before-revealed series of maneuvers, Roy double-crossed his father and brother and the team was sold and moved to Kansas City in 1954. In Macht’s third volume of his trilogy on Mack, he describes the physical, mental, and financial decline of Mack’s final years, which unfortunately became a classic American tragedy.
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The Grand Old Man of Baseball
Connie Mack in His Final Years, 1932â"1956
By Norman L. Macht
UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESSCopyright © 2015 Norman L. Macht
All rights reserved.
Connie Mack, Financial Failure
The wheels fell off the world in 1932. Early signs of global economic recovery in the spring of '31 had been erased by social and financial chaos in Europe. Disarmament talks were going nowhere. Europe was in turmoil, its governments collapsing. Germans who had money were shipping it out of their country as Hitler's brownshirts destroyed people's lives and the nation's stability.
A devastating drought in the American southwest was in its second year. Farmers who could grow a crop couldn't sell what they grew and couldn't find any place to store it. There was so much old surplus wheat, corn, and cotton that it was priced by the penny a bushel or bale. By the end of the year one of every four farmers would lose his land. Panic drove people who heard that banks were closing to rush to their local banks and withdraw all their money — the average account had $140 in it — causing more banks to close, cutting off loans to farmers, shops, and businesses. People were putting their money into mattresses — not investing in mattress makers but stuffing it into the bedding they slept on.
Gold flowed out of the United States, much of it shipped out by wealthy Americans who had no faith in the dollar. Nineteen countries, including England, went off the gold standard, and America was on the brink of doing the same. Currencies fluctuated wildly. Old war loans made by America to its allies went unpaid. Nobody knew how to foreclose on a foreign country.
Federal revenues nosedived to less than half the budgeted expenses. Income in Pennsylvania had topped $2 billion in 1929; by 1932 it was less than half. Net income reported by Pennsylvania residents who earned enough to file 1932 tax returns averaged $3,006, the lowest since 1917. Taxes went up. The Commerce Department reported that anyone lucky enough to have a job was working sixty-one days a year to pay federal, state, and local taxes. President Herbert Hoover tried to cut government spending, proclaiming, "You can't spend the country into prosperity," while Congress continued to fill the pork barrels. In June 1932 all government employees, including Congressmen, earning at least $10,000 a year would take a 10 percent pay cut. President Hoover led the way, turning back 20 percent of his salary.
After rallying in the spring of 1930, the stock market had been sliding, the Dow falling below 300, then 200, then 100. It finally hit bottom at 41.22 in July 1932. Connie Mack didn't fare well in the stock market after that. His investments more often went bankrupt than prospered.
Mack continued to help his extended family with money and jobs as best he could. His brother Dennis's widow, Annie, always needed help. He hired her brother, Tom Monahan, to work the gates at Shibe Park. Until they were older, two of Annie's six children and Annie were regulars at the Macks' Sunday dinner table.
Any of Mack's nephews and nieces could walk through the press gate with their friends unimpeded or visit Uncle Connie in his office. Mack's favorite nephew may have been Dennis's son Cornelius, who used the name Neil. In 1932, after working as an actuary and a claims adjuster, he was unemployed. He asked his uncle to help him find a job: "He sent me to a sports editor and then an advertising agency, but I had no experience. Then he sent me to his friend Judge McDevitt, a Republican big shot, and he hired me and I worked in the courthouse."
During World War II Neil was in the merchant marine for two years, then became a transit workers' union organizer, a position that earned him a personal FBI file. That didn't faze Uncle Con; Neil remained a favorite nephew.
Baseball was going in for farming. The Cardinals expanded their farm system faster than anyone else. The Yankees hired George Weiss from Baltimore to begin theirs.
Connie Mack had built his 1929–1931 championship teams by buying high-priced minor league stars. But as farm systems began to corner most of the top prospects for their own use, the quality of excess players for sale went down. The more the chains expanded, the slimmer the pickings became. Twenty-five years ago Mack had been able to take inexperienced youths and successfully develop them at the major league level. But the business had changed. He was still trying to run his baseball school at Shibe Park while other clubs were doing their teaching and weeding in the minor leagues. The Athletics fell behind, operating a sort of ad hoc farm system in which Mack would option players to minor league teams in exchange for the right to choose one or more players at the end of the season.
