I have said in the past there are certain personalities that transcend the game itself. Usually they are players that fall into this category, mainly because of their own field exposure. There are always exceptions to that rule and easily Connie Mack is one of them. The Grand Old Man of Baseball is one of the patriarchs of the game and through all time is a name that will be known to all. A person who had an entirely different contribution to the game as Ty Cobb or Babe Ruth, but still a name that is just as recognizable as many of the games greats. Norman L. Macht has recently completed his third installment of his Connie Mack trilogy and it completes in print the life of one of baseballs true pioneers.
Obviously I read a lot of books, but no series of books I have ever come across has made me go WOW!, like this one has. The first volume of this set was published in 2007 with subsequent volumes in 2012 and 2015 respectively. All three book take a look at a specific portion of Connie Mack’s life and the events that helped shape his life and career. These books show how he forged his personality and the steps he had taken to amass his baseball empire. Each book also shows the baseball dealings he conducted on a daily basis, how he constructed teams and eventually dismantled teams to pay the teams bills. Various financial struggles are addressed throughout the years, power struggles within team ownership and family infighting that eventually led to the final downfall and removal of the Athletics from Philadelphia.
Norman L. Macht has dedicated a good portion of his life to this project. Starting in 1985 the research he did was in depth and led him essentially to every location Connie Mack ever stepped foot. He spoke to as many people who were friends, colleagues or family of Connie Mack and got the inside scoop on what the man was really like. The amount of time and research that was dedicated to this project is just mind blowing to me. I can’t imagine dedicating three decades to one subject and then being able to narrow it down to only 2,000 pages of details for a publisher. Usually, most publishers would shy away from a multi volume biography anyway.
For me growing up in Philadelphia there were always a lot of stories floating around. From just having the local ties and being a fixture in the city itself to the part that my Grandfather put a roof on his house in the late 40’s, Connie Mack for me was always an intriguing figure. This book dispels a lot of the myth’s that I had accepted as fact about Mack. Through the stories you hear growing up in Philadelphia, many of them you just accept as fact and don’t dedicate the time to looking for the truth. He truly was one of the games great owners and we will never see another one like him. In reality how many owners have a rival team name their stadium after your team leaves town, as the Phillies did out of respect for Mack. The respect that people had for him was astounding, so much so that as of my last conversation with Bobby Shantz about a year or so ago, he still referrs to him as Mr. Mack, over 60 years after his death.
Baseball fans should really check these books out. They are a vast wealth of knowledge for the fans of a very popular subject of the game that has not had many books dedicated to him. Norman L. Macht should be commended, and rightly so, on a great job writing these three books and completing his 30 year journey to show fans the real Cornelius McGillicuddy.
You can get these books from the nice folks at the University of Nebraska Press
Owners are an interesting lot in Major League Baseball. Some are from the old school and don’t really care about the fortunes of the company, they just want to own a team. Some are in it for the profit aspect, while others ownership groups are part of a corporate conglomeration. I have always found the individual owners the most intriguing. Some of the best off-field personalities within baseball have come from ownership. Walter O’Malley, George Steinbrenner, Bill Veeck and Charlie Finley are just a few of the greats that have come from that group. Baseball has always been considered a good-old boys club but there have been a few exceptions to that rule. Today’s book takes a look at those exceptions and the great contributions the lady owners have made to the game of baseball.
William A. Cook has taken some of the most influential names in female ownership within baseball and created in-depth biographies of each one. Owners such as Effa Manley, Joan Payson, Jean Yawkey, Marge Schott, Joan Kroc and Grace Comisky to name a few. Each woman came into ownership through a unique set of circumstances. Some were by design and some were by accident, but nevertheless it shows how each overcame the obstacles inherent to being a minority and owning a baseball team.
This author does a great job of showing the state of each respective team when the owner took over, the coming to power and the final results the team achieved under their ownership. Finally the author tells us how each team was disposed of. It really shows a complete picture of what the ownership by each of the lady moguls accomplished during their tenure and where they have missed their mark.
