"Maje" McDonnell, longtime Phillies coach and ambassador, dies

The last thing Robert "Maje" McDonnell would want is for anyone to be too sad for too long.

"I hate to lose," Mr. McDonnell said in October 2008, as the Phillies marched toward their World Series championship. "But you have your mourning period, and then that's it."

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Robert "Maje" McDonnell, here in 2008, displays some of the World Series rings he earned with the Phillies. He retired last year.

Mr. McDonnell, a former Phillies coach and longtime community relations whiz, died Thursday at his home in the Mayfair section of Philadelphia. He was 89.

And while the Phillies and all who knew Mr. McDonnell mourned his loss, many of them could not help but smile as they recalled the ebullient, 5-foot-6, 130-pound dynamo.

"He was clearly a face of the franchise," David Montgomery, the Phillies president, said Thursday. "He called us all 'Coach,' but it was Maje who coached us to enjoy life and the game of baseball."

Ruben Amaro Jr., the Phillies' general manager, said he never encountered Mr. McDonnell in a foul mood.

"He brought a lot of levity to the organization and was a mainstay with us, especially in the receptionist area and around the community," Amaro said.

Mr. McDonnell joined the Phillies as a batting practice pitcher in 1947. He eventually became a coach and spent 57 years with the team as a scout, camp instructor, stadium tour guide, and community relations speaker. He finally retired last year.

He also worked from 1966 to 1973 as a "goodwill ambassador" for Ballantine Beer.

"He was a unique individual and certainly a treasure for us," Montgomery said.

Like may boys in the 1930s, Mr. McDonnell grew up playing baseball, in Port Richmond. And while manager Connie Mack and his famous A's were the better team, Mr. McDonnell became a lifelong Phillies fan after the club gave away free tickets to boys knocking around the playgrounds.

"I wanted to be with the Phillies, and people would all laugh at me," Mr. McDonnell said in 2008. "But I thought it was wonderful they'd let us go for free."

Baseball also gave Mr. McDonnell his childhood nickname. His ever-present ball and glove prompted friends and neighbors to call him the "little major-leaguer," and that eventually became "Major" and then "Maje."

Like his love for the Phillies, the nickname would last a lifetime.

After starring as both a baseball and basketball player at Northeast High School, Mr. McDonnell went on to excel in both sports at Villanova. He interrupted his college career to spend 31/2 years in the Army during World War II, earning five battle stars and a Bronze Star.

After the war, Mr. McDonnell returned to Villanova. While he pitched for the Wildcats in an exhibition against the Phillies in 1947, the club first considered him as a batting practice pitcher.

Although he never played in a major-league game, Mr. McDonnell received plenty of recognition for his baseball and basketball skills. He 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.

In 2002, Mr. McDonnell won the Richie Ashburn Special Achievement Award for his "loyalty, dedication, and passion" for baseball.

Said Amaro, "It's a tough loss of a legend."

Mr. McDonnell is survived by his wife, Millie; three daughters, Mildred Mary, Kathleen, and Maureen; and two grandsons, Jameson McDonnell and Major Lee VanWinkle.

Funeral arrangements were pending.

 


Contact staff writer Gary Miles

at 215-854-4487 or gmiles@phillynews.com.