Player, manager, scout, general manager, owner — Cornelius MacGillicuddy “Connie Mack” — did it all. As a 6’2″ player he revolutionized baseball as the first catcher to squat behind the plate — an innovation that continues today. And as the owner manager of the Philadelphia A’s he built a dynasty that played five World Series games, and holds the seemingly unbreakable records for most games managed, won, and lost.
Mack’s teams in the early 1900s, featuring the “$100,000 Infield” with Hall of Famers Eddie Collins and Frank “Home Run” Baker, went to five World Series and won three times. John McGraw of the New York Giants called the A’s a “white elephant” that no one else wanted. Mack responded by adopting the pachyderm as his team’s symbol, an insignia still used by the Oakland A’s. The cash-strapped owner later had to sell off many top players, but the A’s became a powerhouse again in the late 1920s, ending the reign of Babe Ruth’s Yankees. The 1929-30 A’s team with Mickey Cochrane, Jimmie Foxx, and Lefty Grove cemented their place in history as an outstanding team.
“Salaries were high, even during the Depression,” his daughter Ruth Mack Clark, 90, recalls. “But after the crash, in which he lost an awful lot of money, Dad sold off the players or else he would have lost the team and the ballpark.”
Ruth was on hand last year to witness the A’s historic return to Philadelphia for a game against the Phillies.
The baseball legend was born to Irish immigrants on December 22, 1862, in East Brookfield, Massachusetts. His parents, Michael McGillicuddy and Mary McKillop, emigrated from Killarney during the Famine years. Michael served in the Civil War and was proud of his Irish Catholic heritage. One of seven siblings, Connie kept McGillicuddy as his legal name, as have his descendants. (Sports writers shortened it to fit into newspaper box scores.)
“The Tall Tactician” was the winning manager of the first All Star Game in 1933, and he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame four years later. For “Connie Mack Day” in 1941, the legendary George M. Cohan wrote a song, The Grand Old Man of the National Game. Mack, who never missed Mass and was a proud member of the Knights of Columbus, died in 1956. Two years before, in 1954, The Philadelphia A’s had moved to Kansas City.
One of the last baseball managers to wear street clothes at the ballpark, Mack cut quite a figure. “People would stare in recognition, because he was so tall and stately in his three piece suit and white high collar shirt,” recalls granddaughter Kathleen McGillicuddy Kelly, an Irish dance instructor in Phoenix and former Radio City Music Hall Rockette. “I loved going to the ballpark with him and my father.”
Both Mack’s family and his baseball legacy thrive even today. The Grand Old Man had three children with his first wife, Margaret Hogan, before her death, five more children with his second wife, Katherine Hallahan, and 16 grandchildren.
Connie Mack III, a former U.S. Senator, threw out the first pitch when the A’s returned to Philadelphia in 2003. He says that more people are excited about meeting him because he is Connie Mack’s grandson than because of his career in government.
“In the political environment, you understand the significance of name recognition. My grandfather died almost 50 years ago, and his reputation of character and integrity is astounding,” said Senator Mack, whose interest in his Irish roots increased after visiting Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic while serving in Congress. “For us to have the heritage of a name that carries such respect, it imposes a responsibility to live up to it.”
“We visited Co. Kerry and found the old McGillicuddy Castle,” added the Florida Republican, whose driver’s license reads McGillicuddy. “I wish I had taken an interest in my heritage earlier, but I am glad I was able to expose my son to it.”
And the McGillicuddy political legacy lives on. Thirty-seven-year-old Connie Mack IV follows in his father’s footsteps and was elected to U.S. Congress representing Florida’s 14(th) District on November 2, 2004. Mack IV and his wife, Ann, have two children: Addison and (you guessed it), Connie Mack V. ♦