“When I went through the Hall and saw where my plaque was going to be,” said Kaat, who was inducted last summer, “I had my picture taken touching Lefty Grove’s plaque.”
Shantz could not make it to the ceremony, but his health is still good and his memory is sharp — though he is a bit too young to remember the last Philadelphia A’s title, in 1930, when he was five years old. Shantz, who grew up in Pottstown, Pa., joined the A’s in 1949 and knew Bender, Simmons and Bing Miller — who doubled home Simmons to win the 1929 World Series over the Chicago Cubs — as coaches on Mack’s staff. Bender was Shantz’s first major league pitching coach — a very nice man, he said, though he did not share the secrets of his slider, a pitch he pioneered.
“No, he didn’t try to teach me — he didn’t figure I was worth teaching, I guess,” Shantz said, laughing. “He always kept telling me, ‘Keep the ball down, keep the ball down, try to keep it around the knees.’ So I tried to keep the ball as low as I could and try to get a strike.”
Shantz, who later played for three Yankees’ pennant winners in a 16-year career, is the last surviving player to have played for Mack — officially, that is. Mack, who also owned the team, was 87 years old when he managed his final season in 1950.
“Connie had a son Earle, and he ended up doing most of the managing, because Connie was very quiet; he never said a heck of a lot,” Shantz said. “I still get letters in the mail from people, and they ask me what the difference was between Connie Mack and Casey Stengel. I say, ‘One never said anything and the other never shut up!’”
Mack managed a record 53 seasons (18 more than Tony La Russa, who is second), with bursts of glory and epochs of misery. In that way, his Philadelphia A’s mirror their descendants in Oakland, who succeed for a while, then sell off their stars, always flirting with relocation.