Among evergreens, a baseball legacy

A writer couldn’t avoid his family’s plot on a search for a legend’s grave.

I’d searched all over the cemetery on the outskirts of the city, looking for a tree I could only somewhat remember.

During visits with my family, I would lay a pinecone on poppop’s—and later grandmom’s—grave in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, on the outskirts of the city. But a half hour proved fruitless, and I realized I hadn’t been to Robert Brandt’s grave in years, and wasn’t sure the cone-bearing tree I was looking for was even growing anymore.

Mark, a kind administrator who would later try to sell me an eternity among the evergreens along Cheltenham Avenue, drove me to the plot in Section 42 after pulling the information from an Excel spreadsheet. He had no idea my original intent for the trip was to see the gravesite of  Cornelius McGillicuddy, better known as Connie Mack, the renowned manager of the Philadelphia Athletics for 50 seasons and the winningest manager in MLB history.

I wanted to write a piece about Mack’s humble gravesite in the cemetery—to reminisce about of a greater era of journalism that I never knew, when stalwart crime reporter Meyer Berger got away with turning in a poem as his 1941 World Series coverage to the New York Times, and when the newspapers thought the Tall Tactician might as well have been the King of Philadelphia.

Poppop, who took my father to games in Connie Mack Stadium when it still stood at 21st Street and Lehigh Avenue, would surely appreciate a manager who valued recruiting young players over signing aging stars. I know the rest of Philly would. Mack was the city’s original Sam Hinkie. And I’m sure that wherever Poppop is—I’m still working that out—he’d be happy to know he was laid to rest about three sections down from a local legend.

As Mark and I teetered around the uneven grass, and he started to say something about memories and his son in college, I saw the shadow of the pine branch fall on the humble stone severely in need of many, many pinecones for all the years I hadn’t been there. He left and I thought long and hard about baseball and the black-and-white era I’ll never hear about firsthand.

I thought learning about Connie Mack would have brought me closer to my grandfather, who died when I was a toddler. I missed out on his accounts from a storied boxing career and a long tenure as a truck driver. Really, Robert E.J. Brandt would have been the best primary source I could have asked for, but I didn’t even know what journalism was at the time he left us.

I went to the cemetery to admire one legacy and got caught up in my family’s instead—my grandmother died  three years ago, but the tombstone doesn’t reflect that, and now we’re working on getting that corrected.

Mack’s humble grave proved uninspiring when I happened upon it on my way out: a tomb adorned with only a cross and his surname “McGillicuddy,” lacking a first name and a span of years (1862-1956). All my doubts about gravesite tourism were confirmed. It just felt weird and intrusive.

I passed Frank Rizzo without a second thought.

Joe Brandt can be reached at or on Twitter @JBrandt_TU.

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