From time to time in the nineteenth century, a “local amateur” would be pressed into action by a visiting major league team that had run out of healthy players. Then the legalization of substitutions caused roster sizes to expand dramatically during the 1890s with the result that such occurrences had become very rare by the turn of the century. Thus — with the lone exception of Eddie Gaedel — it seems highly unlikely that any twentieth-century major leaguer had a shorter professional career than Frank Mahar. His was the “Jesus wept” of careers in pro baseball.
The 1902 National League pennant race was one of the least interesting in major league history. By late August the defending champion Pittsburgh Pirates were more than twenty games ahead of the pack — in fact every team in the American League was closer to first place than were the Pirates’ closest rivals. The cross-state Phillies were a distant seventh and, with little to lose, recruited an amateur player named Frank Mahar from the Belmont A. A. club in Malden, Massachusetts, before a series against the cellar-dwelling Giants.
Mahar was inserted in the lineup for a home game on August 29 as the Philadelphia left fielder and seventh-place hitter. As he prepared for the game, he must have been filled with anticipation about his big opportunity. Unfortunately, during his warm-ups, a “fly ball struck on the side of the bleachers, and, bounding over on the field, struck Maher [sic] on the mouth, cutting his lip and face very badly.” (Philadelphia Record, August 30, 1902)
The recruit gamely insisted on starting the game, but after fielding his position in the top of the first inning, he could continue no longer. He was removed from the game and taken to the hospital, where several stitches were put in his lower lip. Press commented, “It was certainly tough luck for a starter.” (Philadelphia Press, August 30, 1902) Less sympathetically, the Record remarked that, “Maher [sic] is a frail-looking young man, and his actions do not impress one as though he would prove to be fast enough for a major league.” (Philadelphia Record, August 30, 1902)
The Phillies apparently agreed with this assessment of the new player even though he had hardly been given a fair opportunity. Mahar was released and never played another major league game — or even a single game in the minor leagues!
Despite the brevity of his “career,” he earned a spot in the baseball encyclopedias. Researcher Bob Richardson tracked down one of Mahar’s daughters, who still had a photo of her father in his Belmont A. A. uniform and was also able to fill in the outlines of her father’s life.
Frank Edward Mahar was born in Natick, Massachusetts, on December 4, 1878, the son of John W. Mahar and the former Mary Denney. After the premature end of his baseball career, he got into real estate, married Genie Divito in 1909, and together they raised eight children. Frank Mahar died of bronchial pneumonia in 1961, one day after his eighty-third birthday. His daughter recalled her father’s height as 5’10 1/2″ but did not attempt to estimate his weight, so that line in the encyclopedias remains blank.
Speaking of Mahar’s entry in the encyclopedias, his playing record — brief though it was — is incorrect in most of them. Earlier in the season, Philadelphia had used a different (unrelated) player named Tom Maher as a pinch hitter in games on April 24 and 26. This naturally led to considerable confusion, and one of Tom’s at-bats was credited to Frank. In fact, according to the box scores and game accounts in all five Philadelphia newspapers, Frank Mahar never batted in the major leagues.
But at least Frank Mahar was a major leaguer, however fleetingly. And he had the stitches to prove it.
Research by SABR members Bob Richardson, Bob McConnell, Jack Daugherty and Bill Haber; accounts in the Philadelphia Press, Philadelphia Record, Philadelphia North American, Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, and Philadelphia Public Ledger, all on August 30, 1902.