...Why is the miserly and racist owner
still so reverred in Philly?
The Philadelphia As
Live in Memory
By STAN ISAACS
Once upon a time there was a major league baseball team known as the Philadelphia Athletics. You could look it up.
The people at a meeting recently of the Haverford Historical Society outside Philadelphia didnt have to look it up. They heard a talk about the long defunct Athletics from Dave Jordan, the chairman of the board of the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society.
It was a virtuoso performance. I found myself shaking my head with admiration for Jordan as he traced high and lowlights of the team in detail from the end of the 19th century to the time it left Philadelphia for Kansas City in 1955. Jordan, a bluff gent, 75, wearing an old As cap over a shock of white hair, spoke for almost an hour.
The As had glory days before World War I and in the late 1920s. They bombed in just about all the years after that. Jordan saw his first Athletics game in 1943 when he was eight. They were never any good in his lifetime, yet he provided tidbits about the bad years as well as the good ones-long before he was born.
For example: he noted that in 1949 when the As finished fifth of eight teams, they led the league in double plays. And he informed that even now the defunct As won more pennants in their time than any franchise other than the Yankees.
He told about Bobby Shantz being sent to Buffalo in 1948, then getting word before he got to Buffalo that he should report back to the As He replaced Carl Scheib in the first inning and didnt give up a hit for nine innings. He told about Shantz striking out Stan Musial, Whitey Lockman and Jackie Robinson in succession at the 1952 All Star Game. And then it poured rain and the game was called off and he was not able to duplicate Carl Hubbells feat of striking out five hitters in a row.
The As won the pennants and World Series in 1910 and 11, and pennants in 1913 and 14. They then went from last to first in 1915, the only team ever to fall so far. This happened because manager (later to be sole owner) Connie Mack got rid of the stars of that era. Eddie Plank, Chief Bender, Eddie Collins and Home Run Baker were lost by Mack because he didnt want to pay them. Two went to the Federal League, Baker actually sat out a whole season before going to the Yankees.
The As revived to win pennants in 1929, 1930 and 1931, winning World Series in 29 and 30. The 29 World Series included the As legendary 10-run seventh inning to come from behind an 8-0 deficit in the fourth game. Like any true As fan, Jordan calls the 29 As the greatest baseball team in history. It had future Hall of Famers Mickey Cochrane, Al Simmons, Lefty Grove and Jimmy Foxx. All of them were eventually jettisoned by the miserly Mack.
It is surprising to me that there is a sense of reverence about Connie Mack in As history. It was evident when Jordan spoke of him. He called him, Mr. Mack--not Connie or Mack, but Mr. Mack. This Mack, though, wrecked the As to the extent that they were doormats from 1934 on and were vulnerable to be bought and moved to Kansas City in 1955.
Jordan told the story about Macks Spite Fence. The people who owned the houses behind right field at Shibe Park charged admission for seats on their porches from which customers could see the game action. Mack ended this by raising the height of the fence, blocking the view of the game. When the home owners sued, Jordan said, Mack had the services of Richardson Dilworth, later an esteemed liberal Philadelphia mayor, to defeat them.
Jordan did not speak about Mr. Mack and blacks in baseball. He ruefully recalled for me later that when Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson for the Dodgers, Mack told Red Smith that this was a mistake. Mack and baseball commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis were among those whose influence maintained baseballs Jim Crow policy.
There is reverence for most of the teams that left their original towns. The St. Louis Browns and Brooklyn Dodgers teams notably have loyal fan organizations. The As historical society is probably the most active. It has an office in the suburb of Hatboro that is open for visitors six days a week.
Jordan is a lawyer, a Princeton and Penn Law School grad, who handled trusts, estates and wills before he retired. He has written several books, the first one about Hal Newhouser because he saw Newhouser win (for Detroit over the As) the first time he went to a game, and became a lifelong fan. He has written a history of the As; about the New York politician Roscoe Conkling; and Pete Rose. He is working on a book on the last games in the classic ball parks.
He smiles about his affection for the As. He said, People say to me, The As? Who are the As?
©2010 by Stan Isaacs. The Stan Isaacs caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. This column first posted May 10, 2010.
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