Two decades earlier, Connie Mack broke up his Philadelphia A’s dynasty in the face of rising salaries and a national economic downturn.
Now, on Dec. 12, 1933, history was repeating itself at Shibe Park.
Seventy-nine years ago this week, Mack boldly traded ace pitcher Lefty Grove to the Boston Red Sox and catcher Mickey Cochrane to the Detroit Tigers on the same day.
Along with Grove, Mack sent the Red Sox stalwarts Max Bishop and Rube Walberg. In exchange, the A’s received Bob Kline, Rabbit Warstler and $125,000.
For Cochrane, Mack received Johnny Pasek and $100,000. Then, Mack immediately traded Pasek and front-line hurler George Earnshaw to the White Sox for Charlie Berry and $20,000.
Mack, the manager/owner who led the A’s to eight American League pennants and five World Series titles in the franchise’s first 31 years, would oversee just two .500-or-better records in the next 17 seasons and finish no higher than fourth place between the Grove/Cochrane trades and the end of his managerial career.
Grove was arguably baseball’s best pitcher in the late 1920s and early 1930s, having won at least 20 games every season between 1927 and 1933. He led the league in victories four times during that span, including his 28-win season in 1930 and his 31-4 campaign in 1931, when he was named the league’s Most Valuable Player.
“Fastest pitcher I ever saw. The greatest,” said All-Star pitcher Wes Ferrell. “Why, I wasn’t good enough to carry his glove across the field.”
Cochrane, meanwhile, had averaged .321 in his nine years in Philadelphia, earning the reputation as one of baseball’s best all-around catchers.
Grove and Cochrane led the A’s to three AL pennants from 1929-31 and World Series victories during the first two of those seasons. But after a 79-72 finish in 1933 – when the A’s drew fewer than 300,000 fans to Shibe Park – Mack, under the crippling pressure of the worsening Great Depression, began systematically dismantling the A’s.
It was a pattern he established following the 1914 season when he parted ways with future Hall of Famers Chief Bender, Eddie Collins and Eddie Plank in the face of competition from the new Federal League and a United States’ economic downturn. For 10 straight seasons from 1915-24, the A’s did not finish above the .500 mark. Then Mack rebuilt his ballclub, ushering in his second dynasty.
But by 1934, the backbone of those powerful teams – including Al Simmons, Jimmy Dykes, Bishop, Cochrane, Earnshaw and Grove – had been removed from the Philadelphia roster. Only former Triple Crown winner Jimmie Foxx remained, and Foxx would be traded to the Red Sox following the 1935 season.
Though unpopular with fans, the moves were designed to keep the A’s afloat. Mack never waivered in his plans to do what he thought was in the best interests of the franchise.
“You’re born with two strikes against you,” Mack said. “So don’t take a third one on your own.”
Cochrane, Foxx and Grove would all be elected to the Hall of Fame following their careers. Mack, meanwhile, would earn Hall of Fame election in 1937 and would retire from managing the A’s at the age of 87 following the 1950 season.
Mack’s son’s Roy and Earle ran the ballclub for the next few years before selling the team to Kansas City businessman Arnold Johnson, who moved the team to Missouri in 1955.
Mack passed away on Feb. 8, 1956 at the age of 92.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum