SABR

Chris Mahoney

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

Boston Red Sox owner John I. Taylor seems to have spent more time scouting than do many owners, but hasn’t seemed to receive much credit for it. He’s known to have signed a number of the California players who were on Red Sox teams in the 1912-1918 years, when they won four world championships. Among his personal signings were Harry Hooper (signed in 1908) and Duffy Lewis (signed after the 1909 season). He signed Chris Mahoney out of Fordham University in 1910, after reportedly following Mahoney’s progress as a player for four years.

When signed, Mahoney went straight to the major leagues and first appeared for the Red Sox in a game on July 12, 1910. How old he was at the time is perhaps a matter of conjecture. Most standard baseball reference sources say he was 25 – born on June 11, 1885, in the Boston suburb of Milton, Massachusetts. That’s what his son, John, and daughter, Betty, believed, and that’s the date cited on his certificate of death after he died of coronary heart disease in Visalia, California, on July 15, 1954.

But the 1900 United States Census shows him living in Milton with his parents, Lawrence and Bridget Mahoney, both of whom were natives of Ireland who had arrived in the United States in 1865. Lawrence worked as a town laborer. Christopher had two older brothers, Michael and James, and a younger sister, Fanny (Frances). The census reported that he had been born in June 1884. The 1910 census gave his year of birth as 1886. The 1920 census listed him as born in 1888. When he registered for the draft during the World War, he said he was born in 1886. At the time he signed with the Red Sox, the newspapers reported him as having been born in 1887. It’s likely he was born in one of the five years cited.

Mahoney wasn’t a tall man, perhaps average for the day at 5-feet-9 or a tad more, and he weighed 160 to 165 pounds. He pitched and played the outfield. He went through the Milton public schools, graduating from Milton High School, where he first began pitching in earnest, and then entered Manhattan College. That school had no baseball team, and a mentor recommended that he transfer to Fordham.

Mahoney excelled at Fordham. He and his catcher at Fordham, McDonald, had played for Pittsfield in the summer of 1908. He had pitched 16 innings against North Adams before losing to the battery from Holy Cross, 2-1.i In the summer of 1909 he pitched for the club in Milford, Pennsylvania, having already turned down some offers to play professionally. Sporting Life reported that he was slated for a job with the New York Highlanders.ii He did play a considerable amount of semipro ball. He wanted to finish college, however, and after he was named captain of Fordham’s baseball team in his senior year, he stated that he would not turn professional until after his graduation.

Mahoney lost only one game that year, defeating Princeton, Harvard, Columbia, Holy Cross, Lafayette, Georgetown, Wesleyan, and Yale. He had shut out Holy Cross, 1-0, in 1909 and did it again with a two-hitter on May 25, 1910. The game against Harvard, on June 13, 1910, was one John I. Taylor saw. Mahoney prevailed, with a 5-2 three-hitter, though his teammates committed ten errors behind him. To win under such conditions “made a deep impression on Taylor, and after the game the owner of the Red Sox offered a liberal contract to Mahoney, who accepted.”iii He signed that very day.iv

Mahoney was a good hitter – a “fearsome smiter” – who played center field when not pitching.v The Fordham victory over Princeton was the result of two triples he hit in the game. Even when pitching, Mahoney often batted third or fourth in the order.

He pitched well throughout his Fordham career, holding Princeton to just two hits on April 6, 1907, and tossing a three-hitter against Georgetown on May 18. In March 1908 he and fellow Fordham pitcher Egan combined on a no-hitter against Bowdoin, striking out 21 against a clearly overmatched opponent. It’s not surprising that Taylor had been watching him for some time.

Mahoney had “wide-sweeping curves, excellent command and great speed. He can throw the spitball, and, moreover, control it, which art is beyond the ken of many college pitchers who experiment with the moist delivery. The new Speed Boy has an excellent head on his broad shoulders and never gets rattled. Additionally, Mahoney makes no pretense about knowing everything connected with the art of pitching and is willing to learn.” Thus ran the assessment in an undated newspaper clipping found in his Baseball Hall of Fame file. His daughter Betty reported decades later that one of his nicknames was Spitball Mahoney.vi

As soon as he graduated from Fordham Law School, Mahoney joined the Red Sox. He had missed the actual diploma ceremony because that was the day he pitched against Harvard.

In the major leagues, Mahoney made two appearances as a pitcher for Red Sox manager Patsy Donovan bracketing one as an outfielder; he played once in July, once in September, and once in October. Mahoney made his major-league debut on July 12, entering a game that was well under control. The New York Times game story ran under the headline “Baseball Farce in Boston.” Boston had a 14-0 lead over Cleveland and Eddie Cicotte seemed certain to get the win. Mahoney came in to pitch the last three innings and “was given an encouraging hand when he went to the slab, and he received an ovation when he struck out the great Lajoie a few minutes later.”vii He gave up five hits and five runs; at the plate, he was 1-for-1 with a single. He scored on Tris Speaker’s triple. The Boston Globe wrote that Mahoney was “rather wild and hit freely. He showed considerable pitching ability, but got the ball too close to the center of the plate, and was hit for his trouble.”  

In the September game, on the 28th in Cleveland, Mahoney played right field for the full game, batting third in the lineup and going 0-for-2, without any chances at all in the field. Boston’s three runs in the 4-3 loss all came on errors. He had pitched in a September 6 exhibition game against Worcester, a 2-2 tie.

Mahoney’s October game was a start in the last game of the year, in New York against the Highlanders on October 8. He pitched the whole game, striking out four and walking two. Both teams had 11 hits, but the Red Sox left ten men on base and the Highlanders left just five. Though 0-for-3 at the plate, and trailing by just one run with a runner on second, Mahoney hit for himself. He flied out to left. Harry Hooper rolled out to second base and Mahoney had lost his only decision, 6-5.

Two days after the season ended, Mahoney and Joe Wood shared the honors pitching in front of 4,000 people at Centennial Field in Burlington, Vermont, for the “Gardner team” and beating the “Collins team,” 4-1, as the two Vermonters on the Red Sox, Larry Gardner and Ray Collins, pitted picked teams of Red Sox players against each other.

Mahoney showed some “fine hitting” in 1911 spring training for the Red Sox on their long spring-training trip across country from Redondo Beach, California, sticking with the team throughout and returning home to the East Coast, ending the spring with a .407 batting average. He spent the first week and a half with the big-league team but on April 24 he was sent back across the country, to Sacramento, along with pitchers Frank Arellanes and Ben Hunt, optioned for $300.viii The Boston Globe said that with his work in 1910 Mahoney had “showed up very well for a youngster. During the spring training of the Red Sox he has been playing considerably in the outfield. He is a fine batsman, and with some seasoning may develop into a first-class pitcher.”ix

Mahoney started four games for Sacramento in 1911, and won three of therm. Most of this work was in the outfield, and he hit 12 home runs, second only to teammate Babe Danzig’s 15, but batted only a middle-of-the-pack .247. Had he not ridden the bench for more than 20 percent of the games, he likely would have matched Danzig in home runs. In early June he was traded to the Portland Beavers for Jack Gilligan and played for Portland the rest of the year, and in 1913 as well. In June 1913 he married Vera Mabel Shinn, a cousin of Sacramento outfielder Jimmy Shinn.

In 1917, at the time he registered for the draft that June, Mahoney was working for Wells Fargo in Ray, Arizona. Census information shows him living in Oakland in 1920 with Vera and their two daughters, Elizabeth (Betty) and Martha. John was born later. Within a year, the family moved to Visalia and at the time of his death there from coronary heart disease in 1954, Mahoney had lived in Visalia for 34 years. Betty reported that he had primarily worked in the “automobile business” after leaving baseball.

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Mahoney’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the online SABR Encyclopedia, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.

i Boston Globe, July 4, 1908

ii Sporting Life, April 24, 1909

iii Unattributed article, seeming to be from a New York newspaper, found in Mahoney’s player file at the Hall of Fame.

iv New York Times, June 14, 1901

v Unattributed Hall of Fame article, op. cit.

vi Betty Van Dusen completed a player questionnaire for the Hall of Fame.

vii Boston Globe, July 13, 1910

viii Sporting Life, July 29, 1910

ix Boston Globe, April 25, 1911

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