This article was written by Bill Nowlin
James Thomas “Moe” Mahoney was signed as a pitcher, but converted to a middle infielder. He played in an even 100 games at the big-league level, 89 at shortstop, 10 at second base, and one at third base. He was utilized as a pinch-runner in another 20 major-league games.
Mahoney was a native of Englewood, New Jersey, born there on May 26, 1934. He attended the public schools in Englewood and graduated from Englewood High. Mahoney grew to stand an even six feet tall and was listed at 175 pounds. He batted and threw right-handed.
Originally signed by the Philadelphia Phillies, his first assignment was to the 1953 Bradford (Pennsylvania) Phillies in the Class-D Pennsylvania-New York (PONY) League. He was 0-2 for Bradford. It appears he may have been released, because in June 1953 he was signed by Boston Red Sox scout Bill McCarren. The Red Sox assigned him to their own Class-D club, the Salisbury (North Carolina) Rocots, in the Tarheel League. There he was given a slightly longer look, but his pitching record was 0-3 instead of 0-2.
He had shown batting ability in both places, however. He had been 13-for-39 for Bradford (.333), with three doubles, and had hit .385 (5-for-13, with a double, a triple, and a home run among the five hits) for Salisbury.
By 1954, he’d become a shortstop for the Bluefield Blue-Grays (Appalachian League) and appeared in 113 games, hitting for a .315 average with 23 home runs, 23 doubles, and six triples. He drove in 78 runs. (Mahoney also appeared in eight games for the Corning Red Sox.) The team, managed by Len Okrie, won the pennant in the six-team league. Mahoney’s 101 runs scored led the league. He was three behind Pulaski’s Bob Quinn for the home run crown, and was named to the league’s All-Star team, validating the move to convert Mahoney from pitcher to infielder.
He was a good fielder, too, and in 1955 led California League shortstops in fielding percentage. He played 142 games for the Class-C San Jose Red Sox, though finding it somewhat more difficult (.265, with six homers) to adjust to pitching at the higher level.
In 1956, after joining the Red Sox during part of spring training in Sarasota, Mahoney played in the Pacific Coast League – an “open classification” but known to be a significantly higher level of play – for the San Francisco Seals. They played him in 156 games, clearly prizing his defense (his fielding percentage, which never tells the full story, was .943), in an era when shortstops weren’t expected to help carry an offense. He hit .228, with three homers and 37 RBIs. He scored 55 runs.
His years 1957 and 1958 were both spent in the United States Army. He was drafted in late February 1957. Mahoney joined the Red Sox for spring training in 1959 in Scottsdale, Arizona. He opened the season playing for the Minneapolis Millers, where he played shortstop alongside second baseman Pumpsie Green. Green, the first African American to ever play for the Red Sox, debuted on July 21, a couple of weeks after Billy Jurges had been named to replace Mike “Pinky” Higgins, who was struggling with alcoholism. Mahoney’s debut was one week later, on July 28.
The Red Sox were in last place when Higgins had been relieved of his post on July 4. They were still in last place on July 27. A major shakeup seemed called for. Green was told he was now the regular second baseman, Mahoney was brought up to replace Don Buddin at short, and Earl Wilson was brought up to bolster the pitching staff. Jurges wasn’t exactly crowing about the changes, saying, “We may as well find out how Mahoney and Green will do in this league. Now is as good a time as any.”1 Joe Cashman wrote that Mahoney “is regarded as one of the finest fielders in the American Association.”
Roger Birtwell of the Boston Globe asked about his offense: “How is Mahoney – a .211 [actually .212] hitter this year at Minneapolis – going to help the hit-shy Red Sox? Is he that good a fielder?” Pumpsie Green supplied the answer to Birtwell: “Mahoney is the greatest shortstop I’ve ever seen.”2
With the Red Sox, Mahoney was among those who followed Bobby Doerr in wearing #1 for Boston, before the number was retired in 1988. Indeed, following Billy Consolo and then Herb Plews, he was one of three players who wore the #1 numeral in 1959 alone.
