The year 1959 was Jerry Mallett’s best year in baseball. He had his best year in minor-league baseball and he also had the opportunity to play four games of major-league ball for the Boston Red Sox.
Mallett later earned a doctorate and became a successful educator and school administrator, and worked his way up to become a colonel in the United States Army Reserve.
Mallett was an outfielder, measuring in at 6-feet-5 and 208 pounds, batting and throwing right-handed. He was born Gerald Gordon Mallett Jr. on September 18, 1935, in Bonne Terre, Missouri. His father (also known as Jerry) was an Arkansas native, who worked as a fireman in an oil refinery according to the 1940 United States census. His mother, Mildred, came from Ohio. In the year young Jerry was born, the family moved to Beaumont and Jerry Sr. took a position with the Magnolia Petroleum Co.as a unit operator working with a catalytic cracking unit, and in the acid plant processing hydrochloric acid.1
There was baseball in the lineage. The elder Jerry Mallett had started out as a pitcher but became an outfielder after hurting his arm. He’d gone to spring training with the Washington Senators in 1924, but for the most part played organized baseball in the Detroit Tigers system (several years in the Texas League, and even for the Beaumont team) between 1925 and 1937. For a couple of years he played for the noted Missouri Pacific railroad ball team. Records are incomplete, but the elder Mallett played in 688 known games, hitting over .300 in Class C and Class D but struggling at the plate at higher levels. He even pitched in 78 games and was 17-10. Mallett managed three years as well – 1934, 1936, and part of 1937.2 Mallett later played for the Magnolia Petroleum team.
Jerry attended South Park High School in Beaumont, Texas, where he starred both in basketball (he was all-state) and baseball, playing on state championship teams in both sports. Coach Doc Hayes of SMU told the Dallas Morning News that Mallett was “a fine, good-looking boy with a perfect athletic build, wonderful action and a fine basketball player.”3
There was some competition for his enrolling between the University of Texas and Baylor University at Waco. Baylor won out. In December 1953, he quit the basketball squad, intending to devote full attention to baseball. He had only played basketball to try and keep in condition for baseball. It was apparently a short-lived resolution, for he is found scoring 27 points in a game against Texas Christian the very next month and through the next winter he was often the leading scorer on the team. He’d reportedly turned down the “quick money offer” of a baseball signing bonus, and in his sophomore year became what Baylor coach Bill Henderson said was the “greatest sophomore we ever had at Baylor.”4 He became one of the best rebounders in the conference, as well as a high scorer – the first in Baylor history to score over 1,000 points in three seasons. In 1982, Mallett was inducted into the Texas Basketball Hall of Fame.
Of his father, Mallett said in 2016, “He was definitely an influence. He loved the game.” His father got to see him make the majors, watching him on TV playing a game in New York.
In 1955 Jerry Mallett hit .388 to lead the Southwest Conference in batting average. In 1956 he hit but disappointed when pitching. With graduation scheduled for June 1957, he was facing a choice between pro baseball (as urged by his father) and a growing inclination to accept a job with Phillips 66, taking advantage of his degree in geology and affording him the chance to play basketball for the Phillips 66 team on their industrial basketball squad.5 Jerry was also drafted by the Syracuse Nationals in the 1957 NBA college draft. Baseball, AAU, or professional basketball were three difficult choices.
He hit .455 in his senior year, 1957, again leading the conference, and on May 28 was reported as signed by Boston Red Sox area scout Sid Hudson.6 It was later reported that he’d received a signing bonus of $75,000.7
His first assignment was to the Texas League to play for the 1957 Oklahoma City Indians. Red Sox GM Joe Cronin visited the team, with which the Red Sox had a working agreement, and said he liked the way Mallett looked: “Mallett hits the ball good, and he covers his outfield post well, even though he seems a bit green. For a lad just breaking into pro ball, he has shown real class.”8 He hit .245 in 72 games, getting his start in professional baseball. On August 23 he married Anita Kay Pitzer.
