Posts Tagged ‘Buffalo’

McGraw and McGillicuddy

Friday, March 10th, 2017

One was pugnacious.  The other, almost regal.

When John Joseph McGraw took the field, he embraced baseball games as bouts, thus earning his nicknames Mugsy and Little Napoleon.

When Cornelius McGillicuddy managed the Philadelphia Athletics, he wore a suit rather than a uniform.

They were, certainly, opposites with a respect that ran deeper than the Hudson River.

Connie Mack—McGillicuddy’s more familiar moniker—managed the Athletics ball club from its genesis in 1901 until 1950.  When Mack passed away in 1956, it marked the end of a lengthy baseball tenure that began at the end of the 19th century—from 1894 to 1896, Mack was a player-manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  This came after playing in the major leagues for 11 years; in addition to Pittsburgh, Mack played for Buffalo and Washington.  Mack’s page on the Baseball Hall of Fame web site honors innovation in the catcher position:  “Mack was one of the first catchers to play directly behind home plate instead of setting up by the backstop.  He was also famous for his abilities to fake the sound of a foul tip with his mouth and ‘tip’ opposing players’ bats during their swings.”

Mack’s 50-year governance of the A’s as a manager and a part owner resulted in five World Series championships and seven American League titles.  There were plenty of down years, too.  In 1915, the A’s had a 36-104 record— it began a 10-year run of losing seasons.  Eight winning seasons followed, including three consecutive American League pennants from 1929 to 1931.  The A’s won the World Series in 1929 and 1930.

Contrariwise to Mack’s aura of temperateness, John McGraw breathed flames.  Upon the death of the fiery New York Giants manager in 1934, New York Times writer John N. Wheeler opined that retirement a couple of years prior corresponded with a transition in the National Pastime.  “The game also had become more gentlemanly and, if you will take the word of an old-timer like the writer, less colorful,” wrote Wheeler.  “Not that there is any implication that John J. McGraw was not a gentleman, but when he went to wars he went to win.”

McGraw’s managerial career began with the Baltimore Orioles team that moved to New York after the 1902 season and became the Highlanders— the team later changed to the Yankees label.  McGraw was a Baltimore fixture, playing third base on the Oriole’s National League championship teams in the 1890s.

In the middle of the 1902 season, McGraw went to the New York Giants, where he became the symbol of toughness for the princes of the Polo Grounds.  And he brought several Orioles with him.  Under McGraw, the Giants won 10 National League pennants and seven World Series titles.

Mack and McGraw squared off in the World Series three times—1905, 1911, and 1913; the Giants own the 1905 contest and the A’s won the next two.

In 1937, the Baseball Hall of Fame inducted Connie Mack and John McGraw.  On McGraw’s Hall off Fame web site page, a quote from Mack summarizes his feelings toward his counterpart:  “There has been only one manager— and his name is McGraw.”

A version of this article appeared on March 17, 2016.

Coca-Cola and Baseball

Saturday, November 26th, 2016

The Pause That Refreshes.  The Real Thing.  The Best Friend Thirst Ever had.

Coca-Cola.

With slogans changing nearly every year, Coca-Cola is entrenched in American culture through a barrage of advertising campaigns, marketing strategies, and celebrity endorsements.  During the height of American pride—some say jingoism— in Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” presidency, Coca-Cola plucked the country’s patriotic heartstrings in the 1980s with its Red, White & You slogan.

Naturally, baseball provides a fantastic distribution outlet for Coca-Cola to target thirsty consumers who want a cold beverage as a companion for hot dogs, Cracker Jack, and peanuts.  But Coca-Cola’s relationship with baseball goes beyond exclusive pouring rights in America’s ballparks and stadia.

AT&T park in San Francisco boasts an 80-foot Coca-Cola bottle.  Citi Field has Coca-Cola Corner.  In Buffalo, Coca-Cola Field is the home ballpark for the Bisons, a Triple-A team in the International League.  According to the Bisons web site, Coca-Cola Field has a seating capacity of 18,025.  Designed by HOK Architects, Coca-Cola Field débuted in 1988.  The Lehigh Valley IronPigs call Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania their home.