I have seen individual biographies on some of the women mentioned in this book, but really did enjoy the format of covering several of them in one book. 20-30 pages was plenty to cover each one of the owners and gave a thorough picture as to what each ownership group achieved. Obviously you would be able to complete a stand alone biography on any of the owners covered but this is a very nice resource to get your feet wet with a group of female owners.
Fans who have an interest in the off-field history of the game really will enjoy this. It is a glimpse behind the curtain of stuffy team ownership and shows some of the driving personalities throughout history. Check it out I don’t think you will be disappointed.
You can get this book from the nice folks at Sunbury Press
Bill Veeck has been called a lot of things through the years. Innovator, Showman, Maverick, the P.T. Barnum of baseball and of course some other not so many nice names. A definite man before his time, no matter how many books come out about old Sportshirt Bill, I feel the need to read them.
Bill Veeck, Baseballs Greatest Maverick
By:Paul Dickson-Walker & Company 2012
Bill Veeck always seemed to be the friend of the average fan. From early beginnings with his father working for the Chicago Cubs, Bill spent a lifetime sharing his love of the game. Working various jobs for the Cubs he cut his teeth in the field, and went on to team ownership. With stops in Milwaukee, St. Louis, Cleveland and Chicago, Veeck left an indelible mark on baseball that while unconventional at the time would be appreciated today.
Paul Dickson undertakes the task of fitting all of Veeck’s exploits into one book. He visits all of Bill’s baseball stops and the shenanigans that earned him some of the nicknames I mentioned above. Ladies nights, midgets, game day give aways and of course disco demolition etched Bill’s name into baseball history. Dickson also looks at Veeck’s activities outside of baseball including running a horse track. Veeck had so many innovations both in and out of baseball that he could almost be called spectacular.
Truly an ambassador for baseball, Veeck was rightly enshrined in the Hall of Fame shortly after his death in 1986. But what I find even better about this book is you see the principled man who stood upon that wooden leg——that he used most times as an ash tray. From civil rights to baseball integration to countless other causes that presented themselves in society. Bill Veeck had several causes he thought were worth fighting for. This shows the worth of the man himself. He may not been popular with the other owners for several different reasons, but as a person Bill Veeck seems like a really great guy. This is finally the biography Bill Veeck deserves. It portrays a complete and accurate picture of the man who was well before his time and someone to be admired for his forethought and decency for his fellow-man.
Paul Dickson did a great job with this book. It is one of the best pieces I have ever read on Veeck and anyone who is any kind of fan of Veeck should read it. There may be some duplicity in some of the stories you have heard before, but the painted picture is complete. He may have made a lot of owners angry through the years, but he made lots more people happy and in the end, that’s what matters. He leaves a legacy that should be appreciated for all time.
You can get this book from the nice folks at Walker & Co.
Baseball is full of storied careers. With the passage of time, some of the stories become bigger than life. Some of those careers get clouded by the haze of nostalgia, or the feeling of what we used to have is better than today. Todays book takes an honest look at a high-profile career and gave me a clear look at what really happened.
The Wizard of Waxahachie
By:Warren Corbett – 2009 Southern Methodist University Press
Paul Richards mark on baseball is undeniable. There are many things, by design or perhaps by accident, that have been attributed to him. Pitch counts, five man pitching rotations, tracking on-base percentages, his fingerprints are all over baseball today. What you don’t always see is the way the mind operated during his lifetime dedicated to the sport.
Warren Corbett wrote a book almost 25 years after Richards death. Relying on family memories, notes and audio recordings that the family had provided, and has given a seldom seen side of Paul Richards. He delves in to the devious side of Richards and his dealings with players and management during his illustrious career. He also creates an accurate feeling that he was a hustler to many, both on the field and the golf course.
