By Max Silberman / Special to MLB.com
The Philadelphia Athletics were actually several different franchises in several different incarnations. When we refer to the Philadelphia Athletics, we are specifically concerned with the American League team which existed from 1901, when the American League began, until 1954 when the team moved to Kansas City after being sold on November 5, 1954.
When the idea of a league to rival the existing National League was conceived, the Shibe family who produced sporting goods, some local sportswriters and Connie Mack, who had played and managed in the major leagues, were chosen to found the Philadelphia franchise. Mack would serve as the "baseball man" and receive a minority share of the club.
Connie Mack was an astute judge of talent and assembled a club from sandlots and also by "raiding" the Phillies of the National League who had been a Philadelphia fixture since 1883. The Phillies were understandably not amused at losing several star players and sued the Athletics for their return. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Phillies.John McGraw, who managed the New York Giants of the National League, laughingly called Connie Mack's franchise a "White Elephant". It was Mack , however, that had the last laugh. In a move of genius, he traded all the purloined players to Cleveland out of the court's jurisdiction. Of course, the players could not play in Pennsylvania but that matter was eventually resolved. Without the erstwhile former Phillies, the Athletics captured the American League pennant in 1902 which was only the second year of their existence. The World Series had not yet been instituted, but this was the first of nine A.L. pennants and five World's Championships that Mack's men would win.
Pennants were won in 1902, 1905, 1910, 1911, 1913, 1914, 1929, 1930,and 1931. The teams of 1910, 1911, 1913, 1929,and 1930, won the World Series. The Athletics have rightfully been proclaimed "Philadelphia's Most Successful Sports Franchise".
The Athletics played at Columbia Park at 29th and Columbia in North Philadelphia before opening Shibe Park in April 1909 at 21st and Lehigh Avenue in a section of North Philadelphia called Swampoodle.
The first dynasty was broken up following the 1914 season due to a combination of factors including rising salaries from the rival Federal League and the suspicions of Connie Mack that the 1914 team had " quit" on him in four straight games to the "Miracle Boston Braves" who were underdogs. The second dynasty was also dismantled due to fianances. The two sportswriters who initially invested in the team had withdrawn, leaving ownership to the Shibe and Mack families.
Shoeless Joe Jackson started his Major League career with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1908.
As the Shibes died, Connie Mack purchased additional shares and by the mid 1930's, had acquired majority ownership. Money had always been a concern of the Macks and Shibes who lived comfortably but did not have the enormous wealth of other owners who had vast incomes from non-baseball related enterprises.
Lack of sufficient funds, absence of a full minor league system, the age of Connie Mack and the growing popularity of the Phillies in 1950 all contributed to empty seats at Shibe Park (re-named Connie Mack Stadium officially in 1953) Eventually, sons Roy and Earl Mack would buy controlling shares of the club from remaining Shibe family members and their half brother, Connie Mack Jr. To do so, they assumed a large mortgage. The debt load, coupled with the unfortunate decision to sell the concessions ( a major income source ) led to the sale of the club in 1954 to Arnold Johnson who moved the team to Kansas City despite several local efforts to buy the club which were not accepted by the American League.
During their 54 year stay in Philadelphia, they produced such Hall of Famers as: Frank Baker, Chief Bender, Ty Cobb, Mickey Cochrane, Eddie Collins Sr. Jimmie Foxx, Nelson Fox, Lefty Grove, George Kell, Nap Lajoie, Connie Mack, Eddie Plank, Al Simmons, Tris Speaker, Rube Waddell, and Zack Wheat. Some of them are better known for their play with other teams but all were A's at one time. Six times the Most Valuable Player award went to an Athletic. Eddie Collins Sr. in 1914, Mickey Cochrane in 1928, Lefty Grove in 1931, Jimmie Foxx in 1932 and 1933, and Bobby Shantz in 1952 all attained that honor. Nap Lajoie in 1901 and Jimmie Foxx in 1933 won the Triple Crowns. No-hitters were pitched by Weldon Henley (1905), Chief Bender (1910), Joe Bush(1916), Dick Fowler (1945) and Bill McCahan (1947). In 1953, Harry Byrd was "Rookie of the Year."
The team had only three managers in 54 years. Connie Mack (1901-1950), Jimmy Dykes (1951-53) and Eddie Joost (1954) were the only official managers although Earle Mack filled in for his father when Connie Mack had some extended bouts with illness in the late 1930's.
Don't look for the Philadelphia Athletics, Connie Mack , or Shibe Park for they are no more and live on only in the baseball history books and in the minds and hearts of their fans. The Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society exists to keep the memory of this great team and this great man alive.