Leslie Heaphy

Henry Chadwick Award: Leslie Heaphy

This article was written by Roberta J. Newman

This article was published in Spring 2024 Baseball Research Journal

Leslie HeaphyAround 1988, University of Toledo graduate student LESLIE A. HEAPHY was stuck. Unable to come up with a research topic for a required class in labor history, she wandered the stacks of the library, looking for inspiration. Running into a fellow graduate student from the history department, she asked his advice. “What do you want to do?” he asked, and she answered: “Something with baseball.” Not knowing whether it was even a viable option, she brought the idea to her advisor. “Why not?” he responded. Why not, indeed. And so began Leslie’s deep dive into baseball history, researching and writing about the Negro Leagues for her 1995 PhD thesis. This is a dive from which she has yet to emerge.

Upon completing her doctorate, Leslie joined the faculty of Kent State University at Stark in North Canton, Ohio, as an assistant professor, and she was promoted to associate professor in 2004. She teaches a broad range of topics from across the history curriculum. These include courses on women’s history, sports history, baseball and literature, and, most recently, a summer class on the Negro Leagues.

Neither Leslie’s love of baseball nor her love of history began at the University of Toledo, Kent State Stark, or even Siena College, from which she received her BA. She has been an inveterate New York Mets fan for as long as she can remember. And her fascination with history goes back almost as far. Growing up in Livingston Manor, New York, Leslie was surrounded by books. She caught the reading bug from her parents, so much so that her first non-babysitting job was at a library. But what really piqued her curiosity were the people, places, and things she encountered during the year she spent in Scotland while in second grade. Her fascination with the country’s history was encouraged by her mother, a native Scot. “Getting to see so much that early,” she says, sent her down the path to becoming a historian.

Leslie’s involvement with SABR began in 1989, when she was looking for help with her research. She found it in the organization’s Negro Leagues Committee. She has been a dedicated SABR member, and a major force in Black baseball research, ever since. Indeed, she produced one of the first books on Negro League baseball since the original publication of Robert Peterson’s Only the Ball Was White in 1970. The Negro Leagues: 1869–1960 (McFarland, 2002), quickly became an essential source on the topic and remains so. So, too, is Black Ball: A Negro Leagues Journal, which she helped found in 2008, and has edited ever since. Of course, these are not Leslie’s only contributions to Black baseball research. She is responsible for a great many book chapters, articles, and encyclopedia entries. To help foreground Black baseball research, Leslie has been one of the organizers of the Jerry Malloy Negro League conference since 1998.

Leslie’s impact on Negro League research reaches beyond SABR. A voting member of the landmark 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Negro League committee, she had a hand in electing seventeen players and executives for inclusion in the Hall. In 2020, Leslie served as a member of a SABR task force responsible for investigating whether the Negro Leagues should be considered major leagues. The task force determined that seven Negro Leagues that operated between 1920 and 1948 should be considered “major,” and Major League Baseball extended that recognition to them shortly after. Negro League statistics have been included in the Baseball Reference database since late 2020, and plans are in place to add them to MLB.com, as well.

Her contributions as a historian would be enough even if limited to the Negro Leagues, but Leslie is also a scholar and something of an activist when it comes to the various roles of women in baseball. Chairing SABR’s Women in Baseball committee since 1993, her publications on the topic, both for SABR and outside the organization, are as essential to knowledge about women and the game as her work on Black baseball. Leslie edited the Encyclopedia of Women in Baseball (McFarland, 2006), along with Mel May. The book is an invaluable resource. Perhaps unsurprisingly, her current research centers on women’s participation in the Negro Leagues, and the wider contributions of Black women to baseball, all in historical context.

Leslie has also been instrumental in another baseball institution. For more than three decades, Penny Marshall’s film, A League of their Own (1992) has inspired little girls to dream of playing baseball for the Rockford Peaches. And since 2014, the International Women’s Baseball Center—now located in Rockford, Illinois—has worked to bring the contributions of women to the sport, both currently and historically, to the fore. To this end, the IWBC has hosted both tournaments and conferences. Collaboration between SABR and the IWBC, while Leslie sat on both boards of directors, created the annual Women in Baseball conference. Leslie has been central to the IWBC’s development, and is currently serving as the organization’s president. Her aim is to tell the story of women’s baseball beyond A League of their Own, and to inspire and enable others to do so.

First elected to SABR’s board of directors in 2010, Leslie currently serves as vice president. Then, she was the only woman on the board, adding an essential voice that might otherwise not have been heard. Now, with the inclusion of more women in the organization’s leadership, Leslie’s impact cannot be understated. Her 2014 Bob Davids award, SABR’s highest honor, bears this out.

But above all else, Leslie A. Heaphy is a historian and a teacher, one who loves to share her passion for her subject matter with her students and with researchers and scholars, alike. To Leslie, history is storytelling in context. Of the constant evolution of baseball history—in fact, of all historical inquiry—she says, “You can only make the story the best it can be, based on what you have at the moment.” Her ongoing contributions to the field, building upon current knowledge, make the story more inclusive, make the story more thorough, make the story better.

ROBERTA J. NEWMAN has been a SABR member since 2000 and is a past recipient of the SABR Baseball Research Award (2020) and the Negro Leagues Committee’s Robert Peterson Award (2014). She has contributed to several SABR Digital Library books and she serves on the Editorial Board for NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture. She is a Professor of Liberal Studies at New York University.