My Cousin’s in Wikipedia!

“Nothing lasts forever unless we write it down. When we take the time to write, we are reviewing, and reflecting back like silver mirrors.” — One Memory at a Time, by D. G. Fulford

A few days ago, an e-mail sparked a memory. It was a picture of my first cousin, Art, that my mother forwarded to me. George, a distant cousin and genealogist in Oklahoma sent it to her, and Barb, distant cousin and genealogist in Washington, had sent it to him. It brought with it the smell of fresh summer grass and the sound of hard, round horsehide cracking against wood and the thrill of connecting with someone’s fleeting fame, and I thought I should write it down.

In my family only one hero came out of my generation. One claim to fame. The rest of us are just average folks, some more average than others. But my cousin Art, who’s eleven years older, well, he played professional baseball in an era when baseball was America’s favorite pastime. In my small hometown, everybody knew who Art Mahaffey was — pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, my parents’ nephew, my mother’s oldest brother’s son. They all kept up with him, too.

STATS: Major league debut — July 30, 1960, Final game — June 28, 1966, Win-Loss record — 59-64, Strikeouts — 639, Two-time All-Star (1961, 1962)

I was a true fan. I knew every Phillies player and their jersey numbers. My cousin’s was 28, and Jack Baldschun’s was 27. I called the boys by their first names: Tony Taylor, Tony Gonzales, Johnny Callison, Clay Dalrymple, Don Demeter. I had a big white Phillies pennant that hung on my bedroom wall for many years.

scrapbook-copy.jpg

Back then, every girl had a diary with a lock and key and a scrapbook. I converted my scrapbook — a September 4, 1960 birthday gift from Jimbo and Lucy Richardson next door — to an archive of scads of newspaper clippings about Art, as well as souvenirs and score cards from games I went to. The first article, dated July 1, 1959, is titled “Art Mahaffey Advances to Triple-A” and documents his advancement to Buffalo, farm team for the Phillies. Other clippings — many sent by my Grandma ‘Haffey from her Cincinnati newspapers, his hometown — include “Mahaffey Of Phillies, Local Boy, Beats Reds” and “West Hi Grad Beats Pirates” and “Local Boy Trips Cards.”

The scrapbook has two write-ups of that one wondrous day … “Mahaffey Fans 17 — One Short of Record: Young Phil Pitcher Beats Cubs, 1-0, in Masterpiece.” Mama was so nervous that day she couldn’t stay in the same room with the game. She was even biting her fingernails and had that wounded, distressed look on her face. Phone calls came from townsfolk who got excited as the game progressed. Mr. Walt who owned the Gulf station next to the Ellis Theater called and said, “Mrs. Hardy, he’s struck out fifteen! I think he’s gonna beat the record!” But he didn’t. “Mahaffey, a three-quarter sidearm pitcher with a fine fast ball, two good curve balls, and excellent control … came within one strikeout of the all-time major league single-game record by fanning 17 batters.” The record was held at the time by Bob Feller and Sandy Koufax.

Mama sent Art a telegram before his first All-Star game. “This isn’t Parcheesi.” She played that board game with him when he was a child, and he always won. She’d accuse him of cheating, and he’d complain. Then he’d say, “C’mon, let’s go play ball.” The day after Art was born, his father took Mama to the hospital with him to get his wife and son and put the newborn in Mama’s arms to carry home. Mama stayed with the family for three weeks, taking care of the baby and seeing after the family. She was seventeen.

A browning, bent-edged piece of newsprint loosely inserted in the scrapbook is Page 5 of The Sporting News, September 29, 1962, with a full-page article about “Mahaffey Main-Line Master on Phils’ Mound: Art Climbing Fast Toward Top N.L. Role.” A handwritten note across the top margin in blue ink says, “Hardy — Thought you would like to see. Boo.” Hardy was what all Dad’s customers at City Barber Shop called him. Boo (Dave Ferris), former Boston Red Sox pitcher (1955-1959), then long-time baseball coach at Delta State University, was a customer. At DSU he had a 639-387 record and three appearances in the NCAA Division II College World Series before retiring in 1988. He was also the first baseball player to receive a full scholarship to Mississippi State University. [Author John Grisham tried out for the baseball team at DSU, but was cut by Coach Boo Ferris.]

The scrapbook also holds a copy of the cover of Sports Illustrated, April 29, 1963, featuring a picture of Art winding up on the mound, a “New Hope in Philly.”

artmahaffeysi.jpg

Each wind-up held the anticipation of what would happen next, and I remember, back then, that same feeling as summer evenings approached, when all the neighbors would sit outdoors in their backyards, radios blasting a sports announcer shouting plays, the buzz of a stadium in the background, the characteristic crackle and static, when we kids would flit from yard to yard, playing at dusk under the first stars. All I cared about then was the end result — a win. Please God, let them win, I’d pray from a branch in Nancy’s chinaberry tree on the corner of Deering and Third. That’s when I learned that prayers aren’t always answered.

We took a few road trips to Cincinnati’s Crosley Field, where my sister and I got dirty looks by Reds fans because we yelled for the other team, our cousin’s team. And then there was that Tex-Mex family vacation in 1965, when we went to the Astrodome in Houston, the first ever domed sports stadium, nicknamed the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” Dad timed the trip so we’d be there when the Phillies were playing. It was the first year for the Astrodome and it had real grass that died and was replaced the next season with Astroturf. We met Art outside the dressing room after the game and gave him a ride to his hotel. It was real neat to be so close to a big star.

