Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Several Oakland A's hospitalized for heat exhaustion, dehydration after playing in suits to honor Connie Mack

Above: Hideki Matsui dons a suit against the Phillies on Sunday. The suit was a way to honor legendary Philadelphia A's manager/owner Connie Mack. The entire Athletic team wore suits for the game.

South Philadelphia--The Oakland A's were in town this past weekend for a 3-game, Interleague series with the Phillies down at the ballpark. The team that left the City of Brotherly Love in 1954 for Kansas City, then onto Oakland in 1968, returned to the place where they captured nine of their fifteen pennants and five of their nine World Series titles. (Wow, the A's won four championships alone after leaving the city, while the Phillies have two titles in 129 years.)

Believe it or not there is still a Philadelphia Athletics fan club and a Philadelphia A's Historical Society. The 42-member historical society met the current A's team before Friday's game at Citizens Bank Park, getting autographs and giving history lessons to the surprisingly interested big league players.

"I cornered manager Bob Melvin and general manager Billy Beane," said Bill McDonnell, 87, the president of the A's historical society. "I told them all about Shibe Park and Connie Mack and Jimmie Foxx and the great games with the Phillies. And, I gave them an earful about Connie Mack's suits."

For many years, the famous manager/owner of the Philadelphia A's was Connie McGillicuddy (pictured at left), otherwise known as Connie Mack. He was an imposing yet gentle figure that warmly glared from the top of the dugout steps wearing, not a uniform, as was the norm in those times and today, but a suit. "Uniforms are for players," he once said in 1939. "I manage people and wear a suit. If I return to catching one day, then I'll wear a uniform."

Tom Landry, the legendary head coach of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys, was widely known for wearing suits on the sidelines instead of t-shirts or a star-clad parka. Most, however, don't realize that Mack played a huge part in Landry's wardrobe selection. "Connie Mack should be a model to us all. I manage people and wear a suit. If I return to playing one day, then I'll wear a uniform," said Landry in 1979. "Not a uniform but a Dallas baseball hat and Dallas windbreaker. Oh, you know what I mean."

Babe Ruth and the fearsome Yankees squared off numerous times against the Mack's A's. The suits had an effect on one of the game's greatest players. "I respected the hell out of Connie Mack," said Ruth in 1925. "But seeing a manager wearing a suit in the dugout always game me the creeps."

On Saturday morning, the entire Oakland Athletics organization visited the former residence of Connie Mack off of Lincoln Drive in northwest Philadelphia and also toured the site of where Shibe Park/Connie Mack Stadium once stood at 21st St and Lehigh Avenue, now the home of a church. The trip was organized in conjunction with the historical society and the Phillies Fan Club of Glenolden, PA.

After the emotional visits connecting the club to its storied roots, players, of their own volition, voted on the bus ride back to the Center City hotel to play Sunday afternoon's game of the Phillies series in suits and ties in honor of Connie Mack.

"The tour was very emotional for all of us. We called the league from the hotel and presented our idea and, surprisingly, it went through," said Billy Beane, the A's Moneyballing general manager. "Because we only see the Phillies in Interleague play, we didn't know when the next time we would play in Philadelphia. We feel this is a great way to honor a great man and manager/owner. I don't know why we didn't do this earlier."

On paper, at least, it must have really appeared to be a great way to pay tribute to the trend-setting Mack, but, in actuality, it was something quite different. The league and the team failed to take into account the stifling field temperature and the layers of heat-trapping, poor-ventilating material that a suit entails. At game time, 1 p.M. ET, the thermometer next to the A's dugout read 89 degrees.

"Yeah, it was awfully hot out there, but we were doing it for Mr. Mack," said A's right fielder Ryan Sweeney. "In the bottom of the fifth I was really feeling lightheaded. The stadium was spinning and that's all I really remember. I woke up at UPenn hospital in the morning."

"All I can remember was the humidity," said designated hitter/outfielder Hideki Matsui. "When we came into the dugout after being in the field we were told that we could not remove our jackets or ties. I went to refill my Gatorade cup dripping wet from the humidity and woke up in Pennsylvania Hospital."

Outfielder Coco Crisp, sporting a pinstripe suit and an elephant-dotted tie, passed out attempting to field a routine pop fly. "I saw the ball come off the bat, then some sweat dripped into my eyes and the next think I know I'm on a stretcher. It was all for Mack, though."

By the end of the game, eight Athletics were taken to area hospitals for heat exhaustion and severe dehydration. A member of the team's bullpen was forced to play right field for two innings because of the suit casualties.

Some players, however, said it wasn't the heat that bothered them, but that the limiting range of motion caused by the outfits was really the issue.

"I couldn't swing the bat properly," said Jemile Weeks, Oakland's second baseman and leadoff hitter. "I had to hold my arms in close to my body and shorten my stance considerably. It's an expensive suit, I didn't want to rip it. I didn't get on base the whole game but that might have been a good thing for the suit."

After the game, a 3-1 Phillies victory, the Athletics issued a statement where they adamantly blamed the suits for the loss and said that they could have simply placed a patch on their uniforms of Connie Mack wearing a suit. "We didn't honor Mr. Mack with how we played today, not at all," said Beane, the general manager, "but damn did we look good."

Above: A's pitcher Josh Outman wears a suit during a game against the Phillies. Outman lasted just two and two-thirds innings before collapsing on the mound from heat exhaustion. The suit was taken to an area dry cleaners.

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