The most interesting aspect of this book to me is the trouble Paul Richards had bridging the generation gap. When I say generation gap I am talking about the gap that was created near the end of his career in the dawn of free agency. Richards had a lot of problems accepting the birth and subsequent power of the MLB Players Union. It shows how after almost 50 years in baseball he was very set in his ways.
While after finding moderate success on and off the field in all his stops in baseball, Richards was a man of many friends and able to work the old boy network to his advantage and always find work. That may be some of the reason he was not interested in adjusting to the new era of baseball. The book is very heavy in detail about his time in Baltimore with the Orioles. It was the longest stop of his career but still dominates about half of this book. His stops in Houston, Atlanta, both stops in Chicago and finally Texas seem to be condensed versions to fit in the book. I think a little more time could have been spent in Houston alone, due to the challenges of building a new franchise.
In the end Richards does not come out of the book looking like the genius he is regarded as today. He seems almost human and to an extent skating through some of the stops in his career. The end result of the book has shown us what I feel is a very fair and accurate portrait of Paul Richards. Wayne Corbett did a great job on this biography especially since he was doing it almost 25 years after Richards death.
You can get this book from the nice folks at Southern Methodist University Press
There are several teams within Major League Baseball that just get no respect. Sometimes the reason may be their own ineptitude, financial shortcomings or even as simple as being a group of unlikable guys. Teams that come to mind are the Miami Marlins, Washington Senators, Philadelphia and K.C. Athletics, Minnesota Twins and Houston Astros just to name a few out there. They all have their place in history and it is not always negative. The loyal fan bases that these teams maintain always hold out that glimmer of hope for next year and the fortunes that may come their way. Todays book takes the time to celebrate one of those team that struggles to be respected.
Houston Astros-Deep in the Heart
By:Bill Brown & Mike Acosta-Bright Sky Press 2013
The Houston Astros were born out of National League expansion in 1962. Originally named the Colt 45’s, they started play with a bunch of over the hill and wet behind the ears players. They spent more than a decade languishing near the bottom of the standings before reaping the fruits of their labor and becoming perennial contenders for the fans of Houston. Unfortunately like most things in life, baseball standings come full circle and the Astros are rebuilding for the future once again.
Bill Brown and Mike Acosta have compiled a book that shows the pride the fans of the Astros have in their beloved team. They show that you don’t always have to meet prettiest girl at the dance to find true love. Like most teams that have a loyal following, the fans of Houston are proud of their team and its heritage no matter how they finish.
This book is really great. It has 11 different chapters and breaks the 50 plus years of Houston baseball into each. You learn about the stadiums the Astros have called home. You learn about a variety of different players and off field personnel that have worn Houston’s colors proudly. Finally you see the Astros high points on the field, most recently being the 2005 World Series. One part of this book I though was interesting is that is it gives a glimpse into the future of the Astros, it shows rising stars they are hoping will propel the team to new heights. I also found that I had no idea who has actually played for the Astros during their existence. The Houston portion of some players career’s may have been short, but there were some big time names that hung their hat in Houston for a bit.
The pictures in this book are of great quality. You get a chance to see some never before seen shots that make you feel like you were there. I for some reason wish I had the chance to see a game at the Astrodome, but never did. So I always like seeing old pictures of the eighth wonder of the world, and this book does not disappoint at all!
Astros fans will love this book. Fans of team history as well. Books like this always have a place in our bookcases. They allow fans to go back and relive the memories they have and add that special nostalgic magic to it. As we all know that nostalgic magic can make things seem better and more enjoyable than they really were, but sometimes we all need that in life. Also when you order this book it arrives with a bag of baseball candy and a bag of Cracker Jack in the box. What is more enjoyable or nostalgic in baseball than Cracker Jack????
