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Maje McDonnell

Ballplayers Wounded in Combat

 

Date and Place of Birth: July 20, 1920 Philadelphia, PA
Date and Place of Death:    July 8, 2010 Philadelphia, PA
Baseball Experience: Major League
Position: Coach
Rank: Unknown
Military Unit: Service Company, 379th Infantry Regiment, 95th Infantry Division US Army
Area Served: European Theater of Operations

Robert A. "Maje" McDonnell was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 20, 1920. He grew up in the Port Richmond section of the city and got hooked on the Phillies from an early age. Because he was always playing baseball, people began calling him the "little major leaguer," which was eventually shortened to "Maje."

Despite standing just 5-foot 6-inches tall and weighing 130 pounds, McDonnell was a baseball and basketball standout at Northeast High School and then Villanova College. But following his sophomore year at Villanova in 1943, he was inducted into military service with the Army.

Although he played some service baseball, hurling a 7-0 no-hitter for Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, against Parish Steel Company in early 1944, McDonnell soon found himself in England with Service Company of the 379th Infantry Regiment of the 95th Infantry Division, where he was in charge of the athletic program for the regiment at Barton Stacey Camp in Hampshire.

Later in the year, the 379th landed at Omaha Beach, Normandy. "Our company's responsibility was to remove the American bodies off the beach," he told author Mike McNesby. "We were called the 'Goul Patrol' because one of our jobs was to pick up the bodies and move them to a staging area. On the beach, we found two guys who were still living. It was because of this action that I received a Bronze Star."

McDonnell went on to fight battles in Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes, Alsace and Central Europe, earning five battle stars and a Purple Heart for wounds received in combat. "We were in Saarlauten, Germany," he explained. "I was on the second floor of a building and the Germans were bombing the town. A shell exploded and shrapnel hit me over the left eye. It wasn't that bad. You can still see the scar."

Following his military discharge in 1945, McDonnell returned to Villanova and struck out seven in a 7-6 loss to the Phillies in 1947. The 5-foot-6 pitcher impressed Phillies' General Manager Herb Pennock, not as a player prospect, but believed he could help as a batting practice pitcher while apprenticing in the front office.

"You can't imagine how excited I was," McDonnell recalled. "Mr. Pennock wanted me with the Phillies. I couldn't wait. There was a jersey, No. 45. We didn't have names on the back in those days. If someone wanted to hit in the morning, at noon or at night, I'd be there ready to throw."

McDonnell went on to become a member of the Phillies coaching staff and was with the Whizz Kids when they beat the Dodgers to clinch the National League pennant on the last day of the season in 1950. McDonnell said his greatest thrill was pitching two innings for the Phillies in an exhibition game. He stayed with the club until 1966, when he left to be a "goodwill ambassador" for Ballantine beer and head baseball coach at Chestnut Hill Academy.

In 1973, he was enticed back to the Phillies organization joining the Community Relations Department, working as a camp instructor, stadium tour guide, and community relations speaker. He eventually retired in 2009. "All my life I only wanted to be a Phillie," he recalled. "I never worked a day in my life. It's been beautiful, the greatest life a man could know. I may have not made a lot of money, but what I experienced is worth a fortune."

McDonnell was inducted into the Villanova Hall of Fame, the Northeast High School Hall of Fame, the Philadelphia Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, and the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame. He was awarded the Richie Ashburn Special Achievement Award in 2002, presented each year to a member of the Phillies organization who demonstrates the same loyalty, dedication and passion for the game as the award's namesake.

“It’s been a great life,” McDonnell said in 2008. “I’ve done exactly what I wanted to do.”

Maje McDonnell passed away at his home in the Mayfair section of Philadelphia, on July 8, 2010, aged 89.

Date Added December 25, 2017

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