Slender and boyish-looking early in his early 20s, in later years the 5-feet-11 and 155-pound John Malarkey was depicted as “lean and Cassius-like” by The Sporting News and said only to need more weight and, according to the paper’s November 2, 1901, issue, a change of pace to accompany his “high drop curve” in order to become a winning pitcher in the majors. Yet the Washington Post, which had the clearest view of him early in his career, on April 6, 1895, in the spring of his lone full season with the local club, deemed him “erratic and flighty” and the possessor of “a $10,000 arm and a ten cent noodle.” The Post’s denigrating opinion of him evidently was shared by many others in the business of evaluating major-league talent, for Malarkey had to play for pay nearly 10 years before he was able to win a regular job in top company and then he lost it through no fault of his own
After pitching semipro ball for several years in Springfield, Ohio, where he was born on May 4, 1872, Malarkey joined Newport News of the Virginia League late in the 1893 season and remained with the franchise through several relocations in 1894. Acquired by Washington after his minor-league campaign ended, Malarkey won his first start with the Senators on September 21, at Cleveland, when he edged Cy Young 4-3, aided by his wily catcher, Ed Dugdale. Two days later, in the first game of a doubleheader at Chicago, he also won his second start, again by one run, when he topped the Colts’ Bill Terry, 6-5. Held out of action for a full week after that, on September 30, the final day of the season, his balloon burst when St. Louis blasted him 14-2 in the first game of a twin bill. Nonetheless he finished the season 2-1 and was the only member of the 11th-place Senators’ mound staff with a winning record. It was to be an all-too-brief flirtation with success against National League competition, for he never won another game in the majors until 1902. In 1895, Malarkey’s only full season with Washington, he was winless in eight starts and only slightly better in 14 relief appearances, finishing the campaign 0-8 with two retrospective saves and a 5.99 ERA.
The following spring the Washington Post claimed the Senators’ southern trip prior to the season had “done him up” to a point where the club had to have him “farmed out” to Richmond of the Virginia League while it continued to pay his salary. Soon afterward the Senators quit on their young pitcher but may have regretted it when he won 20 games with the Bluebirds in 1896 under the guidance of Jake Wells, a longtime minor-league catcher and manager and considered one of the best developers of young pitchers in the game. Malarkey then spent the next two years and part of a third with Syracuse of the Eastern League, where he allied closely with team captain Howard Earl and earned the nickname “King Mull” after he logged a 27-13 record for the Stars in 1897. In 1899, when he got off to a slow start with the Stars (6-9) and grew disgruntled under the club’s new player-manager Sandy Griffin, he was allowed to join Earl in mid-summer after the ex-major-league outfielder had been appointed player-manager of the Utica team in the New York State League. Malarkey so bedazzled NYSL hitters that former major-league third-baseman Tom Burns, who already knew him well for his work stellar with Syracuse, invited him to pitch a game for Burns’s Chicago NL club in New York on September 13. But a 13-2 loss to the Giants doomed Malarkey to the New York State League again in 1900.
The twentieth century began with Malarkey now with Rochester, where he emerged as the top pitcher in the Eastern League in 1901 and a “workman of the Clark Griffith order” according to the December 29 edition of the Boston Globe when it reported that the local NL club had purchased him at the end of the season following a glittering 26-11 performance with the Broncos. The Beaneaters were still a strong club in 1902, finishing a solid third, and it took some time for Malarkey to work his way into the regular rotation. Soon afterward he produced the finest game of his major-league career on September 4 at Boston when he and Pittsburgh’s Sam Leever hooked up in a 0-0 tie in the second game of a doubleheader that was called by darkness after nine innings. Six days later, on September 11, at Boston’s South End Grounds, Malarkey became the only ML hurler to date ever to win his own game in extra innings with a walk-off home run that proved to be his only career four-bagger, when he belted a Mike O’Neill toss over the left-field wall in the 11th frame to give the Beaneaters a 4-3 triumph over the Cardinals. When the final 1902 statistics were tabulated, Malarkey ranked only fourth on the Boston staff in wins, with eight, but fashioned a neat 2.59 ERA and was one of only four ERA qualifiers in the majors who did not surrender a single four-bagger.
A strong season with a weak sixth-place team followed in 1903, as Malarkey finished just 11-16 but was second on the Boston staff in ERA and completed 25 of his 27 starts, including his final appearance of the season on September 20 when he topped the Cardinals 8-3 at St. Louis’s Robison Field. It nonetheless also marked the end of his ML career when the cash-strapped Beaneaters peddled him to Columbus of the minor-league American Association a month prior to the start of the 1904 season with nothing he could legally do to prevent the demotion.
Malarkey went 24-9 for the Class-A Senators in 1904 but seemed to lose heart when his sterling work did not bring a return to the majors. He slipped to a 5-10 mark in 1905 and, given his age — he was now 33 — was shuttled off to Montgomery of the Southern Association in 1906. Once there he rebounded to win 18 games but was ineffective with the Alabama club the following year and finished his pro career in the 1908 South Atlantic League.
After leaving the game, Malarkey worked for the Erie Railroad and lived in Marion, OH, until 1948 when he moved to Cincinnati, where he died on September 29 of the following year of pneumonia at age 77.
Note that it has yet to be discovered which way the right-handed Malarkey batted, but knowing that his lone major-league home run was hit over the left-field wall at Boston’s South End Grounds strongly indicates that he swung from the right-side batter’s box.
This biography is an expanded version of one that appeared in David Nemec’s The Rank and File of 19th Century Major League Baseball (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2012).
In assembling this biography I made extensive use of Sporting Life, The Sporting News, the Washington Post, and the Boston Globe for details of Malarkey’s professional baseball career, 1893-1908. Malarkey’s major- and minor-league statistics came from www.baseball-reference.com