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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Connie Mack: The Grand Old Man of Baseball- In His Final Years, 1932-1956: A Review

There have been more famous figures in baseball than Connie Mack over the years but few are still as recognizable as the tall thin man who spent over 60 years as a major league player, manager and team owner. A true pioneer of the game, the taciturn Hall-of-Famer had as much impact as anyone affiliated with America’s Pastime. With such a lengthy and noted career, he is a worthy subject for research and writing. You’ll find no better work on his life than Norman L. Macht’s Connie Mack: The Grand Old Man of Baseball- In His Final Years, 1932-1956 (University of Nebraska Press).

In His Final Years is actually the third volume in this exhaustive biography of Mack. With these final 25 years of the baseball legend’s life taking up 623 pages alone, it’s a safe bet that Macht has produced the seminal work on the subject.

For much of his life, Mack was Philadelphia baseball. As manager and owner of the Athletics, he experienced a variety of peaks and valleys during his lengthy tenure. In His Final Years covers the last quarter of his life, which unfortunately included the most challenging years of his career. Winning his last pennant in 1931, he spent the next 20 years helming a team that was usually in the second division and short on money and star power.

As Mack grew older, Macht details how he slipped as a manager, including his final years when he was little more than a figurehead kept on because of his executive power and the visibility he gave the otherwise moribund franchise. It got to the point where he sometimes couldn’t remember players’ names, and the team would ignore his suggestions because they didn’t fit the circumstance.

Family was something that strongly impacted Mack in his later life. His three sons were also involved with the team at various levels and were not always held in the highest regard by outsiders, which wasn’t helped by their frequent clashing over how to run things. There’s no better example of this than the meticulously detailed accounting of how the Athletics ultimately left Philadelphia for Kansas City.

This is not just a baseball book. The humanity of Mack is a prevalent theme that is explored in detail. Notorious for being tight with money, Macht dispels that notion with numerous examples of bonuses the skipper secretly paid out to high achieving players and the acts of charity he would do anonymously, and on a regular basis. His rocky relationship with his wife Katherine is also a sad reminder that this man, known for his leadership of others, did not always have the same success off the baseball diamond.

There is precious little one can criticize Macht for in this endeavor. He covers every imaginable aspect of Mack’s life. The research that must have gone into this project is staggering, and the results prove the work was worth the effort.

Connie Mack may not have been a swatter of home runs or a .300 hitter but he lasted in the game longer than just about anybody. He truly is a baseball legend and his entire story has just been written so thoroughly that it should be considered the final word on the subject.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free advanced copy of this book, but received no payment or other consideration for this review.

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