This article was written by John Thorn
This article was published in the Spring 2011 Baseball Research Journal
JOHN B. HOLWAY (1929– ) has been researching baseball since 1944. Few, if any, may boast longer or more noteworthy contributions to baseball research.
Looking at baseball beyond America’s major leagues has been his specialty. After a stint as a parachute lieutenant in Korea, he wrote the first book in English on Japanese baseball, Japan Is Big League in Thrills, in 1954. The next year he penned Sumo, the first English book on that subject.
Since then he has served as an economics analyst for the Voice of America, covered conferences around the world, written for major newspapers from Boston to San Diego, and covered the Olympic Games in Mexico City and Los Angeles and World Series from 1948 through 1986. He published a major oral history of the Tuskegee Airmen, Red Tails, Black Wings: The Men of America’s Black Air Force (1997). But it is not for this astonishing range of activity that SABR has named him to receive the Henry Chadwick Award.
John B. Holway has published many notable books on the Negro Leagues, perhaps most notably Voices from the Great Black Baseball Leagues (1975), a collection of interviews with the then virtually unknown Cool Papa Bell, Buck Leonard, Bill Foster, and Willie Wells, and The Complete Book of the Negro Leagues (2000). Holway saw his first Negro League game—in which Satchel Paige’s Monarchs battled Josh Gibson’s Grays—in Washington, D.C. in 1945. It is not too much to say that without John Holway’s efforts, several Negro League stars would not have entered the Baseball Hall of Fame when they did.
Holway has also researched intently and written frequently about Ted Williams, whom he saw strike the famous home run off Rip Sewell’s eephus pitch in the 1946 All-Star Game.
I was sitting in right field in Fenway Park … when Ted came up for his last at bat against blooper-ball pitcher Rip Sewell. Ted fouled one off into the third base dugout. The next pitch was lobbed up and would fall short. I’ll never forget Ted doing a little Fred Astaire two-step hop and under-cutting the ball, which climbed up and up and up. A short fly, I moaned. But it kept soaring, and right fielder Enos Slaughter back-pedaled until the ball dropped over his head into the bullpen next to me.
Holway’s books about his favorite player include The Last .400 Hitter (1991) and Ted the Kid (2006).
A former chairman of SABR’s Negro Leagues committee, Holway has received the Bob Davids Award and the Casey Award for Blackball Stars, voted the best baseball book of 1988. His other books on black baseball include Black Diamonds, Josh Gibson, and Josh and Satch. With Dick Clark, he edited the Negro Leagues section of Macmillan’s Baseball Encyclopedia. To do this, they undertook research into many hundreds of box scores from papers across America.
With Yoichi Nagata, John has contributed to the Japanese baseball section in many editions of Total Baseball. With John Thorn he co-authored The Pitcher (1987).
Henry Chadwick was involved with baseball from 1856 until his death in 1908. John Holway has spent a longer time contributing to the game, and baseball fans are grateful that he is still at it.