“Some Players seem Terribly Stupid”

7 Sep

Henry Beach Needham was a journalist and fiction writer, best known for being a long-time friend, and occasional biographer of President Theodore Roosevelt.  In 1906, he approached Connie Mack with a request to travel with the Philadelphia Athletics and publish a profile of the manager and his players.

Needham

Needham

Initially apprehensive, Mack allowed Needham to accompany the club and two became close friends.

Over the next nine years (until he was killed in a plane crash in France while covering the war) Needham would write many profiles of his friend Mack in pages of “McClure’s Magazine,” and syndicated in many newspapers.

In 1911, just before the start of the World Series, he asked Mack:

“What is the first thing you demand in a youngster?’

“’Speed!’ replied Mack.  ‘Double plays are what lose you your games.  A slow man gets doubled up at first.  The only excuse for having a slow man—unless he’s a first-class pitcher or a splendid catcher—is that he can play the hit-and-run.  If he can’t signal to the base runner and then connect with the ball, he will hit into a double play—and there goes your game.”

Next, Needham asked if “baseball brains” were next in importance:

“’Y-e-s,’ replied Mack, with some hesitation, and then he qualified:

“’Hold on!  There’s something to be said about gray matter.  Some players seem terribly stupid.  Why—you can tell ‘em a thing over and over, and they will go into the game and do exactly opposite to what you have told them.  Then—all of a sudden it will come to them—and then they have it.  Why—I know a great player in our league.  For two or three years he was as stupid a player as you ever saw.  Then—suddenly it all came to him.  Now he won’t make the wrong play twice in a season.’”

Mack

Mack

Needham asked about players staying in condition:

“’I take that for granted,’ said Mack.  “Major league players have got to be in condition—or their clubs can’t win.  I haven’t any rules.  Why—I never have had any.  But my men always take care of themselves.  This may interest you:

“’Before the World Series last year I got my team in a room together.  Why—I told them that, no matter what the results, we didn’t want to have any regrets.  I reminded them how in other years it was said that the losing team hadn’t taken care of themselves.  Then I said that I wanted every man who could honestly promise to say that he wouldn’t take a drink until the series was over.’

“’Now, if there is one of you who can’t do without his drink,’ I said to them, ‘I want him to say so.’ Then I went down the line, and they all promised, every one of the 23.’

“’Why—I’m morally certain that not one of those 23 men touched a drop in those two weeks.  And a few of them are accustomed to have their bottle of beer every day of their lives.’”

The sober Athletics

The sober Athletics

Needham said there was discipline on Mack’s club, but it was “discipline through force of example:”

“Connie Mack does not smoke or drink—merely because he cares for neither—and he is clean as a hound’s tooth.”

Needham, who said “No one can get (Mack) to prophecy” made a prediction about the manager, then 48-years-old:

“Twenty years may elapse before Connie Mack wins his last pennant.”

Mack did win his final  pennant twenty years later in 1931.

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