Mullen, John (2009)
The induction of Westbrook’s John Mullen into the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame marks the arrival of one of the most feared hitters of his era in one of the most competitive periods of baseball in the Greater Portland area.
Catching the baseball fever at an early age with neighborhood pick-up games at storied “Mullen Field”. John moved on to the hallowed Warren League Grounds, where he basked in the memories of historic pitching duels between his uncle Gene Hebert (MBHOF ’74) of Westbrook and Cheverus’ Husky Aube (MBHOF ’71).
John’s career in organized baseball was bolstered by a succession of coaches who influenced the raw-bone youngster’s development and helped to harness his undeniable talent of hitting a baseball. Four years playing for Kiwanis in the Westbrook Little League under the legendary Buck Cote (“as kind hearted a man as there ever was”) led to the Babe Ruth years under the tutelage of Bob Smyth whom John credits with refining his emerging hitting prowess to an advanced level. “There was nothing I loved to do more than hit a baseball,” recalls John. “I was blessed with that ability.”
Although he attended St. Mary’s in the 7th and 8th grade, John received permission to play baseball those years at Westbrook Junior High School under the reassuring, low-key presence of veteran coach Phil Kilbourn.
John blossomed into a pitching and hitting sensation during his high school years at Westbrook, pastiming for Mickey Dolan and playing summers for the Manchester Post American Legion team commanded by Luther Small and Jimmy Burrill. Those years were highlighted by fierce rivalries with Deering and the Caldwell Post who featured the likes of Garry Smith, Ed Flaherty and Steve Conley, and with South Portland and Morrill Post who boasted future big leaguer Jim Beattie.
Coach Jim Burrill remembers the Mullen years well: “John was such a competitor. He wanted to bat 1.000, so great was his desire to hit. You never saw the infielders creeping in when John was up. He was also an overpowering pitcher. I was constantly encouraging him to “reach back” and throw hard. Once he started throwing strikes, his confidence grew and he became one of the top American Legion pitchers in the state.”
Mullen acknowledges his relationship with Burrill was tempestuous at time as harnessing his volcanic temper proved challenging to both strong-willed individuals. Fortunately, the avuncular presence of Luther Small buffered the rocky moments and John, like scores of Westbrook kids who played for Jimmy and Luther, is grateful for the unrivaled dedication to player development of that veteran duo.
After a two-year stint at Leicester Junior College in Massachusetts, John attended the University of New Hampshire and finished up his undergraduate degree at the University of Southern Maine.
In 1973, at age 19, John began a 9-year career playing for the South Portland Merchants in the Portland Twilight League under Coach Bob Philbrick. The Twilight League had gained a well-deserved reputation for attracting top-notch collegiate talent in the 1970’s and John enjoyed his most productive summers competing at that elite level. In 1976, John was named MVP of the league, hitting .370 and belting 18 home runs. Philbrick notes one Mullen record that’s unlikely to be broken: “John holds the unofficial record for the most balls hit over the railroad tracks at Deering Oaks.”
At the urging of Jack Dawson, John applied for and got a job coaching baseball at Cheverus High School in 1979. From there everything fell into place as a teaching position opened up the following year and John taught English and History at the Jesuit school for 9 years before becoming assistant principal for 2 years and eventually making his way to the principal’s office where he has presided with distinction for the past 20 years. John served as varsity baseball coach for 6 years and was a stabilizing force of the program during a challenging time.
Tony Dibiase, Maine Baseball Hall of Famer and a Westbrook High teammate of John, sums up his buddy’s legacy: “I have played a lot of baseball, both in the local area and at the University of Maine. Our team went to the College World Series of Omaha. I have watched many baseball players in my career. John Mullen is on my list as one of the top three hitters who hit the ball REALLY hard. Moreover, John Mullen is a Hall of Fame person and should be a member of the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame.”
Well said, Tony. We heartily agree.