As 1958 began, Mallett was in military service (with the U.S. Army from September 1957 to February 1958) but he was able to get in a full year of baseball. It was a six-month tour of duty, and required an additional Army Reserve commitment.
He started the season with the Double-A Memphis Chicks, hitting .204 in 15 games. The rest of the year he was with Allentown in the Class-A Eastern League. It was a disappointing season, hitting just .233, with eight homers, in 121 games. He had contracted chicken pox, and it affected his vision. “I played that year not knowing I needed glasses. I started wearing glasses in 1959.”
Other than three games with the Minneapolis Millers, Mallett spent most of 1959 with Allentown again, this time batting .279 with 19 homers and 72 RBIs in 130 games. In mid-September, Red Sox General Manager Bucky Harris “changed his mind” and decided to recall two players from Allentown – Mallett and Don Gile.9 Both arrived in time to see part of the September 12 games.
Manager Pinky Higgins held some “special schooling sessions” with several of the call-ups, and then put Mallett in his first big-league game, at Yankee Stadium on September 19. It was “Yogi Berra Day.” Whitey Ford pitched for New York, and had a one-hitter through seven innings. Mallett flied out to right his first time up, then grounded to third base in the fifth. In the top of the eighth, he singled to left with one out, moved to second on a fielder’s choice, then scored on Don Buddin’s single to center. The Red Sox lost the game, 3-1.
He played in three more games, the last three games of the season, at Fenway Park against the Washington Senators. On September 25 he was 2-for-4, driving in Jackie Jensen with the first Red Sox run of the game with a single in the second. In the fifth, his single sent Frank Malzone from first to third, from where he scored on a wild pitch. Boston won, 10-4. Mallett was 1-for-5 the next day, and 0-for-3 in his final game, on the 27th. Ed Rumill of the Christian Science Monitor called him “a rangy boy out of Baylor” and added the information that Mallett had once been “a clubhouse boy at Beaumont where he had shined – among others – the shoes of Yankee Gil McDougald.” Rumill wrote, “Mallett is fast in the field and has a whip arm that will demand the respect of enemy base runners.” 10 Rumill may have been misinformed; in a 2016 interview, Mallett said he had never been a clubhouse boy for the Exporters but had worked out frequently with them when he was in college.
He finished with a .267 batting average, one RBI and one run scored. Defensively, he was 1.000, with 12 putouts and two outfield assists. Both assists came in the same game, against the visiting Washington Senators on September 26, one in the top of the ninth and the other in the top of the 11th, in a game the Red Sox won, 5-4.
In spring training 1960, Billy Jurges asked Ted Williams to spend a little extra time as a “deputized’ instructor, giving some extra tips on hitting to Jim Mahoney, Jim Pagliaroni, Carl Yastrzemski, and Mallett in something like a clinic out in deep center field at Scottsdale.11 It was learned that spring that Red Sox coach Del Baker had managed Jerry Mallett’s father in the Texas League some 30 years earlier.12
Near the end of March, Jurges said of Mallett, “He has tremendous potential ability. But he may not be quite ready yet … He needs work and experience.”13 Mallett contributed with RBIs in a couple of spring training games, but overall did not have a good enough spring training. Because he was out of options, it was reported on April 11 that his contract had been sold outright to Minneapolis.14 Mallett recalls, “I was the last player to get cut in spring training. Previously, I was told by the manager, Billy Jurges, that I was going to get a 30-day shot and to pack my bags and send them to Boston. We played in New Orleans and then in St. Petersburg and we were going to open the season in Washington. In St. Petersburg, Jurges came out to the outfield and he sent me to the minor leagues. I was told that at the end of 20 days, you’re coming back to the big leagues.”
