1901 – 1954
The history of the Athletics in Philadelphia is in effect the story of Connie Mack‘s postplaying career. One of the major figures, with Ban Johnson and Charlie Comiskey, in the founding of the American League, Mack had managed the Milwaukee franchise of the league in 1900, before the AL declared itself a major league. Johnson asked him to lead the new Philadelphia franchise, which would be in head-to-head competition with the NL’s Phillies, and Mack was given a quarter-ownership of the Athletics (the name of several former teams in the city). He would eventually become the majority owner of the team (in 1940), and from the start, he was the architect of the franchise’s growth into a league powerhouse. His 50-year tenure as manager of the club has never been equaled anywhere.
The Athletics lost the services of superstar Nap Lajoie after the Phillies, whose property he had been before jumping to the AL, obtained a court order prohibiting him from playing in Pennsylvania (unless for the Phillies, of course). For the good of the AL, he was transferred to the Cleveland club. But the Athletics nonetheless became league champions the next year (1902), and again in 1905, on the basis of the league’s best offense, led by Topsy Hartsel, Lave Cross, and Socks Seybold, and the outstanding pitching of Rube Waddell, by far the best pitcher in the league both seasons. Contending most of the time, the team won back-to-back pennants in 1910-11 and again in 1913-14 with the Hall of Fame talents of Eddie Collins and Home Run Baker (half of the $100,000 Infield), Eddie Plank, Chief Bender, and Herb Pennock, as well as Jack Coombs and Bob Shawkey. In three of those years they also won the World Series but following their upset by the Braves in 1914, Mack broke up the team rather than continue to fight the Federal League for the services of his stars. The Athletics lost an AL-record 117 games in 1916, finished dead last until a seventh-place finish in 1922, and didn’t finish above .500 until 1925.
By then, Mack had rebuilt his team, and they finished second that year. After two more second-place finishes behind the Yankees in 1927 and 1928 (Mack liked second-place teams; he said they brought in enough fans to make money, but their stars couldn’t ask for high salaries), the new dynasty won three straight pennants and two World Championships, led by four Hall of Famers: sluggers Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and Mickey Cochrane, and pitching ace Lefty Grove. The Depression took its toll, however, and once again Mack had to sell off his stars following the 1932 season. This time the slide to the bottom was more gradual, but last place was the Athletics’ nine times in the years 1935-46. It looked like Mack was building a new contender following WWII, but it was not to be. In 1946 the aging gentleman skipper divided his club shares among his three children, and he increasingly relied on right-hand man Jimmie Dykes in the dugout. After the rebuilding plan collapsed into a last-place finish in 1950 following three seasons above .500, Mack’s sons forced him into retirement. The club struggled to near-respectability under Dykes, but after a last-place finish in 1954, with a corresponding slump in attendance, Mack’s sons sold out to Arnold Johnson, and the franchise, following the example of the Braves, moved west, taking up business in Kansas City.