This article was written by John Thorn
This article was published in Spring 2015 Baseball Research Journal
JERRY MALLOY (1946–2000) was a pioneer researcher who has been honored by the creation of an annual Negro League Conference named for him, as well as a book prize. SABR is honored now to count him among its Chadwick Award recipients.
His first great contribution to baseball history was “Out at Home: Baseball Draws the Color Line, 1887.” This monumentally important essay was first published in The National Pastime in 1983, then anthologized twice more within the decade—in both Warner Books’ The National Pastime and Scribners’ The Armchair Book of Baseball. It is not too much to say that this long essay transformed our understanding of black baseball.
When Jackie Robinson opened the 1947 season with the Brooklyn Dodgers, most baseball fans and writers believed that he was the first black to play in the major leagues. (Robinson himself believed that at the time.) It has turned out he was at least the fourth. William Edward White was the first, in 1879; Jerry Malloy died before this discovery. Who are the other two we know of? Moses Fleetwood Walker and his brother Welday Wilberforce Walker. For a few years in the 1880s, with slavery dead and Jim Crow not yet ascendant, a spirit of racial tolerance prevailed in America that permitted black and white to rub shoulders without strife. Many black players performed at all levels of Organized Baseball into the 1890s, but the color bar that Jackie Robinson broke was erected in the International League in 1887. How and why it happened was largely unknown until Malloy pried open century-old secrets.
A history major in college who worked as a retail clerk in Mundelein, Illinois, Jerry was particularly delighted that it won commendation from C. Vann Woodward, author of The Strange Career of Jim Crow (1955) and the preeminent historian of American race relations.
Malloy’s subsequent work included articles for the Baseball Research Journal and The National Pastime. For University of Nebraska Press he edited a contextual republication of Sol White’s History of Colored Baseball with Other Documents on the Early Black Game, 1886–1936; his commentary was superb. The late Jules Tygiel, also a Chadwick Award recipient, said of him, “His articles for SABR were pathbreaking and exceptional and rank among the very best this organization has ever published. Even more so, I doubt that the best among us have ever been as generous with their research and support as was Jerry.”
In the acknowledgment to his Seymour-Medal-winning Fleet Walker’s Divided Heart, David Zang wrote: “In an unprecedented act of generosity, Jerry shared not only his thoughts on Walker but also his entire file of documents. They arrived at a point long after I thought this manuscript was complete. Their availability added detail and insight that would have been otherwise lacking.”
Jerry Malloy died at the age of fifty-four, when he was immersed in further personal and collaborative research of the African American experience in baseball. What he left us was not voluminous, but it was choice and utterly indispensable. He had set the drawing of the color line in baseball at 1887, but then had found another instance, 20 years earlier, which he shared excitedly. With his typical modesty, Jerry emailed several colleagues about his discovery:
“Appended is a transcription of a four-page, hand-written ‘Report of a Delegate of the Pythian to the Pennsylvania State Convention,’ dated October 18, 1867. It relates the events of the attempt of the Pythians, a prominent black club from Philadelphia, to join the Pennsylvania Base Ball Association, at a meeting held at the Court House, in Harrisburg, on October 16, 1867…. I know of several researchers who would be interested in this Pythians delegate report, as it documents baseball polity’s early rejection of black ballplayers and teams. I thought I’d make it available to SABR’s online membership. I did the best I could with the transcription, and any errors are mine.”
To learn more about the Henry Chadwick Award, click here.