Obituary: Jack McMahan (1932-2020)

RIP to Jack McMahan, a left-handed pitcher who split the 1956 season playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Athletics. He died on October 16 at the age of 88.

Jack Wally McMahan was born on July 25, 1932, in Hot Springs, Ark. He attended Hot Springs High, where he was a kicker and quarterback on the school’s football team as well as a pitcher for various amateur teams in the summer. The Yankees signed him after his graduation and assigned him to the McAlester Rockets, a Class-D team in the Sooner State League. He had a 9-7 record with a 3.43 ERA in 24 games, half of which were starts. He had some extremely dominating moments. He faced last-place Ardmore on June 26 and fanned 12 batters in a 10-2 win, albeit with 5 walks.

The Yankees moved McMahan up to Class-C Joplin in 1953, but the 20-year-old was moved back to Class-D Owensboro in May — despite some strong pitching performances. He won 10 games for the Oilers and then was promoted back to Joplin at the end of the year, as the team was competing for a playoff spot and was without the services of a couple of their regular pitchers. McMahan went a combined 13-11 with a 3.68 ERA. The Yankees began to advance him higher and higher up the minor league organization — but as a reliever rather than a starter.

McMahan pitched for the Class-B Quincy Gems in 1954 and made 44 appearances, with all but 8 coming in relief. They weren’t short appearances, either. On July 27, he threw 6 hitless innings out of the pen against Cedar Rapids and fanned 8 batters in a 10-6 win. McMahan finished the season with 11 wins and 7 losses, with a 3.79 ERA. He still threw 6 complete games in his 8 starts, but his future seemed to lie in a relief role. He worked 159 innings and picked up 103 strikeouts. He also walked 70 batters, which was part of a troubling control trend.

McMahan turned in his best season in the minors in 1955 with the Birmingham Barons of the AA Southern Association. He went 11-5 with a fine 2.62 ERA in 46 games. He fanned 70 batters in 110 innings, and although save stats aren’t available, he picked up the nickname of “End-Man” because he ended so many of Birmingham’s victories.

Birmingham manager Phil Page attributed the lefty’s success to his self-confidence. “Jack doesn’t scare. And he can walk in there with the bases loaded and throw those low strikes that often result in a double play,” he explained. “I wouldn’t say that he has real good stuff. But he’s smart, and he always believes he’ll get the batter out.”

The Pittsburgh Pirates decided to take a chance on the reliever and drafted him from the Yankees’ organization in December of 1955. However, once the 1956 season got underway, Pirates manager Bobby Bragan didn’t give him many chances to play. McMahan made his debut on April 18 and threw 1-2/3 scoreless innings against the Cubs. Then he didn’t pitch for 13 days, and he was roughed up for 5 runs in his next appearance on May 2 versus St. Louis.

Source: The Birmingham News, June 12, 1955.

Through June 23, 1966, McMahan appeared in just 11 games and had a 6.08 ERA to show for his work. That was was when he was traded from the Pirates to the Kansas City Athletics, along with second baseman Curt Roberts, for second baseman Spook Jacobs. The A’s figured out better than the Pirates that McMahan performed better with regular work.

In his first game with his new team, McMahan, threw 3 shutout innings against the Yankees, in a relief role on June 25. That performance earned him the first start of his career on June 28 against Detroit. The A’s lost that game 4-0, but McMahan was very effective. He allowed just 2 runs — solo homers to Harvey Kuenn, before running out of gas in the ninth inning and giving up three hits and a run. Reliever Jack Crimian allowed another run to score on a single, which was also charged to McMahan.

McMahan lost five straight starts between that game and a 6-2 loss to the Yankees on July 20. The A’s were shut out in two of them, but McMahon struggled in the others. After a couple of starts where he had a no-decision but was pulled early, the A’s moved him to the bullpen for the most part. He fared better as a reliever. In his 9 starts, McMahan had a 6.35 ERA over 39-2/3 innings. As a reliever, his ERA dropped down to 3.82.

In his one season in the majors, McMahan had an 0-5 record and a 5.04 ERA in 34 games. In 75 innings of work, he walked 40 and struck out 22 while posting a WHIP of 1.693.

In February of 1957, McMahan was sent back to the Yankees in a large deal that ultimately involved 13 players, once the players to be named later were named. He pitched in the Yankees’ AAA affiliates in Denver and Richmond through 1959. He had ERA’s in the 4’s and allowed a high amount of baserunners, which kept him from getting any further major-league action. He appeared in a total of 11 games in 1959 and was demoted to the Atlanta Crackers of the AA Southern Association.

McMahan’s playing career ended at that point, but he continued his association with the game by working as a scout for the St. Louis Cardinals. He was given a championship ring when the team won the 1967 World Series. He also coached the Spas American Legion Team from 1965 through 1974. While living in Hot Springs, McMahan and his brother, Major, owned Big J Liquor Store, The Oyster Bar, and Night Train Club.

For more information: Arkansas Democrat Gazette

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