Mahoney was 0-for-4 in his debut. There was no question that hitting better was what he needed to do. Ed Rumill of the Christian Science Monitor was impressed with the work of both Mahoney and Green as infielders, and saw Green contribute at the plate. He wrote of Mahoney, “He must learn to get more wood on the ball, to bunt, to hit and run, and anything else that would tear up the tag of an easy out. Given time, Rudy York will undoubtedly help him. Rudy, from the first-base coaches’ box, watched young Jim like a hawk every time he went to the plate.”3 As had Rumill, Birtwell also credited Mahoney’s defense for winning the game in his debut despite him not getting a hit. He detailed three plays he had executed well.4
Mahoney got his first base hit the next day, a single on July 29. The Globe commented, “The Red Sox have sacrificed hitting and power to use Jim Mahoney at short. But the new alignment with Mahoney at short and Green at second is making the Red Sox look like a new ball team.”5
The very next day, however, some questions were raised about one aspect of Mahoney’s defense. Though not charged with an error, he “lost two routine infield pop flies close to second base in the sun” and manager Jurges said he was going to have to reassess things.6 Jimmy Piersall chimed in, though, saying of Mahoney: “I don’t care if he hits like Willy Miranda, down around .120, they’re going to love him in Boston. They haven’t had a shortstop like him around Fenway Park in 15 years.”7 Three days later, the Globe wrote that the team had backed off using Mahoney and that the “Red Sox reportedly plan to break Mahoney in gradually on overcast days.”8
Mahoney had been given a start against the Yankees on August 11, and – though again not charged with an error – he was involved in an incident which Harold Kaese wrote proved that he “can lose base-runners in the sun, as well as fly balls.”9 He tagged Tony Kubek, who was standing on third base, but seemed to forget about Mickey Mantle who had rounded second on Elston Howard’s single, and would have been a dead duck. It was early in what became a six-run top of the fifth for New York. Why had Jurges started Mahoney in the game? “I wanted to find out something and I found it out. Let it go at that.”10
That had been the only start Mahoney was given once August had begun; he was typically brought in thereafter only in late-inning situations, often after pinch-running, and it was more than a month later – 23 games – before Mahoney got another base hit, on September 13. He was batting .056 at the time. That second base hit was a three-run homer, hit off Chicago White Sox relief pitcher Turk Lown in the bottom of the seventh inning, boosting Boston’s score in the game to 9-2. It was hit at Fenway Park “high into the left-field screen.”11
Staff in Minneapolis couldn’t understand why Mahoney had come up short in the majors. They’d called him “the human vacuum cleaner” there and the best minor-league shortstop they’d ever seen.12
By season’s end, Mahoney had added a third base hit, another single to center in the ninth inning of a 5-5 tie game on September 16. He came around to score the winning run on Gary Geiger’s bases-loaded sacrifice fly. Even here, though, the Globe had sensed what may have been some jitters on Mahoney’s part; he’d missed a sign on one pitch and Jurges – coaching third – had had to come in and speak with him briefly.13
But in the 31 games in which he appeared, he had only had 23 at-bats. His average was .130. He’d drawn three walks, giving him an on-base percentage of .231. He had four RBIs, but – thanks to his being employed 11 times as a pinch-runner — he had scored 10 runs.
He’d committed four errors in 67 chances, a .940 fielding percentage.
In his time at Minneapolis, he had hit .212 with 30 RBIs.
Mahoney spent all of 1960 in Minneapolis. Aspiring prospect Carl Yastrzemski had been sent to Minneapolis on the same day. Mahoney hit .236 and drove in 54 runs in a full 154 games.
On December 14, 1960, he was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels as the 13th pick overall in the 1960 expansion draft. He was only an Angel for a matter of minutes before he was traded to the Washington Senators for pitcher Bob Davis. The 1961 Senators were also an expansion team, the original Senators having migrated to Minneapolis. Other Sox joining Mahoney in Washington, thanks to the expansion draft, were Tom Sturdivant, Haywood Sullivan, and Willie Tasby.
Mahoney earned a certain distinction with Washington. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Senators manager Mickey Vernon inserted him as a pinch-runner in a game the White Sox were winning, 4-3. Even though he didn’t score, he was the first pinch-runner in the new franchise’s history. His first six appearances were as a pinch-runner (never scoring); on April 29 he got his first at-bat and was 1-for-4 in the game. He played fairly steadily through May and until June 18. His best game was on May 11, when he singled three times and scored two runs. But the headlines were reserved for Billy Klaus’s grand slam.
Mahoney had two final pinch-running stints, once each in both games of a June 28 doubleheader in Cleveland. At that point, batting .241 in 114 plate appearances, with six RBIs, he was optioned on 24-hour recall to the Columbus Jets.
For Columbus, he hit. 204 in 58 games, with only one extra-base hit, a double. He was recalled in mid-September but not used in a game. On October 5, 1961, the Senators traded Mahoney, Dick Donovan, and Gene Green to the Cleveland Indians for outfielder Jim Piersall.
Cleveland gave Mahoney some opportunities throughout the 1962 season. Though he was in Louisville for 23 games, batting .282, he was with the Indians most of the year. He got into 41 scattered games, but again mostly in late innings or as a pinch-runner. He had 80 plate appearances, and hit a creditable .243. His highlight game was probably the first game of the June 17 doubleheader against the Yankees, played in front of a reported 70,918 at Cleveland Stadium; he hit a home run into the left-field seats as the third Indian in succession to take starter Bill Stafford deep. It was the first of five two-hit games he had that season.
