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“HeavenlY MacK”

Heaven isn’t quite what we hear about it.  The clouds are there all right and angels are all over and very nice they are too, but there is a difference that’s difficult to talk about.  It’s silent, quiet, with an all embracing cloak that wraps itself over all.  People, images, events, appear almost as if they were part of your consciousness.  Your mind is suddenly aware of this communication which shifts from moment to moment.  What I mean is that things, concepts, people are there, you do see them but it’s a different, more diffused kind of vision that you experience.


Getting to interview Connie Mack for One More Inning wasn’t easy.  For starters there was a new guard at the Pearly Gates.  He kept insisting that there was no Connie Mack there.  Finally I tried asking for Cornelius McGuillicudy and his eyes lit up. “Of course Mr. McGuillicudy is here.  Why didn’t you say so in the first place?  He’s one of our special people, a wonderful person.  What did you call him at first?”  I answered, “Connie Mack” and he made a note of that.  The doors swung open (without any heavenly choir to welcome me) and I was on my way.


Walking through Heaven is unbelievable.  There’s no substance underneath.  It’s like moving across a quilt that blends with your every stride.  The clouds follow you like silent sentinels.  They hover around you guiding you to your destination.  Although generally white most of them have a light blue aura tinged with a bit of cream.  Always there is a sense of contentment over everything.  Always you feel a shifting of time and space.  Nothing seems quite permanent, solid. And then there he was…Cornelius McGuillicudy…Mr. Connie Mack.


Sitting outside his house, sipping a cup of tea, wearing a tan straw hat, suspenders planted against an immaculate light blue shirt with a stiff button down collar and a blue bowtie complimenting his outfit, he noticed me and waved me over.


“Hello young man.  Please sit down and join us.  Do you know the fellows here?”  I looked around at the others and immediately recognized Eddie Collins and Wally Moses.  The figure on the extreme left sitting in front of a large mug of beer looked like “Indian” Bob Johnson (I was right) and the remaining two men I later found out were Tilly Walker and Alex Kellner (I should have recognized Kellner, he was one of my favorite pitchers when I was younger).


I walked over to Mr. Mack and shook his hand.  “It’s nice to see you and how is One More Inning doing?  Do you have a copy with you?  I asked him how he knew about OMI.  “Well”, he answered, “Just recently Raffensberger, Willard Marshall, and Mel…Mel Harder joined us.  I believe you interviewed them and they all had nice things to say about the magazine.”


The first Mrs. Mack (still very handsome and quite dignified) brought in a chair from inside and apologized for not staying.  She had just been visiting.  It seemed that she and Mr. Mack were still on friendly terms, even with their divorce and Mack’s subsequent  marriage.  I remembered reading that the problem seemed to be the lack of money.  I talked to him a bit about that.  “I’ll tell you money and financial stability were always a serious dilemma for me.  Being in a small market like Philadelphia I was always strapped for ready cash.  Paying the payroll at various times was an adventure.  It was a perilous moment.  It broke my heart when I got rid of our $100,000 infield.”  Eddie Collins broke in here, “It broke mine too Mr. Mack.  You were a heckuva guy to play for. Stuffy and Frank (“Homerun” Baker) were never the same after they left you.”


Mack took a sip of tea.  “Why thank you Eddie.  What a kind thing to say.  But anyway it was a roller coaster ride for all those 50 years.  We would manage to build great teams with fine players like Jimmy Foxx, Robert (lefty Grove), & Simmons and of course we had Rube (Rube Waddell) and the Mule (Mule Hass and by gosh there wouldn’t be enough money to pay them and off they would go.  When I retired at 88 I had been managing bad teams for an awfully long time.”


Bob Johnson stood up, stretched and said, “Gotta go gentlemen.  The wife’s waiting.”  He took a sip from his beer.  “But you know what Connie, with all the problems you had, you did an unbelievable job.  Man, five World Series wins, and what was it…from ’23 to’31 three pennants in a row.  Even McGraw didn’t accomplish what you did in all that time and he was around for awhile too.”  Johnson walked away and Mr. Mack straightened his tie, looked at me, and with a knowing smile on his face said, “You know Bob was a truly great player in his time and now I understand he’s pretty much forgotten.  That’s a shame.”


Wally Moses turned to me as well.  “Bob was one of the best hitters around then…boy could he hit the ball.”


Mr. Mack cut in.  “I saw so many, many, great players in my years in the game.  Bob was no Jimmy Foxx or Simmons but so few could equal them.  My ’30-’31 teams were as good as Ruth and Gehrig’s ’27 Yankees.  I know that Huggins had his hands full with them but I must say I didn’t go through that with my boys.  Never really raised my voice or cut my players up in front of their teammates.  You would never hear me swear and I would direct the play from the dugout by waving my scorecard in different directions.”


Tilly Walker added the fact that Mr. Mack never wore a uniform while on the  bench.  “Connie always wore a jacket and tie with a straw hat or light cap and in all my years with you Connie did you ever dress differently?”