All I could figure was that baseball was in the blood. I was a pretty fine player, too, back then, in the vacant lot down the street — especially after I put the bat in the right hand. My older friend Nancy was left-handed, and her playing tips included how to hold the bat, which proved to be wrong for me. I had my own bat and ball. Dad varnished my bat so it would last longer if I left it out in the rain, which I did. I could chew on a wad of gum, choke up on the bat, and dig my heels in the dirt like the best of ’em. I could crack a good one, run like the wind, wear grass stains with pride, and whine like a pro when Mama busted up the game at suppertime.

Advertisements

10 Comments on “My Cousin’s in Wikipedia!”

  1. Art says:

    I remember Art Mahaffey very clearly. Back in 1961 and 1962 we lived a couple of miles from Connie Mack Stadium, and didn’t have much money.

    My dad had to make sure we always got our money’s worth. He would only take me out to the ballpark (I was 9 in 1961) if they were playing a doubleheader, and if Art Mahaffey was scheduled to pitch one of the games.

    Art Mahaffey had to be pitching to ensure we got to see quality pitching (and a possible win) by the Phillies. My prized baseball cards for 1961 and 1962 were Art Mahaffey, and he was always my selected all star team pitcher in playing my baseball board game called “Challenge the Yankees”.

    Great memory for me, thanks for posting this. Hope he has a happy 70th birthday!

  2. Lynn says:

    Hey, I am also Art’s cousin. I am working on the family history here in Cincinnat. I feel that baseball is in my blood too.

  3. Rob says:

    Art Mahaffey was my second favorite player on the early 60’s Phillies, a team I lived and died with, though I grew up near New York, first with the hated Yankees, then with my other team, the Mets…my favorite-Johnny Callison…Callison’s year in 1964 was just remarkable…if only Mahaffey had been healthy that year, no way the Phillies collapse as they did, and event that sends shivers through me even today…

  4. steve montgomery says:

    art mahaffey was my favorite player. i loved his pitching motion. one of my favorite days as a kid, was skipping school, taking a bus into new york city, walking across the harlem river bridge, down to the polo grounds and waiting for the phillies to get off the bus.
    they finally arrived. got off the team bus, every single one of them. i wanted to get my heroe’s autograph. and then he got out of the bus and there was art mahaffey.

    i nervously asked him, “art can you sign this.”

    he did. it made my day. for a 14 year old kid, this was the best.

    i remember the next day sitting in my “english” class, looking at the clock…it was 11:30 am.

    i thought to myself, this time yesterday, “i got art mahaffey’s autograph. what more could i do in life?”

    46 years later, i still have his autograph packed upstairs in my attic.

    ahh, the nostalgic days of baseball and being a kid.

  5. Dr. Bob Iannace says:

    I went to Annunciation School in Bellmawr NJ up until 1964. I have a memory of one of the nuns telling us that she was Art Mahaffeys’ sister. Now, I was 9 years old in 1964 and this memory could be way off base, but It’s something I wondered about over these many years.

    I would appreciate it if someone could clear this up for me.

    As Forrest Gump would say “One less thing.”

  6. Wayne says:

    I was 13 in 1961 living in the Wynnefield section of Philly and watching on TV when Art Mahaffey struck out 17. It was the first year I really got into the Phillies. I too really liked Art’s “herky jerky” windup. I’ll also never forget 1964 when the Phils had a magical season until the last 12 games, blowing a 6 1/2 game lead for the pennant. The first loss occurred with Art, though not as effective as previous years, pitching a shutout in the 6th inning when the Red’s Chico Ruiz stole home, the only run in the game. And then I remember Art’s last start of the season five days later against the Braves. Although he didn’t pitch great, the Phils held a 4-3 lead until blowing it in the 9th. The next day, a Sunday, I attended the game at Connie Mack against the Braves. Jim Bunning, the Phils ace that year, ran out of gas from being overworked. Johnny Callison was the true MVP that year, hitting 3 homers in that game while under the weather and exhausted–to no avail as the Phils lost 14-8, and relinquishing first place. Earlier that summer–the year of the New York World’s Fair, my dad took me to the All Star game at brand new Shea Stadium. I watched as Callison hit a majestic walk off home run off Dick Radatz of Boston to win it for the Nationals. A moment I will never forget.

  7. Matt Mahaffey says:

    I was born in 1978 so Art was a little ahead of my time. However, my dad grew up a huge baseball fan and always told me stories of Art Mahaffey’s pitching performances. I guess I took a liking to him because of our last name’s and have collected as much of his memorabilia as possible. I live in Dayton, OH and always wondered if I was related to him in some way, who knows . Does anyone know if he is alive and well? I’ve always wondered if there was some way of getting his autograph in person.

  8. Darren says:

    I speak to Art Mahaffey every so often. He has been very nice to me over the years. In the 1960s he gave me an autographed picture when I was a kid. 25 years later I met him and showed him that same picture. We have been friends ever since.

  9. Bill Dombro says:

    The Mahaffey’s sent their child(ren) to the same day camp that I went to–Camp Camelot or Camp Tol-e-mak. Borh Art and Cathy were more than nice to give autographs on my baseball glove that were legible. Their chilr(ren) were younger than I was. I will never forget how nice they were!!!

  10. Larry Backus says:

    Kathy, love your memories of Art, and those of friends and relatives. I am writing a book about baseball; Art is a part of the book. I watched Art pitch at West High where my wife and I graduated in 1958. I interviewed Art twice by phone in 2013 and finally met him for a lunch get-together of Art’s high school team mates at LaRosa’s in Cincinnati this year. We may have some great info to share. Contact me if you have time.

    Best regards, L.E. Backus


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s