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Book Review: Connie Mack, The Turbulent & Triumphant Years

Posted on March 10, 2013 at 7:34 PM
Filed Under: General Baseball
As I've mentioned before, the folks at University of Nebraska Press like me.  Which is great, because I don't think any other university's press puts out so many baseball books on such a regular schedule.  I could fill a couple of shelves with the ones I've received from those folks, many of which I still need to review.

To start rectifying this oversight, I'm going to start with a book by Norman L. Macht entitled Connie Mack: The Turbulent & Triumphant Years 1915-1931.  Casual Cardinal fans may only know of Connie Mack in relation to Tony La Russa's recent move up the managerial win total list.  Even as TLR increased his career victories, there was that spoken or unspoken caveat.

"He can't ever catch Connie Mack.  After all, he owned the team."

Mack didn't entirely own the team, though he did hold a good portion of the stock in the Philadelphia Athletics.  That is probably one of the few things that saved him, because as great as his early teams were, a large portion of the time covered under this book sees a lot of very bad baseball.

It's interesting to get this look into early baseball dealings.  Mack was known as--well, I don't want to say a soft touch, but if you knew him and you had someone you thought could play ball, Mack would take a look.  He wouldn't necessarily sign the player (though he well might cover the cost of sending him back home) but he was always on the lookout for talent, either in the "minor leagues" (which were unaffiliated with teams at the time) or on the sandlots.

What also stands out in this book is Mack's relentless optimism.  Even when the team was bad and didn't seem to be getting better, he'd find the silver linings or talk the players up to the press.  He rarely complained about someone that was still on his team, though he might respond if a former player would take a shot in the papers.  He dealt with holdouts and unhappy players without delving deep into negativity.

Of course, from the portrait that Macht sketches of Mack, that was just part and parcel of how he was viewed throughout America.  People that didn't care for baseball rooted for the Athletics because Connie Mack was such a well-regarded person.  At the end of the book, Macht talks to a number of "Connie Macks", people that were named after Mack because their parents were fans or just knew of his reputation.

Mack was viewed in a similar way as Stan Musial was, though he came along well before The Man did.  People did not have a bad thing to say about him and the stories of his generosity were boundless.  There are probably more of them as well, but Mack wasn't one to toot his own horn.  He might provide tickets to someone or slip them a little cash without fanfare.  If you could have a saint in the rough-and-tumble early days of the sport, Mack was it.

This book does a great job of really going through each year, how Mack set up the roster, how the year went along, things like that. It doesn't detail every game, of course, but you get the general feel of how the season went without being bogged down.  There's also some pretty interesting behind-the-scenes stuff as well.  For the longest time, Mack was an ardent supporter of Ban Johnson and his rule over the American League, even when Johnson started to lose support and even when Johnson ruled against the Athletics in what seemed to be an unjust ruling.  However, eventually even Mack was swayed that something had to happen and supported the selection of Kennesaw Mountain Landis.

If you are a fan of the early days of baseball or just want to learn more about them, I'd highly recommend picking up this book.  It was extremely enjoyable to sit and read and will increase your knowledge of that time period immensely.  This is actually the second book that Macht has written about Mack, focusing on his early career in the first volume.  I haven't had a chance to read that one, but I bet hunting it down would be worth your while as well!

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