John McGraw and the White Elephants

When the A’s joined the American League in its first year of existence in 1901, team owner Benjamin Shibe wasted little time in offering exorbitant contracts to star National Leaguers, in effect raiding them of their talent. John McGraw, who had managed the Orioles in the AL but flipped over to the Giants of the National League, was disgusted by Shibe’s actions, but thought that spending so much money was going to tank the team. And so, while speaking to a reporter in 1902, McGraw stated that Shibe had a “big white elephant” on his hands. The term, popular back then, described something that looked nice but whose upkeep made it impossible to take care of. Connie Mack heard what McGraw had said and showing that he had an outstanding sense of humor, ordered all Athletic’s gear to carry a white elephant on it. (You can see it below on Chief Bender’s sweater. He’s talking to the Giants Chief Meyer earlier in the 1911 Series.)

By the time the 1905 World Series came around, it was obvious that the A’s were a profitable franchise. And so, in playing a practical joke on McGraw, before Game 1 of the Series, McGraw was given a statue of a white elephant (above) at Columbia Park in Philadelphia (The Park was located at 29th and Cecil B. Moore). According to the book John McGraw, the surly manager hammed it up this time, as he “doffed his cap and made a deep bow to the hooting spectators.”



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