”Well,” he answered, “As a manager, never.  Of course while playing I did, but managing was different.  When Mr. Johnson (Ban Johnson) formed the American League in 1901 I organized and led the Philadelphia Athletics.  I wasn’t much of a hitter so I welcomed the chance to stay in the game.  The only manager that I can recall that wore no uniform while I managed was Mr. Burt Shotten, bless his soul…but not all the time.”  He paused for a moment, wiped the brim of his hat with his palm and continued. “Before I managed Philadelphia I had just lost my first wife.  I had 2 sons and a daughter to take care of and of course ownership and managing afforded me the opportunity to earn some money and stay in the game.  I was able to obtain a 10 year lease on a park (Columbia Park).  It held over 70,000 people.”

I asked him to talk to me about Rube Waddell who he managed at one time.  “Ah Mr. Waddell…he was something!  When we signed him from the Pacific League he was a terrific acquisition.  That was in 1902 and he won 24 games for us.  He was a headache.  A great pitcher but eccentric, moody and unreliable at times.  In 1903 I had to bail him out of jail.  Some fan had been heckling him and the next thing we knew he was in the stands giving that fan everything he had.  Finally I worked out a deal with the Browns in February of 1908 and traded him for five thousand dollars.  Around July of that year he got even with me and struck out 16 of my fellows.”


He stood up.  “Will you excuse me for a moment?  I have to take something for my arthritis.  It usually bothers me at this time of day.”  As he started to walk away I said, “Excuse me Mr. Mack, I didn’t think people suffered from that sort of thing up here.”


He looked back,.  “Oh yes, things don’t really change.  I’ll tell you heaven isn’t quite what it’s cracked to be.  For that matter neither is hell.”  I was taken aback by that.  “How would you know about hell Connie, I don’t imagine you’ve ever been there?”  He answered, “Oh I go there often to visit some of my fellows.  I won’t tell you who they are. You can probably guess some of their names.”


He walked into the house and he was right.  Four or five names came immediately to mind.  While he was inside I spent some time going over Mr. Mack’s career with the fellows around the table.  Eddie Collins gave me some information that I wasn’t aware of.  “One of the things Mr. Mack always regretted was his having to turn down Ruth, Ernie Shore, and Ben Egan because he couldn’t afford Jack Dunn’s ten thousand dollar asking price.  In the end Dunn sold them to Boston for thirty thousand dollars.  Poor Connie, he was always forced to start over.  Around 1915 he had to get rid of what I thought were the best pitchers around then.  Chief Bender, Eddie Plank, and good old Jack Coombs.  He received a good amount of money…fifty thousand dollars.  That year was the beginning of the end to our $100,000 infield.  Stuffy, Jack, and Frank followed.  I remember so many rumors started going around then.  One that brought a lot of attention had Connie going to manage the Yankees.  Boy that would have been something.  Connie with all his baseball smarts and all that money to work with.”  Collins looked around to Tilly Walker, who looked like he was dozing off, & came to life at this point.  “And Connie got bad publicity for the deal at first.  He traded Stuffy McInnis for players to be named later.  It turned out to be me, Larry Gardner, and Hick Cady.  Stuffy was nearing the end and all three of us did well…especially Hick Cady for a year or two.  I played from 1918 to ’23, averaged close to 290, hit 100 HRs…37 in 1922 , and loved playing for Connie.  He was a real gentleman and for my money knew more about the game than anyone around…including Mr. John McGraw!


At this point Connie came back.  He looked a bit tired.  “Anything in particular you want to ask me?”  There was something I was curious about.  “Yes Mr. Mack, tell me about Sam Crane.”  He looked up at me, paused for a moment and with a thin smile on his face he answered, “My gosh, I didn’t think anyone remembered old Sam anymore.  After playing three games with the Dodgers, he shot a man and went to prison on a murder charge.  I knew there were personal problems in his life, liked him and managed to get him a parole.  He worked for us for awhile and ended up OK.  I think he would have made a fine ball player under different circumstances.”


I asked Mr. Mack about his historic TV appearance.  “Oh yes, that was really something.  The Philco people came to me in “37 and said they could put me on camera and lots of people would see me on a screen elsewhere.  I had an awful time.  There were lights everywhere and it was terribly hot.  They called it Television and I ended up with a brutal headache for the rest of the day.”


I decided to end the conversation with one last question.  “Mr. Mack, is there anything that you’re particularly proud of in your career?”  He shifted in his chair, put his hands together on the table and said, “So many things.  My career was so long…wouldn’t really know where to start.  I guess you could say that along with Ban Johnson,  I helped found the American League in 1901.  I lasted longer as a manager and owner than anyone else in the history of baseball.  I was fair and square with my players and I feel they respected my knowledge of the game.  With the limited resources at hand I was still able to give the game some of the best teams around.  And now young man it’s time to say goodbye.”  He stood up, shook my hand and we all proceeded to go our way.


As I walked away I looked back.  The whole scene seemed to be diffused by clouds.  A shimmering wave of light flickered and bent in and out of everything.  It all felt real at the time.  Now, I’m not so sure.



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