The huge crowd was drawn by what Alan Cohen called “the perfect storm of the Yankees with Mantle and Maris, Father’s Day, the Indians being in first place and going for a sweep, and perhaps a giveaway … the largest crowd there in eight years. Mahoney’s homer capped a second-inning uprising by the Tribe that saw three consecutive homers, with Mahoney concluding the hat trick, after being knocked down on the first two pitches. The Indians swept a four-game series from the Yankees for the first time since World War II concluded.”14
In October he and a few other Indians were waived out of the majors and his contract was sold to Jacksonville.
Prior to the 1963 season, the Houston Colt .45’s acquired Mahoney’s contract. They had him play 1963 and 1964 with their Triple-A club in Oklahoma City. He got in a lot of playing time, 150 games in 1963 and 139 games in 1964. While he only hit for a .213 average in 1963, he still drove in 51 runs. He hit .266 in 1964.
Mahoney spent most of 1965 with Amarillo, in Double A. But when Eddie Kasko suffered torn ligaments in his knee on May 28, Mahoney was brought up to the majors again. He put in some late-inning work in four games, and had one start, on June 13 in Philadelphia. He was 1-for-3 in that game, his last big-league base hit. He was 1-for-5 in the couple of weeks he was with Houston, but then returned to Amarillo, where he hit .239.
In 1966 he played for Oklahoma City once more, until July 20, when he and some cash went to the Chicago White Sox in a trade for Gene Freese. The White Sox had him play at Indianapolis.
There were a number of moves over the next few years. In 1967, Mahoney was back in the Washington Senators system playing the season for the Hawaiian Islanders. In 1968 he played for Seattle, part of the California Angels’ system. And in 1969 he played for Tucson, part of the White Sox system. In 1970 it was Single-A ball for Appleton, Wisconsin, in the Midwest League – also a White Sox affiliate. But he only played three games for Appleton (batting .400); that was his last year as a player. He’d hit between .222 and .240 the three prior years.
He worked in 1971 as a coach for the White Sox farm team at Asheville. Starting in 1972, Mahoney worked for five years as a major-league coach for the White Sox, the first four years under manager Chuck Tanner and in 1976 under Paul Richards.
Mahoney’s first managerial job followed that. In 1977 the Pittsburgh Pirates had him manage their Single-A team in South Carolina, the Charleston Patriots (Western Carolina League.) Charleston finished in last place. In 1978 and ’79, he managed the Salem (Virginia) Pirates in the Carolina League, to a third-place and then last-place finish.
He managed the Portland, Oregon, Beavers of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in 1980 for one season. In 1981 and 1982, he moved to Double A to manage the Glens Falls White Sox; he was named manager of the year when Glens Falls won the Eastern League North pennant in 1981. The 1983 season saw a return to Triple A, managing the Denver Bears. He finished third in the balloting for American Association manager of the year. In 1984 the White Sox had him work as an advance scout handling both major- and minor-league assignments.
Come 1985, he switched organizations and took a position as third-base coach for the Seattle Mariners under Chuck Cottier. He started 1986 with Seattle as well, but when Cottier was let go in early May, so was Mahoney.
In 1988 he was back managing Portland, then a Twins affiliate. He resigned in late June.
Attempts to reach Jim Mahoney in September and October 2016 in order to obtain further information about his life after baseball, and fill in a few other gaps, were unsuccessful.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Mahoney’s player file and player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, Rod Nelson of SABR’s Scouts Committee, and the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com.
1 Joe Cashman, “Big Shakeup on Red Sox,” Boston Daily Record, July 28, 1959: 39.
2 Robert Birtwell, “New Sox Infield, In Bow Tonight,” Boston Globe, July 28, 1959: 29.
3 Ed Rumill, “New Keystone Pair Rallies Club: Came from Behind,” Christian Science Monitor, July 29, 1959: 7.
4 See Roger Birtwell, “Sox Break Even as Rookies Star: Mahoney, Green Aid 8-4 Win,” Boston Globe, July 29, 1959: 25. It was the second game of a doubleheader, but Boston had lost the first game.
5 Roger Birtwell, “Scroll Stops Indians, 4 to 1; Boston Crawls Out of Cellar,” Boston Globe, July 30, 1959: 33.
6 Ed Rumill, “Manager Jurges Giving Mahoney-Buddin Some Serious Thought; Piersall High in Praise of Lad,” Christian Science Monitor, July 31, 1959: 15.
8 “Once Over Lightly,” Boston Globe, August 2, 1959: 64. An article two days later discussed coach Rudy York working with Mahoney on hitting.
9 Harold Kaese, “A Whiskey Sour at Fenway Park,” Boston Globe, August 12, 1959: 31.
11 Associated Press, “Red Sox Top White Sox,” New York Times, September 15, 1959: 48.
12 Roger Birtwell, “Minneapolis Sure Mahoney to Click,” Boston Globe, August 18, 1959: 29.
13 Clif Keane, “Sox Keep ‘Spoiling’ 6-5; Mahoney Hit in 9th Tips Tribe,” Boston Globe, September 17, 1959: 35.
14 E-mail to author from Warren Corbett, November 21, 2016.