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.