An AP survey concluded that major league payrolls would drop by a million dollars (the average salary in 1931 had been $7,350, totaling about $2.8 million). Some of the biggest stars faced a 40 percent axe. Even though Babe Ruth had had a better year than Hoover, he took a $5,000 cut, partly made up by a slice of revenues from exhibition games in which he played at least 5 innings. To limit expenses the player limit was kept at twenty-three. Ticket prices remained unchanged, based on the reasoning that they had not been raised during the boom years. Even so, some clubs were scrambling to find a bank that would lend them the money to go to spring training and start the season.
The Commissioner's Office budget was also hurting. Financed entirely by 15 percent of World Series and some city series' receipts, it had been pinched by short series: of the 6 most recent World Series, only the 1931 set had gone 7 games. The rest had taken only 19 of a possible 35 games to produce a winner, and the 1932 Series would play to plenty of empty seats. Commissioner Kenesaw M. Landis retroactively cut his 1932 salary to $50,000 and would drop it to $40,000 for 1933.
As a cost-cutting step, the leagues cut out their $50,000 annual subsidy for American Legion ball, despite Landis's pleas to continue supporting the program. (The leagues also ignored Landis's vehement opposition to farm systems by unanimously approving unlimited transfers of players between major league clubs and their affiliates.)
Connie Mack had no salary leeway with his top stars. Mickey Cochrane, Jimmy Foxx, and Al Simmons had three-year contracts. The salaries of those three, plus those of Robert Moses "Lefty" Grove and George "Moose" Earnshaw, totaled more than $100,000. None of the Athletics' regulars took a cut. The A's player payroll remained above $250,000. In the circumstances, the 1931 pennant winners did well, whether or not they agreed.
Second baseman Max "Camera Eye" Bishop went to Mack's office from nearby Waynesboro in January 1932 to talk contract. He had been earning $10,000 a year for the last three years. Mack said, "You made ten thousand last year and another three thousand from the World Series. That's a pretty good contract."
Bishop said, "Mr. Mack, Esther and I are contemplating buying a home. If I could make $11,000, I'd be on easy street."
Flustered, Mack said, "Max, you epitomize to me the team player. If you get $11,000, that will foul up my entire salary structure. I can't do it."
Bishop signed for $10,000 again.
Jimmie Dykes remained at $12,000, making him the highest-paid third baseman in the league. (Willie Kamm, at $11,500, was next, followed by Ossie Bluege's $9,000 at Washington. Joe Sewell of the Yankees earned $8,000.)
Mack had two holdouts. Grove wanted a $10,000 raise to $30,000. (Mack had given him a $3,000 bonus after the 1930 season, then a raise to $20,000 in 1931.) Rube Walberg wanted a $5,000 boost to $15,000. They were both in Fort Myers on February 22, when pitchers and catchers held their first workout. Barred from practice until they signed, they stayed at the hotel and watched the others file onto the bus to Terry Park. A United Press reporter asked Mack about their status. Usually reluctant to talk about salaries and holdouts, Mack was surprisingly outspoken. Acknowledging that Grove and Walberg were refusing to sign, he was quoted as saying, "They are smart fellows but big fools for not signing. They will sign on my terms or sit out. They are not for sale or trade. We didn't cut them any but neither are they going to get an increase. They've been offered all we can pay. I don't expect to hold any conferences with them. I'll talk to them when they sign."
Bob Paul of the Daily News maintained friendly ties with the players. He once sent this wire to Hollywood producer Sol Lesser: "If you're looking for a new Tarzan, I offer for your consideration Jimmy Foxx who has ideal physique, splendid radio-tested voice, screen-tested features and is the idol of America's youth. Wire me instructions if interested."
By now Foxx was too beefy for swinging through the treetops on vines.
