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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Former New York Yankees Pitching Prospect Jack McMahan Recalls His Career

It’s hard enough to forge a professional baseball career today, so just imagine what it was like decades ago when there were fewer teams and not nearly as many ways to get noticed. Accordingly, the stories of players from decades gone by tend to have quite a bit of substance to them.

Right-handed pitcher Jack McMahan didn’t have a lengthy career but he made the majors, which is more than the vast majority of players can say. His time in the big leagues may have been brief but he came away with a lot of good memories.

McMahan was born in Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1932. He was signed by the New York Yankees in 1952, and while he pitched effectively in the minors, he couldn’t break through to the big leagues because the franchise was so stacked with talent.

In 1955, he was taken by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Rule-5 draft, which turned out to be the move that changed his career.

Because of his draft status, McMahan started the 1956 season on the Pittsburgh roster. He made his debut on April 18, pitching 1.2 innings of middle relief in a 5-4 loss to the New York Giants. However, he did strike out the first batter he faced, first baseman Gail Harris, providing an initial highlight right off the bat.

His stint with the Pirates didn’t last long, as he was traded with infielder Curt Roberts to the Kansas City Athletics on June 23 in exchange for infielder Spook Jacobs.

Unfortunately, McMahan’s major league career came to an end after that year. He finished with an 0-5 record and a 5.04 ERA in 34 games (nine starts) between the two teams. He was plagued by poor control, as he struck out just 22 batters while walking 40 in 75 innings.

Although the Yankees traded to get McMahan back in 1957, he never returned to the majors, and retired from professional ball following the 1959 season.

In addition to his major league service, he had an excellent minor league career, going a combined 50-39 with a 3.65 ERA in seven seasons, pitching as both a starter and reliever. More information about his playing career is available at:

In 2011, I had an opportunity to chat with McMahan and ask some questions about his career. It was fascinating listening to him reminisce, and I invite you now to have that same pleasure.

Jack McMahan Interview:

What was your favorite moment from your playing career?: Well, it’s hard to determine what it would be because I only played one year in the major leagues. I didn’t have a lot of success, but I did play several years in the minor leagues. I had a lot of moments at different times. Probably, one of the biggest thrills is that I saw the first major league game I had ever seen at the opening of the 1956 season, playing the Giants at the old Polo Grounds. I had never seen a major league baseball game before that time.

What was the strangest thing you ever saw on a baseball diamond?: I was playing for the Pirates in the games when Dale Long hit his eight home runs (over two consecutive games).

What were the reactions like from fans and opposing players as Long’s streak grew?: Of course there was a lot of excitement. We were not one of the top clubs at that time. There weren’t very big crowds, maybe seven or eight thousand. But for somebody to be on a hot streak like that; there was a lot of enthusiasm among the press. Dale was not known as a long ball hitter, which is why it was an unusual feat.

Who was your favorite coach or manager?: Phil Page and Vern Hoscheit.

What was it about them that made them your favorites?: Hoscheit, I played for in the “Three-I” League. He had been a catcher and he caught me a few innings one time to try to help me learn a little bit about pitching. I had had some success, but needed to know a little bit more about throwing the slider. I was trying at that time to learn to throw the slider, and he worked with me a little bit along that line. He was always quite encouraging and giving me compliments, which I needed to have.

Phil Paige didn’t have a whole lot to say but I definitely had a good year with him in the Southern Association. He had a lot of confidence in me, and at that time they weren’t counting saves, so I don’t know how many games I may have saved, but I pitched I think in 47 games. A lot of them were saves, where I would come in anywhere from the last two innings. When I came into the game he would just give me the ball and say, ‘Lefty, you know what you need to do. Let’s get them out and go home.’ That made me feel good that he had that much confidence in me.

What was travel like between games in the minor leagues?: In the Southern Association, we went by train a lot. In the Majors, we flew. I enjoyed both.

If you could do anything differently about your playing career, what would that be?: I would have gone to college.

What have you done since you retired from baseball?: When I came back to Arkansas after I got out of baseball, I came home and had a liquor store with my brother, and coached an American Legion baseball team. After four or five years I went to work for a company that sold golf course equipment. At that time, Arkansas was starting to get a lot of retirement business. Our business was quite good, and I had a good career in the golf course related field.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

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