I wasn't too startled recently when, during a televised review of baseball's history, I saw a closeup of my uncle Connie Mack in a box seat watching a World Series game at Yankee Stadium. It was quite a different matter when they showed a '20s game between the Philadelphia Athletics and the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. There in a box seat over the dugout I saw myself, wearing a black cloche hat—the height of fashion at that time—shaped like the Liberty Bell. Consider, if you will, the strange sensation of seeing yourself at 19 after you've lived more than three-quarters of a century.
In a moment I was back in my childhood, when baseball and breathing were practically the same thing—especially in our house in Worcester, Mass. On our kitchen wall hung a large framed picture of the famous Athletics team of the early 1900s—Eddie Plank, Eddie Collins, Rube Waddell, Chief Bender and the rest. Those names, attached to that row of faces, were among the first things I ever memorized. And throughout the living room and the rest of the house—over the fireplace, on my dad's desk and in the front parlor—were a number of ceramic elephants, the elephant being the mascot of the Athletics. My father himself wore on his watch chain an official team fob. On it were crossed blue and white baseball bats with a baseball in the middle. Though he had a successful hotel business, in his leisure time he was a scout. He visited colleges in the vicinity of Worcester and discovered a number of players who became Athletics. My father died in 1919, and shortly afterward Mother and I and my younger brother moved to Framingham, Mass. By the time I left high school, even I had enjoyed a brief scouting career. One day while having lunch with my uncle at the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston, I suggested to him that there were two outstanding players on the Framingham High School team. He gave both of them tryouts, but neither succeeded. One had a severe hearing problem that eliminated him. The other was unable to conform to the punctilious life-style my uncle expected.
But I should admit here that despite all this involvement, I was uninterested in the actual playing of the game. I hardly bothered to learn the positions, the rules, even the names of the other teams. What brought me to game after game was the honor of my special seat, the closeness to my uncle and the players, and, perhaps most of all, the opportunity to display myself in the latest fashion.
When the Athletics played the Red Sox at Fenway, I would be full of excitement. I'd carefully dress and then board the train at Framingham for the 20-mile ride to Boston's South Station. From there I'd take a taxi to the Copley Plaza to join my uncle for lunch, after which we would take a taxi to the ball park. Because my uncle was not one to delegate something important, he always escorted me personally to the box seat directly over the Athletics dugout. As we got out of the taxi and attempted to walk up the ramp to the grandstand, we would be besieged by autograph hounds. I'd stand beside him, dwarfed and unable to move, while he, towering over most of the crowd—he stood 6'4"—patiently signed whatever was offered. Finally, when I was safely deposited in my seat, he'd give me an official American League baseball bearing his signature and those of the players in the starting lineup. How I wish I had one of those balls to give to my grandson, but I passed them on to the boys I knew, who were, of course, far more thrilled than I to receive them.
From my seat I was in the enviable position of being able to see each player close up as he came in from the field after pregame practice. The players, for their part, were not above looking up and smiling at me, even winking occasionally, which was considered daring then.
There were Jimmy Dykes, Bing Miller, Jimmy Foxx, Max Bishop, Lefty Grove, Eddie Rommel, whose knuckleball was dreaded by catchers, and Mickey Cochrane, among others. My cousin Gladys, who sometimes accompanied me, had a terrific crush on Cochrane; he was completely unaware of her attachment, I am sure, even though she had a way of projecting her feelings. I admired the great Mickey for his speed and aggressiveness as a catcher, but my favorite was a player whose full name escapes me, although I know his last name was Keefe. I think he was one of the winkers.
The best-looking players, as far as I could discern, were Foxx, with his big blue eyes, and Dykes. But there was never a question of pursuing any attraction, even had I wanted to. My uncle had strict rules about keeping female family members and baseball players apart. I only got to meet players by accident—if they came to my uncle's suite on business before the game. Then he had no alternative but to introduce us.
When the game started I would bask in the sun and security of my box seat. On only one occasion did the reality of the game intrude. Rommel was pitching, and a lefthanded hitter was up for the Red Sox. The batter swung at Eddie's pitch and hit a pop foul. It sounded like a firecracker as it took off straight into the bright blue sky. I remember looking up to follow its descent. It seemed to be heading directly at me. My first thought was to run, but a voice behind me said, "Don't move!" In a matter of seconds at least 20 outstretched arms were up like an umbrella over my head, and smack!—someone caught the ball. After a moment or two I recovered sufficiently to look down at the field. My cousin Earle Mack, who was an Athletics' coach at the time, was giving me the O.K. sign. I felt embarrassed. I know my face was red; it felt hot. And worse, my lovely black hat had been knocked sideways.
After the game I would sit and wait until my uncle came to escort me through the crowd of autograph hunters to our car. If we had won, my uncle would remark, "Well, Swats, I guess we did it today!" His nickname for me was Swats Mulligan. It wasn't until years later that I found out that Swats Mulligan was the name of a boyhood friend of his—a great hitter—who grew up in the same small town, East Brookfield, Mass. I didn't particularly like the name—it sounded very unfeminine—but I knew my uncle meant it with affection.
Back at the Copley Plaza we usually went to the suite to refresh ourselves before dinner. Then we would eat in the grill. There were occasions, though, when we had dinner in the main dining room, with its orchestra and dance floor. My uncle invariably chose the same thing for his evening meal—a bowl of cornflakes and milk. I ordered whatever I wanted, at my uncle's insistence. My favorites were roast young duckling with orange sauce or ham with raisin sauce and au gratin potatoes.
None of the players came to our table at dinner. I knew they wouldn't unless they were invited, and they never were, owing to my uncle's concern for my virtue. Only Ira Thomas, my uncle's chief aide, came over at times to have a word with his boss. While they discussed my uncle's interest in developing night baseball, I would scan the dance floor.
At dinner there was an incredible change in the appearance of the players, for now they wore their dark blue or gray suits. Dancing with his partner, Bing Miller looked like a suntanned god. A mellow glow flooded the room as the orchestra played softly and the couples, one by one, danced by our table. I wished it could have gone on forever.
But of course it couldn't. Very shortly after I had taken my last bite my uncle would politely suggest that we depart so I would arrive home before dark. He'd take me in a taxi to South Station and wait until my train for Framingham arrived. Then he'd tuck a $100 bill into my hand and wish me bon voyage until the next time. I would thank him, make sure my lovely black hat was on straight and board the train for home.