You can get this book from the nice folks at Bright Sky Press
By now we all have heard the story of Branch Rickey. The one man with enough courage formulate a plan to challenge baseballs long-standing but unspoken color barrier. With his signing of Jackie Robinson he set in motion changes that would affect the face of the game forever. Today we take a look at another Branch Rickey biography……
Branch Rickey – A Life
By:Jimmy Breslin – 2011 Penguin Books
Through the years I have read several Branch Rickey biographies. Some of those were good and some not so good. Unfortunately this book falls into the latter category. Branch Rickey-A Life has several flaws, at least in my opinion. Since there have been so many Ricky biographies published, one would hope at least the common factual information would be correct.
I am learning now that Breslin may not be one of my preferred writers to read. Perhaps its his writing style, or the fact that these are very short books he writes. You don’t get the chance to read in any great detail, any of the information in his books. Regardless of the subject matter he seems to have a 150 page limit to tell the story. Within those 150 pages you are only able to briefly immerse in each topic, and as we all know Rickey is a story that is very complex.
In the end what you get with this book is a very basic biography about the man. It is almost a warm and fuzzy rendition of Branch Rickey and left me wondering why did we need this. Almost Fifty years after Rickey’s death and Seventy years after the birth of his great experiment, the reader expects much more. After plunking down your hard-earned money to buy this book I feel safe in saying the reader deserves more as well.
As I said above maybe I am the issue with Breslin’s writing style. I just didn’t get what he was trying to give the reader in this book. If it was geared towards a juvenile audience it would have accomplished its goal much better. But as a Biography on a large figure in the baseball realm, it failed miserably.
I had the same problem with Can’t Anybody Here Play this Game, also by Breslin, but learned after the fact it was some sort of compilation of articles manifested into a complete book. I don’t think that is the case here. I really feel that this book just totally missed its mark.
I think most readers will be disappointed with this book, especially seasoned baseball readers……..but you be the judge, I am just one opinion.
You can get this book from the nice folks at Penguin Books
Being born and raised in Philadelphia I believe I have seen some horrible Phillies teams. Even New York Mets fans can relate to that after being through their inaugural season. Those teams fail in comparison to the 1916 Philadelphia A’s. After a final record of 36 wins in a 154 game season, they secured their spot in history. Which brings us to today’s book….
A’s Bad as it Gets-Connie Mack’s Pathetic Athletics of 1916
By:John Robertson and Andy Saunders-2014 McFarland
Connie Mack, the grand ol’ man of baseball was obviously at the helm of this lackluster team, and even he could not work his magic on this team. The odd thing about this team was the fact, that in the first half of the decade they were a team of great success. Perhaps they were cursed, perhaps the penny-pinching ways of Mr. Mack was catching up with them or maybe some undisclosed curse of the A’s in Philadelphia. Whatever the reason was, this team was horrible!
This book starts out giving you some background on the Philadelphia Athletics and some of the triumphs they had in years prior. The authors then break down a month by month recap of the 1916 season including spring training. This team seemed doomed from the get go. Finally, the aftermath of the 1916 season and the lasting effects were analyzed as to how they effected the subsequent seasons in Philadelphia. Except for a few seasons of success here and there, this was the first signs of an almost cursed franchise.
Personally I think the A’s were the worst team ever. I know to some degree it has been debated in the baseball realm, but based on winning percentage the 1916 A’s win hands down………hey the A’s finally won something. I also think it was the result of Mack’s penny-pinching that resulted in such a bad team. These type of financial moves hindered Mack for most of his remaining time in Philadelphia.
Usually books pertaining to this era, I have some trouble getting through, but that was not the case with this one. The authors were very structured and each chapter was well thought out. The two authors who hail from Canada were also very well versed in Philadelphia Athletics history. The relevance of this book shows in the fact that there still has not been a team that played worse than the 1916 A’s almost a full century later.
All baseball fans should enjoy this book. It sheds some light on an important benchmark that still stands with in the game to this day. I honestly feel that this record will never be broken. With the quality or lack there of in baseball today, I just don’t see it being possible. You can’t lose them all in reality.
You can get this from the friendly folks at McFarland Books