October 2003 | Volume 54, Issue 5
Overrated Connie Mack (born Cornelius McGillicuddy) is to baseball what George Washington is to American patriotism. But the ascetic string bean of a manager, always in civilian clothes, stiff white collar, and straw hat, was more a loser than a winner in his half-century of managing—and mismanaging—the Philadelphia Athletics. Yes, he had nine pennant winners and won five World Series, mainly while he presided over two Philadelphia dynasties, 1910-14 and 1929-31. But he also amassed more losses—4,025—than any other pilot in the record books, and for the last 17 years of his reign his club finished in the first division only once. His 1914 team, with its $100,000 infield (Mclnnis, Collins, Barry, Baker), suffered one of the most humiliating World Series defeats when it dropped four straight to George Stallings’s “Miracle Braves.”
After his dynamic Athletics team lost the 1931 World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals, Mack never again led a winner, even though he managed until 1950. Another man would have been fired. However, as the owner of the A’s, Mack was not about to fire himself.
Underrated Some have called the Dodgers’ manager Walter (“Smokey”) Alston (1954-76) colorless. Never as tactful as Joe Torre or as explosive as John McGraw, Alston nonetheless was one of the few big-league managers ever to win a World Series with a single strategic move. In the sixth inning of the seventh game in 1955, between his Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees, he switched the right-hand-throwing Junior Gilliam from left field to second base and inserted an unheralded little journeyman from Cuba, Sandy Amoros, in Gilliam’s place. When Yogi Berra then sliced a long liner into left field, with two on base, Sandy was able to snag the ball mainly because his glove was on his right hand. The celebrated catch resulted in a double-play that doused the Yankees’ threat, resulting in Brooklyn’s one and only Series triumph.
Alston had exactly one major-league at bat—a strikeout—before joining the Dodgers as their manager in 1954. Then, defying his relative anonymity, he won seven pennants and four World Series. But the team’s management never once rewarded him with a long-term contract. For 23 years he worked from year to year.
A taciturn man from Darrtown, Ohio, Alston could be wry when he wanted to be. Once he commented about his brilliant players Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, “It’s not too hard managing with guys like those.” But an old antagonist, Casey Stengel, was having none of that Alston self-deprecation. “He gets better every day as a manager,” Stengel said. That was true. Yet few baseball people paid much attention, even after Alston won election to the Hall of Fame.