See Art Mahan’s statistics

By George Gregory
Special to the CS&T

ELKINS PARK – Signs of Phillies Phever were abundant throughout the Delaware Valley in October as the Philadelphia Phillies claimed their third National League Eastern spanision championship in as many years. That pride is most evident in the eyes and smile of Elkins Park resident Art Mahan, a member of St. Hilary of Poitiers Parish in Rydal.

At 97, Mahan is the oldest living Phillie, and the fourth oldest living former Major League Baseball player. Although his major league career only spanned one year in 1940, he is still an inspiration and a hero to his children and grandchildren.

Born June 8, 1913, in Somerville, Mass., he was baptized Arthur Leo Mahan. From a very young age he expressed a passion for baseball. In 1927, he saw New York Yankee great Babe Ruth pitch a two-hitter against the Boston Red Sox. The game was played at Braves’ Field because it was a Sunday game, and Fenway Park was located too close to a church.

He graduated from Villanova University in 1936 and played in the minors until the Phillies were searching for a first baseman and signed him in 1940. It was a rough season for the team, winning only 50 out of 153 games.

It was also a tough year for Mahan himself, despite leading his team in stolen bases. He went through a problematic batting slump during the season and was sent back to the minors in Little Rock for a short period.

“The Augustinian priests kept telling me to have faith in the saints and to ask St. Jude for help when I would step up to bat,” he said. “After trying this, it was quickly obvious that St. Jude couldn’t hit a curve ball either!”

Mahan played in 146 games and finished the year with a .244 batting average, four stolen bases and 39 runs batted in. In 1941, he managed a baseball team in Providence, R.I., and also sold insurance to help make ends meet.

During World War II, Mahan served as a Naval officer training new cadets, and in 1950 he returned to Villanova University as head baseball coach. In 1961, he was named athletic director, while retaining his position as head baseball coach. He remained Villanova’s athletic director until his retirement in 1978 at the age of 65.

Mahan and his wife Helen (Malin), with whom he shared 54 years of marriage at the time of her death in 1996, were blessed with 11 children: Arthur Jr., Edwin, Maureen (Schaeffer), Gail, Gregory, Christopher, Jane (Watson), Lois, Julia (DiFerdinando), and the late Joseph and infant Paul.

He resides with his daughter, Jane, and her husband, Daniel, along with their children.

His grandson, Gerald Watson, is a sixth grade student at St. Hilary School, and glows when he speaks of his grandfather.

“Before my baseball games, I think of how cool he is, and then do my very best,” Gerald said.

Mahan’s wit and humor also bring much joy to his family. “Whenever I have a bad day, Pop-pop’s jokes always make me smile and laugh,” Gerald added.

Eileen Fagan, principal of St. Hilary School, has known the Mahan and Watson families for many years, having gone to Little Flower High School with Mahan’s daughter, Julia. “Their value in family and family values based on their faith is evident in the pride that Mr. Mahan’s children and grandchildren take in his life and career,” Fagan said.

Although Mahan’s major league career was short-lived, his name is still circulated among baseball enthusiasts, and he receives, on average, two requests a week for autographs and pictures. He always takes pride in his appearance, and has been known to emerge from shaving, exclaiming that he feels “17 percent better!”

“He’s a loving dad with a great sense of humor, and I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather have for my father,” said his son Edwin, who is a photographer for the Philadelphia Eagles.

“Mr. Mahan is a great man of faith and perspective. His desire to receive the Eucharist frequently is example of that,” said Father Kevin Murray, pastor of St. Hilary of Poitiers Parish who brings holy Communion to Mahan at home.

Throughout times of tribulation, Mahan’s Catholic faith was always his stronghold.

“There were many rough times, but anytime I needed help with anything at all, I prayed to God, and He always answered,” he said.

George Gregory is a parishioner of St. Cecilia Parish in Coatesville.