Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

A lifelong mission to tell Connie Mack's story

Early this year, Norman Macht sent off the galley proofs for the third and last volume of the Connie Mack biography he began in 1985.

File photo via the Library of Congress

There were no tears or celebrations when his life's obsession was done. There was only great relief.

"I was ready to be done," Norman Macht said. "I lived with it for so long."

Early this year, Macht sent off the galley proofs for the third and last volume of the Connie Mack biography he began in 1985.

He was 56 then. For three decades, he immersed himself in the man who managed and owned the Philadelphia Athletics for a half-century. He traveled everywhere Mack had been. He found people who had played for him, worked for him, lived with him. He uncovered minutes of long-forgotten meetings and pored over team records that were discovered, a half-century after Mack's 1956 death, in an Oakland trash bin.

As the years passed, Macht's memory softened, and the writing grew more difficult. He feared he might never finish. So he filled dozens of boxes with notes, tapes, photos, and documents and contacted a baseball-loving writer in Philadelphia.

"If for any reason I can't complete it," he told him, "I want you to."

Finally, at 86, he put a -30- on the 30-year-project. By its end, Macht - tall, gaunt, and white-haired - eerily resembled the late-life version of the man he had fixated on for so long.

Together the three volumes, published between 2007 and '15, stand seven inches high; contain 2,009 pages; and probably make up the most extensive, thoroughly researched baseball biography ever. By comparison, Robert Creamer's definitive biography of Babe Ruth, 1974's Babe: The Legend Comes to Life, is 404 pages.

It's what can happen when you combine a passion for baseball and detail with a fruitful subject.

"There was plenty to write about," Macht said. "The sale of the team and the family dickering, intrigue, and feuding surrounding it was practically a book itself."

A former minor-league general manager, the Brooklyn-born Macht had written dozens of children's baseball books and even a biography of Dick Bartell, a now-obscure big-league shortstop. Along the way, he'd interviewed scores of old ballplayers, many of whom played for Mack.

"I knew that [sportswriter] Fred Lieb had done a small biography," he said. "But here was this great baseball man whose career spanned the first half of the 20th century and there was nothing else."

He decided he would do one. First, he searched for anyone who played for or remembered the great Athletics teams that won three World Series and four pennants from 1910 to 1914.

"These people were dying fast. And even though I didn't then know enough about Mack to ask all the right questions, I needed to get them quickly," he said.

He found sportswriters and front-office people and just one player from Mack's 1914 champions, a reserve outfielder named Shag Thompson.

Macht entered the project with no predispositions. He allowed the research to tell him whether Mack was, as many insist, a genius or a miser. In the end, he discovered a multidimensional man.

"He was stubborn to the extreme. As a young manager he had a fearsome temper," Macht said. "He was practically a one-man operation all his life. His mental health deteriorated in the '40s, and he hurt the team by staying so long. But everybody I talked to said in the end they really loved the man."

Mack, who died at 93, managed until 1950, years after senility struck. He endured because sportswriters protected him and his coaches became de facto managers.

"One coach was Al Simmons, who loved him like a father," Macht said. "Simmons eventually told the team to ignore Mack's signs and watch him instead."

If contemporary sports fans recall Mack, it's probably because of his statue, which stands outside Citizens Bank Park, or because he always wore a suit in the dugout.

"As a young manager, he'd go into clubhouses after games and rant and rave. He knew it was a weakness, and he realized he had to change," Macht said. "He decided if he didn't wear a uniform, he wouldn't have to go into the clubhouse. It gave him a chance to cool down."

Of all Macht discovered, the most helpful documents came from a source who provided minutes from both American League meetings and those related to the acrimonious 1954 sale of the team.

They led Macht to believe that if Mack had allowed Connie Jr. to run the team instead of sons from a previous marriage, Roy and Earle, the A's, who owned the stadium both teams played in, might still be in Philadelphia and not the Phillies.

"Connie Jr. clearly had the most on the ball. He went to his father and said, 'You can't do this alone any more. I have no confidence in Roy and Earle,' " Macht said. "But he made a mistake. He had people in Philadelphia who were ready to provide the money. But first he gave Roy and Earle an option to buy him out, never believing they'd raise the money. He was just astonished when they got it from Connecticut General."

Macht's original proposal envisioned a 300-page book. Then he traveled to Mack's East Brookfield, Mass., birthplace and knew immediately he would need more to tell the story of a man whose life and career spanned much of baseball and American history.

"The town had all the records - birth, death, voting, school," Macht said from his Escondido, Calif., home. "I wrote it chronologically. I was up to 1910 and already close to 1,000 manuscript pages."

So he convinced the University of Nebraska Press that a second volume was necessary. And then a third.

"Other publishers told me multivolume biographies were deadly. They wouldn't touch them," he said. "They agreed to do two. Then I had another 1,000 pages, and I was only up to 1931."

The rest of Mack's life is chronicled in The Grand Old Man of Baseball: Connie Mack in His Final Years.

And the rest of Macht's now strangely empty life?

"I'm not sure," he said, "but I'm not starting anything new."