As it happens, he was first placed with Indianapolis, and ultimately with Minneapolis. “Both the teams were pretty well set by the time. I’m not a first baseman, but the first base player wasn’t doing too well. Eddie Popowski asked me, ‘Can you play first base?’ And I said, ‘I can play anywhere to get back to the big leagues.’ I was playing first base and I was stretching out for a throw and a player from Louisville ran over me. My knee – I was extended – and they didn’t know it at the time, but the medial collateral ligament was torn. I basically missed the whole year.” In the 30 games for which we have stats, he hit .240 for Allentown. He added, “After my knee injury, I never regained the consistency necessary to be a professional.”15
“They gave me the wrong treatment,” he continued. “They told me to exercise. [Later], the Red Sox flew me up to Boston, to Massachusetts General Hospital and I never will forget. The head orthopedist said, ‘If they’d have put your knee in a cast, you’d have been playing within three weeks.’ He said, ‘If your knee doesn’t get better by December, then I’ll operate on you.’ And they had told me to exercise! I’m laughing about it now, but I’d be lifting weights and I’d have to put a towel in my mouth, because it hurt so bad.”
In 1961, Mallett worked for Johnstown, Mobile, and Winston-Salem. It was his last year in organized ball. He hit .257, .212, and .231 respectively.
“When I came back in 1961 … when I was playing, if you didn’t play five years in the big leagues, there was no retirement. I realized, ‘I’m not going anywhere. I’m moving from a prospect to a suspect. The Red Sox were paying $6,000. I think Williams was making about $100,000. That guy was some kind of hitter.”
Mallett retired, and started a career in education. He had a math major and geology major. “I’d been traveling a lot [with baseball] and geologists at the time were traveling. I started teaching. I started teaching math in high school. I enjoyed coaching and teaching math and did that 10 years. I had a master’s degree when I started teaching; I’d gone to school in the wintertime. I obtained administrative certification and later went to the University of Houston for my doctorate.” Mallett retired as the superintendent in Beaumont, Texas, a system of 21,000 students.
Meanwhile, Mallett was advancing on another track as well. “I stayed in the Army Reserve. After I quit playing, I went to Fort Benning, Georgia, in ’62, to O.C.S. and received a commission. I went to jump school, and later graduated from the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth as an honor graduate. I was a colonel when I retired from the Reserve. It was a great experience. I served as a battalion commander. I was in the Reserve for 33 years. Thirty-three years. I was pretty lucky.”
In July 1973, Jerry’s much younger sister Judy Mallett was named Miss Texas. She was a finalist in the Miss America contest. Johnny Carson believed she should have won the pageant and so invited Judy to the Tonight Show for the customary interview he did with the winner. “Later that year, the Super Bowl was held in Houston and Judy was the featured half-time performer. She played the violin.”16
Jerry Mallett’s son, Jeff, also played baseball for Baylor and in 1981 was granted honorable mention in the All-SWC rankings. Jerry and Kay also have another son, Lane. “Jeff signed with the Astros and played one year and Lane signed with the White Sox and he played two or three years.” Lane played one season for the Gulf Coast League White Sox and, later, for independent league teams.
In 2013, Jerry Mallett was inducted into the Southwest Conference Hall of Fame, both for baseball and basketball.
He was asked about something that turned up in research, “When you were growing up, did you live on Mallett Street in Beaumont?” It brought back a good memory, and some laughs: “When I was a kid, I lived on Mallett Street! My dad went down for a building permit and there was a street behind the house, and they didn’t have a name for it so the city gave him a building permit and that was the name assigned. People thought he must have had a lot of money, but the street was only about 50 yards long.”
Looking back at his baseball career, Mallett said, “I enjoyed baseball. I enjoyed playing. What you reflect back on is this: it was for a season. I don’t mean a baseball year. There’s a special window of time to play baseball. Sid Hudson told me one day, ‘You know, the day you sign is the day the clock starts ticking to be released.’ You enjoy it. You work at it hard. And you have to understand, it can go up in smoke. A Saturday afternoon collision at first base in Minneapolis, feeling my knee swell with every heartbeat. Sid was right. I felt even more grateful for a quality education.”
After a military and education career, Mallett became a successful development officer for 10 years at Baylor University. Today he remains a student of baseball, and is a certified tree farmer. He enjoys working outdoors, is an active church member and accomplished woodworker.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Mallett’s player file and player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, Rod Nelson of SABR’s Scouts Committee, and the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com.
