Before there was Babe Ruth and the Yankees, the 1910 Athletics set the standard for which all Philadelphia baseball teams are based. That was the season Connie Mack guided Philadelphia to four trips to the World Series in five years, capturing three championships. In ’10, the A’s rolled over the Cubs in five games, six games over the Giants in ’11, a five-game victory over the Giants in ’13 before it came to an end in four games to the Braves in 1914.
The first dynasty of baseball history came to a crash landing in 1915 when Mack sold off his great players or they jumped to the upstart Federal League as the A’s spent the next seven seasons in last place.
Could you imagine what we would have written and said about Mack in this day and age if he sold Home Run Baker, Eddie Collins and Chief Bender to make a little cash though it meant a decade in the second division? That would be like David Montgomery being told by the Phillies’ partners to dump Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Roy Halladay in order to line the team’s coffers.
Strangely, Mack chose to sell out when his core group of stars were just coming into their primes and it’s not far-fetched to think that the Philadelphia Athletics and the Philadelphia Phillies could have played in the 1915 World Series. The first two games would have been played at the Baker Bowl on Broad and Huntingdon in North Philly, packed up the gear after the games, and walked down Lehigh for five blocks to Shibe Park.
Forget a subway series; Philadelphia could have hosted the Lehigh Avenue series.
Anyway, over the next few months we will write about the 100 years since Philadelphia started baseball’s first dynasty. Look for some stylings about the 1910 Philadelphia Athletics here over the next few months. We’ll revisit the “Deadball Era” where Frank “Home Run” Baker hit just two homers in 1910, but he led the league the next four straight years with totals of 11, 10, 12 and 9.
So here’s a little slice of the Deadball Era for the Digital Age.
For as synonymous as his name was with baseball during the first half of the last century and for as much as he was as part of Philadelphia like Ben Franklin, W.C. Fields and Grace Kelly, there is a lot we don’t know about Connie Mack. Like Franklin, Mack moved to Philadelphia from Massachusetts and remained for the rest of his life.
But unlike Franklin, it’s difficult to find Mack’s name on much in the city. Sure, there is no way to compare a Founding Father with the most prolific manager in Major League Baseball history, but in a city where sports is treated with so much importance, Philadelphians don’t show much pride that Mack won the World Series five times for his adopted home town.
Truth is, in more than a decade of writing about baseball in Philadelphia, I have heard just one story about Connie Mack and that related to the formation of the Philadelphia Sportswriters Association, which was formed to combat cronyism in the press box.
Of course Mack also lost more games than he won in his 50 years as manager of the Philadelphia A’s, spent the last two decades of his career achieving solid mediocrity in the standings and seemingly popularized the practice of the “fire sale.” Oh yes, even a century ago Mack, also the owner of the A’s, massaged his player payroll the way clubs do now. Ultimately, the Mack family sold the A’s before the 1954 season and just like that, Philadelphia became a one-team town. Two years after the A’s moved to Kansas City, Mack died at age 93 in his home on Anderson Street in Mt. Airy.
So to remember Mack in Philadelphia these days we have a ballpark that was torn down in 1976 and a statue set into its first location in 1957 that now rests in front of its third ballpark. However, a quick bit of research revealed no schools named after Mack, though there is a movement to get him depicted on a stamp.
Perhaps the lack of modern day recognition had something to do with Mack’s reputation as a manager/owner more concerned with the bottom line on the balance sheet instead of the standings. Still, the 1910 team was known for its “$100,000 Infield” with Hall of Famers, Home Run Baker, Eddie Collins, Jack Barry, and Stuffy McInnis.
Home Run Baker hit two homers in 1910.
However, between 1934 and 1950 Philadelphia had two teams that combined for four winning records. Plus, during his 50 seasons with the Athletics, Mack had twice as many 100-loss seasons (10) than he did 100-win seasons (5). Chances are Mack would have never lasted as long as manager of the A’s if he didn’t also own the team, and as such, he was quoted as defining his ownership philosophy thusly:
“The best thing for a team financially is to be in the running and finish second. If you win, the players all expect raises.”
As a manager, historian Bill James, in his Guide to Managers, wrote that Mack: favored a set lineup; did not generally use a platoon approach; preferred young players to veterans; preferred hitters with power who got on base a lot to high-batting-average players; did not often send in a pinch-hitter; did not often use his bench players; did not often employ the sacrifice bunt; believed in "big-inning" offense rather than small ball; and very rarely issued an intentional base on balls.
In other words, he managed similarly to Earl Weaver though their personalities could not have been more different. Mack was elegant with soft eyes and was said to never curse, smoke or drink. In other words, he did not cut the mold for future Philadelphia favorites like Buddy Ryan or Jim Fregosi. Instead, imagine a better-dressed, fitter Andy Reid—at least in a public setting with the press. As a manager, Mack looked for young players with “baseball smarts” and then just let them play without much input.
Nevertheless, Mack put together two of baseball’s first dynasties in two different eras of the game though he didn’t change his style all that much. During the Deadball Era, Mack’s teams routinely led the American League in slugging, on-base percentage and batting average. The 1910 club was led by college grad, Eddie Collins, who paced the team with four homers and a .324 batting average.
Notably, the 1910 A’s did it with pitching. Amazingly, the team won 102 games though they carried just eight pitchers with four of them amassing at least 250 innings. Jack Coombs was the ace with a 31-9 record, 1.30 ERA in 353 innings and 13 shutouts. Five of Mack’s starters combined for 114 complete games.
Compared to 1929 through 1931 with Jimmie Foxx and Al Simmons who challenged Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig of the Yankees for the home run crown, the 1910 A’s clubbed just nine homers in 150 games.
But maybe he was called “The Tall Tactician,” because Mack was tall and people like alliteration? Tactically, he set the lineup and let the players go do their thing, though there was one request Mack asked of his players before the 1910 World Series began at Shibe Park on 21st and Lehigh. That request:
Don’t drink alcohol.
Never one for setting curfews and known for treating his players like adults, Mack asked his players to take a pledge not to drink during the World Series against the Cubs. However, before the clinching game 5, an outfielder named Topsy Hartsel told the manager he needed a drink in order to get through it.
Hartsel got his drink and appeared as the leadoff hitter in Game 5 where he went 1-for-5 with a pair of runs and two stolen bases in his only game of the series. As a result, Connie Mack, born Cornelius McGillicuddy (a name he never legally jettisoned), won his first World Series.