This week, baseball players began to report for spring training, the annual season of optimism and hope, and in the vehicle of my acquaintance's question, I traveled back in my mind to the spring of 1951, when I was very young and even more impressionable. For the first time in its fifty-year history, the Philadelphia Athletics were going to have a manager not named Connie Mack. During that spring-training session, an east-coast sportswriter wrote a retrospective on Mr. Mack's career, a half-century of some of the highest highs and the lowest lows in the ongoing story of the national pastime. The writer commented to the effect that he'd been asking the elderly manager for some years whether he was ready to retire. But Old Mr. Mack, the reporter wrote, would get a far-away look in his eyes, smile a little, shake his head, and say, "Just one more season."
When Connie Mack finally did throw in the towel at age 87, it was after a dreadful 1950 campaign in which the Athletics lost 102 games and finished dead last in the American League. Probably not the leave-taking the old man had envisioned. But should he have left the dugout after his 1931 AL pennant, walked away on top, and spent those twenty years in uneasy and regretful leisure? As a twelve-year-old kid, I didn't think so. I knew even then that for Connie Mack, baseball was not a pastime. It was his life. I had to admire the guy.
Just one more book.
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