‘Steal’ sign was odd sight for some old-timers
Former Major League first baseman Art Mahan died earlier this week at the age of 97. He’s unlikely to ring many bells among baseball fans, even diehard Phillies followers, as Mahan played but one season in The Show - 1940.
On top of that, the Somerville, Mass., native performed for one of the more awful teams of the era. Mahan hit .244 with two homers and 39 runs batted in for a 1940 Phillies squad that finished with a 50-103 record, a full 50 games out of first.
Mahan, who would later go on to serve as head baseball coach and athletic director at Villanova University, did have one claim to fame during the 1940 season: he led the Phillies in stolen bases.
In fact, he had 33 percent more stolen bases than the next closest player on his team, the delightfully named Ham Schulte, and twice as many or more as everyone else on the club. In all, Mahan managed to record 16 percent of all Philadelphia’s stolen bases that year.
Problem was, Mahan’s total number of stolen bases for the entire 1940 season – a season in which he appeared in 146 games – was a whopping four.
He was able to lead the team because the Phillies as a club swiped but 25 bases all season. That doesn’t even work out to one every six games during the 153 games the team played that year.
Rickey Henderson of the Oakland Athletics, by comparison, stole 130 bases all by himself during the 1982 season.
It’s a wonder that opposing pitchers even bothered to look at Phillies baserunners once they got on base during the 1940 season; the chances of a Philadelphia runner actually stealing were rather remote, so why not just concentrate on the hitter?
Believe it or not, the Phillies’ inept performance on the basepaths that year wasn’t even close to the all-time worst showing. The 1949 St. Louis Cardinals managed just 17 stolen bases in 1949.
Future Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst did manage to swipe eight bases for the Redbirds that season. That means the remaining 20-plus players on the team stole nine bases, or about one every 17 games.
But the 1957 Washington Senators were even slower, stealing just 13 stolen bases.
First basemen Julio Becquer “led the way” with three steals. The ’57 Senators, whose performance conjures up images of a club trying to waddle between bases while encumbered by potato sacks, probably would have been better off if they’d simply stayed put, as they were only successful on about 25 percent of their attempts.
Third baseman Eddie Yost must have been particularly slow, if somewhat gutsy, going just 1-for-12 on steal attempts.
Interestingly, while the 1940 Phillies and ’57 Senators both finished last, the ’49 Cardinals ended up second, just a game behind the Brooklyn Dodgers. Perhaps having a lineup that included Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Marty Marion and Schoendienst played some small role in making up for the team’s notable lack of speed on the bases.
(Above: The sweet swing of Cardinal great Stan Musial.)