Archive: July, 2012
Frank Fitzpatrick, Inquirer Sports Columnist
So the 2012 Phillies have conceded that the greatest sustained era in their otherwise futile history is over.
But as tough as it is to see Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence and maybe others depart, the sell-off can't compare to the breakup of the only Philadelphia baseball dynasty comparable to this one -- the 1929-32 Philadelphia A's. If this is a fire sale, then the one Connie Mack conducted back then was a raging inferno.
Following the 1932 season, when the A's run of three consecutive World Series (they won the first two, lost the third in seven games) ended with a 94-win, second-place finish, Mack began to sell -- literally sell -- his entire team, including its four, still-in-their-prime Hall-of-Famers.
The first to go was rightfielder Al Simmons, a future Cooperstown resident who was sent to the White Sox with Jimmy Dykes and Mule Haas, for $100,000.
The Athletics wound up third in 1933, which prompted Mack to unload his Hall of Fame catcher Mickey Cochrane to Detroit for a journeyman and $100,000). Then he sent his best pitcher, Hall-of-Famer Lefty Grove, infielder Max Bishop and pitcher Rube Walberg to the Red Sox for two nobodies and $125,000. Finally, the second best pitcher, George Earnshaw, went to the White Sox for $20,000.
After the '35 season, by which time the once-mighty A's were firmly established in last place, Mack sent Jimmie Foxx to the Red Sox for a third-rate pitcher, a minor-leaguer who never made it and, most importantly, $150,000.
That same offseason two outfielders from the championship teams followed. Doc Cramer was sold for $75,000 and Bing Miller was released.
So what good did that $570,000 -- the equivalent of nearly $10 million today and a fortune in Depression-era America -- bring Mack and his A's? Not much. In their remaining two decades in Philadelphia, they never made it back to a World Series and were, except for a season or two after World War II, a baseball laughingstock.
Clearly, economics had a lot to do with Mack's moves. Between 1933 and 1935, the Athletics averaged fewer than 4,000 fans a game at Shibe Park. (Of course, even in those glory years, the club only averaged more than 10,000 once.) More interestingly, though, he apparently recognized that his team had been afflicted by the kind of malaise that seems to have descended on the suddenly pathetic 2012 Phillies.
"The bitter truth," Dykes would say later in words that could easily apply to these Phils, "was that we no longer had it. We no longer believed we were invincible. Our faith inourselves was no longer there and he [Mack] knew it too."
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