Paul often took the side of players holding out. A few days after spring training began, Paul approached Connie Mack. He described what followed in his column:
Out at the ballpark, I came across Connie sitting with the Rev. Frank A. Shore, an Episcopal minister who seldom missed a practice session. They were sitting on one of the wooden benches that served as an open-air dugout. As I approached to tell Connie that Grove offered to play him 18 holes of golf for the difference in salary — reported to be $10,000 — the veteran manager opened fire. He might have hit an all-time high in the explosive language familiar to a dugout had he not remembered the presence of the Fort Myers clergyman.
"You and the rest of the blankety-blank baseball writers are the real cause for all these holdouts!" fairly shouted Connie. "You write only the side of the x#%* players in your blankety-blank papers and those x#%* players are just dumb enough to believe what they read. Why, your x#%* writings stand to cost me thousands of hard-earned money. If I had my way, you blankety — oh, Rev. Shores, why, I must have forgotten you were here. You know how upset these baseball writers get me some days. What was that you said, Paul?"
(This could have happened; columnist Red Smith would later attest that such outbursts were not foreign to Mr. Mack, despite his reputation for uttering nothing stronger than "gosh" or "pshaw." Players hearing the story agreed. "He could use the language when he wanted to," recalled Roger "Flit" Cramer, "but he didn't do it often. He could cuss good as anybody, no question about it." But the story appears here with a caveat: several years later Bob Paul wrote an identical account concerning the 1934 holdout of Jimmy Foxx.)
Neither Grove nor Walberg received a raise. On March 1 Grove signed for two years at $20,000 and Walberg for $10,000, saying he was satisfied to avoid a cut.
Mack sent pitcher Waite Hoyt a contract for $7,500. Hoyt demanded $10,000. Neither man budged. On February 8 Hoyt cleared waivers, and Mack released him. Hoyt signed with Brooklyn and pitched another seven years.
Coach William "Kid" Gleason, sixty-six, was absent from spring training, too ill to make the trip. He had been injured in an auto accident a month ago. Mack sent him a telegram: "Regret to hear of your being ill. Would advise you to take things easy for a couple weeks. By taking good care of yourself for ten days you will be better than ever. Don't worry. Get ready for opening of championship season and we will go after that bunch like the A's can go."
Gleason never fully recovered. He died on January 2, 1933. More than five thousand people gathered outside the funeral home on Lehigh Avenue in Philadelphia and watched as hundreds of players, including a dozen former and present Athletics, officials, umpires, Mack and the Shibes, John McGraw, and Commissioner Landis arrived. The Reverend Thomas Davis, the unofficial A's chaplain, extolled Gleason's "honesty, cheerfulness, gratitude, and generosity."
The list of people influential in Connie Mack's career who would predecease him now included Charles F. Daniels, the Hartford manager who had sold Mack and three other players to Washington in 1888. Daniels died on March 23.
Ford Frick once said that in the 1930s club owners could still get away with things that were later impossible to put across. Some things. In February Connie Mack and Cleveland general manager Billy Evans tried to slip an illegal deal past Commissioner Landis and failed. Counting on Dib Williams and Eric McNair to rejuvenate the middle infield, Mack sold veteran shortstop Joe Boley to Cleveland for $10,000, half down and the rest if Cleveland kept him after May 15. Landis nixed the deal, likening it to optioning a player to a club in the same league, a no-no under the league constitution. Mack wound up giving Boley his release in June. The Indians signed him, but he appeared in only one game before they let him go.
Connie Mack was worried about his youngest star, Jimmy Foxx.
The Maryland farm boy had gone uptown in a big way. He was making more money than anybody in his hometown of Sudlersville had ever seen, and he enjoyed spending it. He drove a block-long Studebaker President Brougham, wore silk shirts and fancy shoes, and rented a house in the posh Philadelphia suburb of Jenkintown. The Foxxes employed a butler, and the genial Jimmy took plenty of clubhouse riding about that.