Beyond stadium naming rights, Coca-Cola ventured into the front office with ownership of the Atlanta Crackers, a team in the Negro Leagues.  The soft drink giant rescued the team from financial oblivion.  Honoring its history, Coca-Cola recounts the genesis on its web site coca-colacompany.com:  “When the Great Depression began, the economic slowdown hit baseball hard.  The Atlanta Crackers were floundering in a sea of debt and bad management.  By the end of the 1929 season, the team was sold to several local businesses, including the Atlanta Coca-Cola Bottling Company and The Coca-Cola Company.  Famed golfer (and lawyer) Bobby Jones acting as vice president.”

The Crackers needed an investor with the financial strength to shoulder this financial burden.  With its headquarters in Atlanta, Coca-Cola saw an opportunity, perhaps an obligation, to invest in the hometown team:  “When the condition continued to worsen, Robert Woodruff, Coca-Cola’s president, stepped forward to buy the Crackers to keep the team in Atlanta.”

Coca-Cola also sweetened the investment portfolio of a baseball legend to epic proportions.  As shrewd with investments as he was in the batter’s box, Ty Cobb used his frugality to launch his roster of stocks.  In a 1991 Los Angeles Times article titled “A Money Player: Ty Cobb Was a Peach When It Came to Investments, Too,” Cobb’s autobiography ghostwriter Al Stump explained Cobb’s financial prowess, claiming that Cobb was worth $12.1 million when he died in July 1961.  He cited a Cobb quote regarding the initial Coca-Cola investment: “For example, Coca-Cola was a new drink on the market in 1918.  Wall Street didn’t think much of it.  I gambled the other way with a small 300-shares buy, then with bigger buys and then Coke jumped out of sight.  It brought me more than $4 million as time went by.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on June 15, 2014.

When Joe McCarthy Retired

Monday, November 7th, 2016

Weary from influenza and pleurisy, Joe McCarthy walked into his colonial house on the evening of June 22, 1950 feeling a wave of relief coursing through him with the sedation that only one’s home can provide after a long trip.  Weakened by the illnesses plus the two-hour plane ride from Chicago to Buffalo, McCarthy craved the familiar quiet of his 61 acres of farmland in East Amherst, a Buffalo suburb.  It provided a psychic succor, if not a medicinal one, particularly because the illnesses prevented the 63-year-old McCarthy from leaving a Chicago hotel room for a couple of days until earlier that afternoon.  Still, he needed rest and a doctor’s attention.

Reporters were not interested in his physical or emotional health, however,  They wanted to know if McCarthy, the venerable but worn manager of the Boston Red Sox, resigned during the present road trip to play the Chicago White Sox.  Red Sox management spiced the issue by labeling the time of McCarthy’s return as indefinite.

McCarthy’s trip was difficult enough without the press questioning job security.  Frustration overwhelmed patience when McCarthy touched down at Buffalo Municipal Airport at 5:20 p.m.  The June 23, 1950 edition of the New York Times reported that McCarthy “used through the gate swinging at a photographer’s camera” while looking for his wife, Elizabeth.  A native of the Buffalo area, Mrs. McCarthy navigated the airport trip with the ease of an autopilot.  She became her husband’s mouthpiece, deflecting press speculation about her husband resigning.

The following day, McCarthy stepped down from the Red Sox helm.  Upon the suggestion, perhaps insistence of his physician, Dr. Arthur Burkel, McCarthy put his baseball career in the rear view mirror.  Stating that he was “physically tired, physically exhausted,” McCarthy anticipated more time for his hobbies of fishing and hunting during his sunset years in western New York, not a geographical area prized by retirees—unless a retiree is a western New York native.  Or married to one.  But baseball was no longer a vocational option.  Like termites chomping on wood, the pressures of managing wore down McCarthy.  After more than 40 years and thousands of innings as a minor league player, a minor league manager, and a major league manager, McCarthy could not rely on youth, adrenaline, or passion to fight another battle from the dugout.

According to the June 24, 1950 edition of the Boston Globe, Red Sox players empathized with their former leader.  “I’m a little surprised,” said Bobby Doerr.  “But then this is a nerve wracking business and I guess it was getting on Joe’s nerves.  I am happy that I was able to play for him.  He was a great manager.”

Ted Williams offered, “I’m awfully sorry to see him go but perhaps it’s the best thing because you could see it was killing him.  There was never a harsh word said between us and there were times when he could have spoken harshly to me.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on November 15, 2013.