This interesting account of the ups and downs of Philadelphia's beloved Athletics through the course of a half-century is told here with a fan's devotion. Jordan, a Jenkintown, PA. attorney, attended his first game at Connie Mack Stadium (formerly Shibe Park) when he was eight, at the tail-end of the 1940's when the A's were struggling as they had so often in their past. Jordan's chronicle of their rollercoaster rides from the heights of greatness with immortal players such as Collins, Grove, Foxx, and Simmons, to their abysmal cellar-finishes in so many years - is fascinating.
The Athletics were the lengthened shadow of the "Grand Old Man of Baseball," Connie Mack (1862-1956), part-owner and manager. So one gains here not only the history of a baseball franchise, but also a character study of this unique figure who spent over sixty years in organized baseball. Mack's long managerial career enabled him to live an American dream - watching baseball nearly every day in the summer for six decades!
Philadelphia was America's third largest city in 1901, a booming metropolis, when Cornelius McGillicuddy (Mack), then manager of a minor league team in Milwaukee, was persuaded by Ban Johnson to invest in a new team to be formed in Philadelphia. This was in face of the fact that the National League Phillies had been playing ball there since 1883. But the two teams co-existed in the City of Brotherly Love" until the A's were sold in 1954. An early skirmish with the Phillies over contract ownership of eventual Hall-of-Famer Larry "Nap" Lajoie went to the courts with the result that Lajoie signed with Cleveland - but because of the injunction against him in Pennsylvania, stayed out of the state when Cleveland came to play in Philadelphia. It was rumored that "Napoleon cruised on down to Atlantic City."
The "Mackmen" had successful seasons and back-to-back World Championships in 1910 and 1911. Their second championship against John McGraw's New York Giants and ace, Christy Mathewson, was sweet revenge for Philadelphia after their 1905 Series loss. It was, says Jordan, "a joy to Philadelphians to put a stick in New York's and John McGraw's eyes."
Mack amassed stars for his "first Dynasty," including his $100,000 infield of McInnis, Baker, Barry, and Collins. Pitchers Albert "Chief" Bender, "Gettysburg" Eddie Plank, and Jack Coombs became legends. These stars led the A's to the championship again in 1913, again besting McGraw's Giants. The Athletics had won their third world championship in four years.
1914 and 1915 were rollercoaster years in Philadelphia. The A's won the 1914 pennant but were swept (in the first sweep in World Series' history) by Boston's Braves. By the end of October, Mack had asked waivers on three starting pitchers and began to dismantle his star-studded team in light of the attempted raids on his stars by the up-start Federal League. In December, Collins was sold to the White Sox for $50,000. For the Athletics, Mack, and major owner Ben Shibe, "it all came down to the bottom line" and the organization "did not have the resources." The result was that "the 1916 Athletics may have been the worst team in the history of major league baseball." What followed was a succession of last-place finishes until the early 1920's when Mack's rebuilding efforts began to pay off.
Mack's "Second Dynasty" was built through the '20's with stellar performers that included Jimmie Dykes, Eddie Rommel, Bing Miller, Mickey Cochrane, Lefty Grove, Al Simmons, and Jimmie Foxx. After two second place finishes behind the murderous Yankees in 1927 and 1928, the A's broke lose in 1929 to field what was one of the greatest teams in baseball history. Spectacular pitching from Grove and the bombarding power of Mack's hitters led to three pennants, two world championships (1929; 1930), and one near-miss season which featured 313 regular season wins from 1929-1931.
But then it was "back to the basement." During the Great Depression, Mack once again sold off his stars and dismantled his team. By 1935, Foxx, the last of the greats to go, was sold to the Red Sox as Mack sought financial advantages to keep the A's afloat. A series of seventh and eighth place finishes followed and the Athletics' hard times lasted through the War Years.
The brightest spot for the latter-day Mackmen was 1948 when they contended for the pennant for the first time since their second-place finish in 1932. By this time, the "Tall Tactician" was becoming senile and the day-to-day managing was taken over by his field coaches. The Athletics ended at 84 - 70, good for fourth-place, all without major superstars. During the next few years, the brightest star became pitcher Bobby Shantz, a fan favorite.
Jordan maintains that October 19, 1949, the day the A's traded Nellie Fox for Joe Tipton, marks the "first steps on the road to Kansas City." 1950 was Mack's "Jubilee Year," marking his 50th season of managing. But instead of "one more championship," the Athletics ended up, once again in last place.
In the face of declining attendance and great expenses, on August 28, 1950, the controlling interest of the club was sold to Earle and Roy Mack, Connie's sons who bought out the Shibe-McFarland interests as well as Connie's second wife, Mrs. Mack and Connie, Jr. To do so, the club was mortgaged to the Conecticut General Life Insurance Company. Mack family tensions ran high and within a few days, the "Spindly Strategist" ended his historic tenure as Athletics' manager. He was replaced by Jimmie Dykes.
The "Road to Kansas City" had been paved and the A's ended up in seventh place in 1953. After that season, Dykes and General Manager Arthur Ehlers were let go by the Macks and other "big salary" players were sold and traded. In 1954, the Philadelphia Athletics finished with a 51 - 103 record, sixty games out of first place - farther behind than any other A's team had even been.
A Chicago real estate mogul, Arnold Johnson, eventually succeeded in buying the team, despite a "Save the A's" drive in the city of Philadelphia. Pleas by Connie Mack and his sons went unheeded and the American League permitted the transfer of the Philadelphia Athletics to Kansas City.
There, the Athletics never had a season in which they won more games than they lost. They became known as virtually a Yankee farm club, sending on potential stars, notably Roger Maris. After the 1967 season, A's owner Charles O. Finley received permission to move the franchise to Oakland, California.
Jordan concludes with an analysis of the plight of the A's during the Mack years:
The failure of the Mack family to keep up with changing times as well as the simple lack of resources with which to compete against the wealthy Carpenters [owners of the Phillies] condemned the franchise to exile. After World War II, with the ever-increasing costs of operating a modern franchise, most cities, Philadelphia included, simply did not have a fan base large enough to support two baseball teams. The Athletics, run with the purpose of supporting the Mack family and turning a modest profit, not necessarily winning a pennant, could not continue to function in the same old way in the postwar economy.
Connie Mack died on February 8,1956, at the age of ninety-three. With his death, a major baseball era ended.
Baseball fans are sure to enjoy this great telling of the A's story. Jordan's account is full of fascinating insights and interesting stories that make this fine franchise and those associated with it come alive.