Jimmy took to the night life. He went to the best places. According to Mike "Pinky" Higgins, Foxx's roommate in 1933, "Jimmy relaxed a little too late one night. The next morning Connie Mack stopped him in the lobby. Mack said, 'By golly, Jim, you were out after curfew last night, and don't you deny it. Some of the best people in the city saw you there.' And Foxx said, 'Mr. Mack, if the best people go there, why can't I?' It was the only time I saw Mr. Mack at a loss for words."
Generous by nature, Jimmy always had a roll of cash in his pocket. He grabbed the tab at nightclubs and restaurants no matter who he was with. "The hangers-on at the local taprooms seemed to know when he was coming in," recalled scout Ira Thomas's nephew Jim Morrow. He tipped so lavishly that waiters, hatcheck girls, Pullman porters, and bellhops found it hard to believe he was a member of the tight-fisted baseball tribe. He supported his younger brother Sammy and bought an in-town house for his parents in Sudlersville.
One day in Chicago in 1931 Foxx was watching a rookie catcher for the White Sox working out at first base during infield practice. Billy Sullivan Jr. had just graduated from Notre Dame. When he was done, Sullivan threw his glove on the ground. Foxx picked it up.
"We don't use gloves like this up here," he said. "It's too small."
"It's the only one I could find in South Bend," Sullivan said.
The next day Foxx handed the rookie a big league glove, well broken in, and said, "Take it, it's yours."
Jimmy Foxx was a guess hitter, and that bothered Connie Mack. All hitters guess to some extent. They all look for the fastball, but the good ones can adjust for the curve or change-up in time to hit it. With all his power, Foxx could make pitchers suffer for their mistakes. But it seemed to Mack that they had begun to outfox the young slugger more last year, and the numbers showed it. He had struck out more and walked less.
Mack talked to him and Foxx listened. He spent hours in batting practice, trying to clear his head and concentrate on picking up the pitch out of the pitcher's hand.
A dozen rookie pitchers kept Mack busy. Lew Krausse's batting practice pitching in '31 had earned him a chance to start a game late that year. He had beaten the Red Sox, 7–1, and was the center of plenty of attention this spring. Mickey Cochrane and Jimmie Dykes were pulling for him to make good because the nineteen-year-old was the best golfer in camp, and they rushed through practice to get to the golf course with him. But none of the rookies really impressed Mack. "Maybe," Washington outfielder Sam Rice observed, "Connie's been looking at Grove, Earnshaw, and Walberg for so long that any others look just ordinary to him."
Cochrane was the only spring casualty; a blister on his foot became infected, and he was sidelined until the season opened.
On March 18 the A's were in St. Pete to play the Braves. Connie Mack sat in the stands before the game and was carried back eighteen years as he watched three of the men who had swept his great 1914 team in the World Series — the batting star Hank Gowdy (now a coach), hitting fungos to Rabbit Maranville (still a full-time infielder), and pitching coach Dick Rudolph, who had beaten the A's twice in 1914 — showing a youngster how to hold a runner on first.
Excerpted from The Grand Old Man of Baseball by Norman L. Macht. Copyright © 2015 Norman L. Macht. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsList of Illustrations,
1. Connie Mack, Financial Failure,
2. Connie Mack's Income,
3. Dismantling the A's,
4. From East Brookfield to Japan,
5. Back on the Bottom,
6. Wait 'til Next Year,
7. Well, Then, Wait 'til Next Year,
8. The Roots of Failure,
9. Thunder in the Press,
10. Baseball Fights the Future,
11. A Very Sick Man,
12. Mr. Mack Recovers; A's Don't,
13. The "Minor League" A's,
14. Another War,
15. New Kid on the Block,
16. Enter Bobo,
17. Slipping toward Senility,
18. Back to Normal: 105 Losses,
19. Connie Mack and the Integration of Baseball,
20. The Gleaner,
21. "They Shoulda Won It",
22. Things Fall Apart,
23. Who's in Charge?,
24. The Old Optimist,
25. The Roy & Earle Show, 1951–1953,
26. Mr. Mack in Retirement,
27. The Philadelphia Merry-Go-Round,
28. The Sale of the A's: A Mystery in Four Acts,
29. Last of the Ninth,
Appendix: Connie Mack's Records,