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The Sports Daily > Burning River Baseball
All-Time Indians: Don McMahon
Name: Donald John McMahon Position: Relief Pitcher
Tribe Time: 1964-1966 Number: 44
  DOB: January 4, 1930
Stats W L W% ERA G SV SVO S% IP H ER HR BB SO WHIP
Best Season (1964) 6 4 .600 2.41 70 16 20 80% 101.0 67 27 7 52 92 1.18
Indians Career 10 8 .556 2.82 140 28 33 85% 198.1 154 62 16 95 157 1.26

The defined, single inning closer is a recent creation, but the idea of an ace reliever goes back much further. For the Indians, the first real closer was Ray Narleski in the 1950’s, but they wouldn’t have another consistent back end reliever until Don McMahon a decade later.

McMahon signed with the Braves in 1950, but it would be a bumpy path before he made his Major League debut. In 1952, he was selected for service in the Korean War and when he came back the Braves had moved from Boston to Milwaukee. He pitched well as a reliever in his first two minor league seasons, but like many good young relievers, the Braves attempted to move him into the rotation in 1953 (AA), then again in 1955 (AAA) and neither time worked out well. Once they finally admitted what he was, McMahon broke into the Majors in 1957 and would have an 18 year Major League career making just two starts to 872 relief appearances.

After five seasons in Milwaukee including one All-Star selection and three seasons with a WAR above 1.0, he was sold to Houston shortly into the 1962 season. That season was another incredible one for McMahon as he posted a 1.53 ERA, but he struggled in 1963 and was sold to Cleveland prior to the 1964 season.

McMahon would continue to be well traveled throughout his entire career, but he was always consistent. His first year in Cleveland would be his best for the Tribe as he was made closer in May on his way to 16 saves in 20 attempts (as well as three unofficial holds). Ted Abernathy had saved 12 games for the Tribe the year before and Gary Bell the same the year before that, but there was no specifically designated closer. In 1964, McMahon started the season pitching whenever needed including multiple appearances in relief in the first inning, but from May 31st through the end of the season, he pitched prior to the 7th only once in 54 appearances, finishing 35 games.

Like many of the pitchers of the day, he would often come in for the seventh or eighth inning and finish out the game. Incredibly, in all six of his appearances that lasted three or more innings, he never allowed a run and only once allowed two hits, never allowing more than two. While he obviously gave up a few runs given his 2.41 ERA, 10 of those came across three appearances totaling 2.1 innings including his worst outing of the season, a three hit, two walk, four run appearance without a single out recorded against New York. Without those three, he allowed 17 runs in 98.2 innings for the entire season, an impressive feat for a 34 year old.

The following season wouldn’t be as kind to McMahon and, after another four run appearance against New York, this time in May, he was removed from the closers role in favor of Bell. While Bell would finish the season with 17 saves, McMahon would still save 11 and finish 31 of his 58 appearances. His greatest success would come in July when he made ten appearances and allowed just a single run. While he did take a loss for that tie breaking run, he was perfect (5 for 5) in save situations, won a game and earned his only hold of the year. After seeing his ERA push to 5.74 after that game against New York, it had dropped to 2.72 by the end of July. As revenge of a sort, his final three games in July were all against the Yankees and he earned saves in all, allowing no runs and just three base runners in 3.1 innings.

His luck would end with the month and three poor appearances during the first two weeks of August shot his ERA above 4.00 again. While he would finish the year strong, including six straight scoreless appearances to end the year, he would finish with a 3.28 ERA.

While the years between 1960 and 1993 are generally considered awful in Indians history, it wasn’t ever a total failure. Often, one thing would go right for awhile, but without the other aspects of the game working, it wasn’t enough for overall success. In the early 1960’s, Abernathy, Bell and McMahon provided a dynamic bullpen, but there was little offense and little in the rotation beyond Sam McDowell. It took adding Bell to the rotation in 1966 as well as the additions of Sonny Siebert and Luis Tiant to fix the latter, creating one of the best in Indians history, but now the bullpen was a weakness and there was still no offense.

This poor timing likely lead to the dealing of McMahon in 1966 as he was sent during another peak season to Boston for the slightly younger reliever Dick Radatz. This would be an extremely unfortunate deal for the Tribe as it also saw Lee Stange go to Boston where he would make 174 appearances with a 3.45 ERA in 602.1 innings. McMahon would also have success in Boston, although his tenure would be much shorter as he was traded again mid-season of 1967 to Chicago. Radatz would make just 42 appearances across two seasons for Cleveland, posting a 4.89 ERA before being traded to the Cubs for Bob Raudman, a pitcher who would never pitch for the Indians.

McMahon, however, would continue pitching including a great season in 1968 split between Chicago and Detroit after another mid-season trade, then another decent season in 1969 that again included a mid-season trade, this time to San Francisco. Here he would stick and McMahon would pitch through the 1974 season with the Giants when he was 44 years old (although he started each season from 1972 on primarily as a coach). While his workload gradually decreased, even at 43 years old he pitched 30.1 innings with a 1.48 ERA, earning six saves and four wins.

Despite his years and accomplishments, McMahon’s career went largely unheralded. He made just the single All-Star game with Milwaukee and received just 0.3% of the vote when he hit the Hall of Fame ballot in 1980. His team accomplishments can’t be taken away from him, however, and he holds the distinction of winning two World Series, his first in his rookie year with the Braves when he pitched five scoreless innings against New York. He pitched in the postseason in the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s with a total line of 13.1 innings, 14 strike outs and 5 runs allowed. His last appearance, at the age of 41 with San Francisco in 1971, was as good as his first as he struck out three in three innings without allowing a base runner.

Following his playing career, McMahon continued on with his coaching duties for the Giants before joining the Twins staff in 1976 and eventually the Indians in the early 1980’s for three years. As it was, McMahon would never leave baseball as he died from a heart attack sustained while pitching batting practice for the Dodgers in July of 1987 at the young age of 57.