A NIGHT IN EAST BROOKFIELD
A NIGHT IN EAST BROOKFIELD
Last weekend my son Woody and I were privileged to take part in a celebration of the 150th anniversary year of the birth of Connie Mack in the town of East Brookfield, Massachusetts. I was one of several speakers at the program on Friday night, which was devoted entirely to the life and times of “the Grand Old Man of Baseball.”
The first speaker was Senator Connie Mack III, whose father, Connie Mack, Jr., I had known and liked very much, when I was working for the Philadelphia Athletics. We had a wonderful opportunity to reminisce and chat at dinner preceding the program. He was only ten when his famous grandfather died, and so was most interested in my recollections of his Dad and of the man we respectfully called “Mr. Mack.”
The next speaker was Connie Mack’s biographer Norman Macht, with whom I have been exchanging phone calls and e-mails almost every day. He is working on his third volume, which will cover the final years of Mr. Mack’s life, including the period when I was with the A’s. I was so glad to be able to put a face with the voice of my hitherto unseen correspondent, who has been focusing on this biographical project for twenty-seven years! He will have written well over two thousand pages by the time the third volume is published. It was a special treat to be able to visit at some length with this fellow octogenarian, whose biography of Connie Mack is a one hundred year history not only of baseball but of America.
Norman’s task that night was to cover the early years of Connie Mack. Woody and I were wondering how he would condense his vast knowledge of his subject into a twenty-minute talk, but he did a splendid job, sprinkling his historical time-line with humorous anecdotes. He was followed by Dick Rosen, President of the Philadelphia Athletic Historical Society, of which I am a Life Member. It was he who had issued the invitation for me to speak. I welcomed the chance to visit with Dick before and after the program.
Dick Rosen had planned the well-coordinated program for that night, and was serving as Emcee. He had assigned himself the daunting task of covering Connie Mack’s years as manager of the Athletics. In those fifty years the Mackmen won nine American League pennants and five World Series.
Following an intermission, Dick introduced me as “the last surviving member of the Philadelphia Athletics front office executive staff.” (That’s what happens if you live long enough!) My topic was “Memories of Mr. Mack.” Since I was the only one there who had actually worked for Connie Mack, I was able to share my personal impressions and tell some stories, which the audience seemed to enjoy. I finished by reciting the poem I had written about the Athletics’ famous double play trio (Joost to Suder to Fain).
Before leaving the stage, however, I told the audience they were going to hear something that no audience had ever heard before or in all likelihood would ever hear again. “What are the chances,” I asked, “of your having the person who sixty-two years ago wrote the theme song of Connie Mack’s Golden Jubilee celebration, The Connie Mack Swing, here in person to play it for you?” With that, the original sheet music was projected on the large screen, and I sat down at the piano near the front of the stage and played the song, as the audience clapped in rhythm.
When I finished, Senator Mack was the first to leap to his feet. Never before have I ever been given a standing ovation for my piano playing! Maybe that’s what I need to do to sell copies of my book, because after the program people were lined up to buy autographed copies of A Sense of Being Called.
There was also time to visit with folks, before Woody and I had to continue on our way to Albany, New York, where we would spend the night en route to Cooperstown, which Woody had never visited before. I was scheduled to participate in the Sunday worship service at the First Presbyterian Church of Cooperstown, where my daughter Elsie is Pastor.
Woody and I hated to miss the big doings in East Brookfield on Saturday, including the parade and other special events, but the folks there understood and sent us on our way that night with gracious words of appreciation for our having driven up from Princeton to participate in the Friday night program.
It was a most memorable event for me, as I turned back the pages of time and relived once again my days with Connie Mack’s A’s.
Woody enjoyed it, too, even though he is a died-in-the-wool Phillies fan!