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Art Mahan dies at 97, was oldest former Phillie

Art Mahan, the oldest living Phillie, a former Villanova athletic director and an all-star father who could field his own team, died Tuesday of congestive heart failure at age 97.

Art Mahan, the oldest living Phillie, a former Villanova athletic director and an all-star father who could field his own team, died Tuesday of congestive heart failure at age 97.

Mahan was born in Somerville, Mass., on June 8, 1913. He played baseball at Villanova, graduating in 1936. From there, he knocked around in the minors until the Phillies called him up in 1940. In his lone big-league season, he hit .244 with two home runs and 39 RBI in 146 games. After that season, he enlisted in the Navy and became an Air Corps lieutenant during World War II.

"The Phillies send our heartfelt condolences to the Mahan family," David Montgomery, the Phillies president, said in a statement yesterday. "As the oldest living Phillie, Art's passing is a loss to our family as well. We mourn his death, along with all who knew him."

Mahan and his late wife, Helen, were married for 54 years and had 11 children: Arthur Jr., Edwin, Maureen (Schaeffer), Gail, Gregory, Christopher, Jane (Watson), Lois, Julia (DiFerdinando), and the late Joseph and Paul.

He was Villanova's baseball coach from 1950-72 and guided the Wildcats to a 262-155-5 record. In 1961, he became Villanova's athletic director, but remained as baseball coach until he was named vice president for athletics in '73. He retired in 1977.

Among those influenced by Mahan were former Eagles general manager Jim Murray, a one-time sports information director at Villanova, and Larry Shane, who took over as baseball coach after Mahan became AD.

The two said they were with Mahan when he died in his daughter Jane's home in Rydal.

"It was beautiful that Larry and I were there when he went to heaven," Murray said. "Art wasn't just a good role model, he was a good teacher. He changed a lot of people's lives."

Murray said it was Mahan who urged him to apply for a public relations position with the Eagles. That move turned out pretty well for Murray, who ended up as the team's GM during the Leonard Tose-Dick Vermeil years.

Shane shared Murray's affection for Mahan.

"Jimmy and I would say he's our mentor," said Shane, who coached at 'Nova from 1973-85. "He had a great Irish wit and found humor in everything and good in everybody."

Mahan's wit was sharp until the end.

In what was his last interview, Mahan last month talked with the Catholic Standard & Times about one slump he had in the minors.

"The Augustinian priests kept telling me to have faith in the saints and to ask St. Jude for help when I would step up to bat," he said. "After trying this, it was quickly obvious that St. Jude couldn't hit a curveball, either."

Mahan's son, Edwin, said there was a time when his father thought professional baseball would be an easy game to conquer.

"He would hold his thumb and forefinger close together and say that in his first at-bat he came this close to hitting a home run," said Edwin, a photographer for the Eagles. "He hit a standup double and said, 'Hey, this isn't so hard.' "

Perhaps because he was the oldest living Phillie, and fourth oldest major league player, he received items to sign two or three times a week, Edwin said.

"One guy sent a box of 12 official major league baseballs and wanted him to sign each one," Edwin said. "And he sent a check along with it. My dad signed every one, but he sent the check back with the balls. He never took one penny for signing."

Asked to sum up his dad, Edwin didn't hesitate.

"I think he should go into the hall of fame for fathers," he said.

A viewing will be held from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Hilary of Poitiers, 820 Susquehanna Road, Rydal. A funeral Mass will follow at 11.