My Cousin’s in Wikipedia!Posted: December 8, 2007
“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.
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.”
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.