Man in the Skimmer is Still MLB's Winningest Manager
Long ago but not far away there was another very successful Philadelphia Major League Baseball franchise, the Athletics, a team that was first among two in the City of Brotherly Love at the outset of the 20th century.
With five World Series titles in the first 27 Fall Classics, 1903-1930, this team under manager, part owner and treasurer, Cornelius McGillicuddy, was tied with the Boston Red Sox for most WS championships during that period. The A’s won eight American League pennants in those early years while the “other team” in the city, the Phillies, won only one National League pennant (1915) and lost the WS to the Red Sox.
Cornelius McGillicuddy, the tall, skinny gentleman in suit and tie instead of a baseball uniform who always wore a familiar, straw, skimmer hat while sitting in the A’s dugout, finally retired as the team’s manager 60 years ago last Monday on Oct. 18, 1950, at the age of 88.
By that time, this quiet gentleman who is better known as Connie Mack, was sole owner and president of the Philadelphia Athletics.
Connie Mack and his team had considerable success and large doses of disappointment during his tenure as the business-minded boss of the A’s from their inception in 1901 when the American League was formed until his death in February of 1956.
Mack was the player/manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates of the National League, 1894-1896, when, of course, he did wear a uniform.
His record as A’s manager for half a century was 3,582 victories and 3,814 defeats and his complete managing record is 3,731-3,948. All of these numbers (winning and losing) are major league records that he set through the simple and dogged act of longevity. Also, no other man has managed a MLB team for as long as Mack led the A’s.
Unfortunately, neither Major League Baseball nor American professional sports will ever again be blessed with the likes of this unique personality who was born in Massachusetts to Irish immigrants during the Civil War in which his father, Michael, fought on the Union side.
The war so damaged Michael McGillicuddy’s health that he was unable to hold jobs. He became an alcoholic.
As a result, young Cornelius quit school at age 14 in 1877 to help support his big family of siblings. Eventually he got into MLB, playing 10 years on a number of teams in the original National League and one year in the unsuccessful Players League. This included his three seasons as the Pirates player/manager.
It was not until he became the first Athletics manager in 1901 that he opted for wearing a business suit with tie and the hard, flat straw, skimmer hat that is also known as a “boater”.
Young Connie Mack was a catcher. He was one of the first catchers to move in right behind the batter instead of standing way back by the fence, the backstop or wall the way the position was originally played.
As a manager he became the game’s leading tactician. He moved players hither and thither about the diamond in varying defensive alignments. On offense he was always in an attack mode and was always looking for the smartest players available.
Many of Connie Mack’s Athletics are in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, including the pitchers Charles Albert (Chief) Bender, George Edward (Rube) Waddell, Eddie Plank, Herb Pennock and Robert Moses (Lefty) Grove. Other Hall of Fame members who played for Mack include Frank (Home Run) Baker at third base, Eddie Collins at second base, Jimmie Foxx at first base, Mickey Cochrane at catcher and the outfielder, Al Simmons.
These were the best of the Athletics and Mack was their general as they captured the fancy of Philadelphia from the dawn of the 20th century until the Great Depression hit all MLB teams and both of the Philadelphia franchises rather hard.
Connie Mack bought 25 percent of the Athletics when the team was formed in 1901. He was named both manager and treasurer of the club. Ben Shibe, a sports equipment manufacturer who gave his name to Philadelphia’s Shibe Park, was the major owner of the team until his death in 1922. Then Shibe’s two sons held the controlling ownership until they both died in 1935.
Mack became sole owner of the Athletics in 1936 and sold the club to Arnold Johnson in 1954. Johnson moved the A’s to Kansas City.
Baseball was not just a game for Mack. After all, he had a financial interest in the Athletics. It was a real business to this quiet gentleman, who never swore, distained alcohol and yet never set curfews or hard restrictions on his players.
The team was his only business unlike many wealthy MLB club owners of the time such as Jacob Ruppert of the New York Yankees, Tom Yawkey of the Boston Red Sox and the Wrigley family of the Chicago Cubs,
Mack’s primary requirement for his players was intelligence. If they did not show up sober and play a thinking man’s game they would be gone.
It is said that he traded away “Shoeless” Joe Jackson to the Cleveland Indians in 1909 after only two seasons with the A’s because Jackson did not play smart baseball despite his outstanding talent.
This philosophy sustained Mack through those early and quite successful years. The A’s won their first AL pennant in 1905 only to lose the World Series to John McGraw’s New York Giants in five games. But then Mack’s Athletics took the AL pennant four times in five years (1910, 1911, 1913, 1914) and won the World Series in the first three of those seasons.
Then Mack’s team, going up against the mighty New York Yankees of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, won the AL pennant three consecutive years, 1929-1931, with World Series championships in 1929 and 1930. Those Athletics were famous for having the “Million Dollar Infield” that consisted of Jimmie Foxx at first, Max Bishop at second and Jimmy Dykes at third with Joe Boley at shortstop. Lefty Grove was the ace of the pitching staff and his battery mate was Mickey Cochrane.
It was then that the Great Depression took its toll. Mack and the Shibe family decided that with dwindling attendance and a payroll to meet regularly, they had to sell some assets.
Mack was strongly criticized in the press and elsewhere for selling off the “Million Dollar Infield”. First to go was Dykes in a sale to the Chicago White Sox in 1933, followed by the sale of Bishop to the Boston Red Sox in 1934 and Jimmie Foxx to the Red Sox in 1936.
In 1934, Mack sold Lefty Grove to Boston and Mickey Cochrane to Detroit.
Those deals brought the A’s a great deal of cash in those hard times but they also meant a steady and long decline for the Philadelphia Athletics, who never again reached the heights under Connie Mack.
No person has managed or coached one professional sports team in the United States for as long a period as Mack managed the A’s. Chances are that no one will equal that mark — in or out of uniform.
Connie Mack’s grandson, Connie Mack III, was a member of the United States House of Representatives from Florida for six years before serving in the Senate, 1989-2001. A great grandson, Connie Mack IV is currently serving as U.S. Representative from Florida’s 14th Congressional District.
No matter how many are blessed with his name, there will only be one real Connie Mack, the man who sat quietly in the skimmer hat while directing some of baseball’s greatest heroes.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story