It’s an irresistible story, starring a Dumpster diver from the 1970s and baseball Hall of Famer Connie Mack.
Mack managed the Philadelphia Athletics for 50 years and remained the team owner until it was sold and moved to Kansas City. A former player with an eye for talent, the “Grand Old Man” of baseball did not part easily with his money.
“I love that old guy,” one player told sportswriter Bob Considine in an article that ran in the Aug. 9, 1948, edition of Life magazine. “But what a shrewd old goat he is!”
Since baseball was his sole source of income, Mack certainly kept meticulous business records. Now, collectors have a chance to own Mack’s records from 1915 to 1953. Ledger books containing more than 2,000 handwritten transactions and notes on men who played for the Athletics are for sale in Love of the Game Auctions’ Fifth Anniversary Auction, which runs through August 12.
“Every penny spent is in those books,” said Love of the Game Auctions owner Al Crisafulli, who added that this item “is the coolest thing I’ve ever handled.”
“This is the kind of thing that belongs in a museum,” he said. “There are no famous autographs, nothing really of intrinsic value.
“But it’s the story of one of the amazing franchises in baseball history.”
The ledger entries were not written by Mack, but by various business employees through the years. Crisafulli said there were “at least three different types of penmanships” that he saw, with some entries written in ink while others were recorded in pencil.
These records were missing for several decades, but a series of events brought them to Love of the Game Auctions. When the Athletics moved from Philadelphia to Kansas City and then to Oakland, the records accompanied the team, Crisafulli said. During some renovations to the Oakland Coliseum in the mid-1970s, the records were tossed into a Dumpster. However, a stadium employee waded into the garbage and retrieved the books, Crisafulli said.
They stayed in the man’s possession until 2009, when he sold them at an Oakland flea market for $200. The buyer, Rob Rodriguez, listed the ledgers and other materials on eBay. They were bought for $5,000 by a private collector, who in turn sold them to Love of the Game’s consignor in 2011, Crisafulli said.
It was Rodriguez who lent the ledgers to author Norman Macht, which was crucial to his three-volume biography of Mack. In his final volume — Connie Mack in His Final Years, 1932-1956 — Macht thanks Rodriguez for giving him access. Macht does note, however, that he received “an assist” from Mack’s grandson, U.S. Sen. Connie Mack III of Florida. The ledgers “provided me with a wealth of information enabling me to replace financial guesses and rumors with facts,” Macht wrote.
The business ledger includes information on gate receipts, concessions, rentals for football games at Shibe Park and advertising. It also includes every payment made to Mack during his years as the team’s owner. Mack’s financial troubles during the Great Depression have been written about, but these ledgers provide a paper trail of financial woe that dogged Mack during his final two decades of ownership, forcing him to sell key players from his pennant-winning clubs of 1929 through 1931.
While one volume contains financial records and measures 8 inches in thickness, the second volume lists page-by-page accounts of virtually every player who played for Mack during those years. Some player pages, like those of Ty Cobb and Mickey Cochrane, are missing, but the others remain intact and there are fascinating notes about Hall of Famers like Lefty Grove, Jimmie Foxx, George Kell and Nellie Fox.
“When you read this information in someone’s handwriting, it gives you chills,” Crisafulli said. “There are entries for players like Tris Speaker and Zack Wheat at the end of their careers when they were trying to hang on.”
Each player’s entry includes his full name, home address when available, hometown, and even the player’s Social Security number if applicable. Then there is a season-by-season breakdown of the player’s performance, annual salaries and contract negotiations.
“Every one of these pages tells a story,” Crisafulli said.
The page for Grove is particularly interesting. Mack begins with the Nov. 6, 1924, purchase of Grove’s contract from the Baltimore Orioles for $100,600. Grove (whom Mack always referred to as “Groves”), battled Mack annually for more money, losing some years and winning in others when the owner promised more money for incentives met.
For example, in 1930, Grove turned down a contract offer for $12,000, holding out for $20,000. Mack countered by “promising something in the event of our having a good season.” Since the Athletics won their second straight American League pennant and Grove led the league with a 28-5 record, a 2.54 ERA, nine saves, 209 strikeouts and 50 appearances (including 32 starts), he was rewarded. “Gave him $3,000 at the end of the season,” the entry read.
“You know, you read about these old-time players who said they would have played the game for free,” Crisafulli said. “Lefty Grove held out almost every year.
“These guys were professionals and wanted to get paid.”
Other entries chronicle some of the players’ financial hardships during the Great Depression or their induction into military service during World War II.
“There are entries for some players — some that you’ve never heard of — that have big gaps. Some of the entries mentioned that the players had gone to war,” Crisafulli said.
“It’s a much more personal story; it’s a part of people you haven’t heard of.”
The books are in “outstanding condition,” although
there are some loose pages. The bolt from the bottom of the financial record is missing, according to the auction entry. The items opened at $2,500 and already have two bids, according to the site.
It’s baseball history and a lesson in economics.
“It’s an amazing story,” Crisafulli said. “There are unbelievable sorts of information in those books.”