1 Author interview with Jerry Mallett on August 18, 2016. All direct quotations from Mallett are from this interview unless otherwise indicated.
2 A fascinating story of the elder Mallett appeared in the Dallas Morning News. It told of a game for Beaumont which, had he won, would have given him 15 wins on the seasons and earned him a bonus. Beaumont was ahead of Waco, 6-2 in the eighth inning, but he loaded the bases and then Gene Rye hit a grand slam over the right-field wall. Manager Del Baker brought in Walter Newman and Waco loaded the bases off him and Rye hit another grand slam – over the center-field wall. Guy Green took over pitching, loaded the bases a third time and Rye hit a grand slam to left. Improbable as it sounds, Mallett said he’d left the park and gone to the team’s hotel by this time, but was so angry “that I just called the Fire Department and told them to go to Katy Park and put out that big fire down there. You ought to have heard those fire trucks going by that hotel!” Sam Blair, “He Always Had A Burning Desire,” Dallas Morning News, July 29, 1973: B4.
He also told a story about being with Rochester when George Stallings was the manager, and Stallings had, he said, a habit of shouting in anger, “Go burn your uniform, you big piece of cheese, but he really didn’t say cheese.” Mallett was up with a 2-0 count, but then whiffed on three called strikes. Stallings was furious, and yelled, “Go burn that suit! I don’t ever want to look at you again!” So he did. He’d hit for the cycle the day before, and Stallings coming down on him so hard didn’t sit well with Mallett. “So I went to the locker room, got some alcohol and went back on the field. I went out to centerfield, pulled off everything but my sliding pads, jockey strap and socks and shoes and made a pile on the ground. I poured alcohol on it and put a match to it.” The next day, convinced Stallings was going to release him, he was surprised when Stallings gave him $100 and said, “I’ve told 10,000 ballplayers to go burn their suits and you’re the only guy who had guts, or was crazy enough, to do it.” The Stallings story was also told by Otis Harris, sports editor of the Shreveport Journal, reprinted in The Sporting News, August 15, 1934.
3 Charles Burton, “The Inside Story,” Dallas Morning News, June 26, 1953: 13.
4 Ed Fite, “Youngster Who Ignored Baseball Bonus, Making Basketball History,” Laredo Times, February 8, 1955: 7.
5 Associated Press, “Geology May Cause Baylor Star to Be Cager, Not Baseballer,” Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), February 24, 1957: 12.
6 “Sox Sign Mallett, Six-Foot-Five Texan,” Boston Herald, May 29, 1957: 33. See also Mallett communication to author on March 4, 2003.
7 Austen Lake, “Confetti Money!” Boston American, March 10, 1959: 8. An Associated Press story in September said the bonus had been $125,000. Associated Press, “Yanks Down Red Sox 3-1,” Boston American, September 20, 1959: 33. And a yet later story said it was $35,000. “New Red Sox Cut Coming Monday,” Boston Traveler, March 29, 1960: 60. The Associated Press reduced it to $30,000 in an April 1960 story. Associated Press, “Boston Releases Pair of Rookies,” Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, April 11, 1960: 62.
8 Associated Press, “Cronin Likes Everybody – Including Wild Baumann,” Boston Herald, June 11, 1957: 34.
9 Henry McKenna, “Sox Shade A’s, 4-3,” Boston Herald, September 13, 1959: 190.
10 Ed Rumill, “Rookie Pair Impressive in Fenway Park Debut,” Christian Science Monitor, September 26, 1959: 10.
11 John Gillooly, “Ted Happy To Be Batting Coach,” Boston Record, March 8, 1960: 27.
12 Bob Holbrook, “Ted Spends Long Hours At Coaching,” Boston Globe, March 6, 1960: 53.
13 “New Red Sox Cut Coming Monday,” Boston Traveler, March 29, 1960: 60.
14 Associated Press, “Red Sox Drop Don Gile and Jerry Mallett,” Hartford Courant, April 12, 1960: 22A.
15 Jerry Mallett, letter to author, November 8, 2016.
16 Jerry Mallett, e-mail to author, November 13, 2016.