In Memoriam: Larry McCray

Larry McCrayWhen Larry McCray, one of the foremost historians of baseball’s early origins, received SABR’s Henry Chadwick Award in 2017, Major League Baseball Official Historian John Thorn wrote that he was the man “most responsible for the new public understanding of baseball’s predecessor games.”

McCray, who died at the age of 81 on December 26, 2023, created the vast and invaluable Protoball Project, to help researchers locate and refine primary data on the evolution and spread of ball play from ancient times to up to 1870, just before the first professional baseball league began in the United States.

Enlisting the efforts of hundreds of other “diggers,” as they are termed on the site, McCray led a project that expanded our collective knowledge of the game in new ways. He served as Guest Editor of the special Protoball issue of Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game, featuring more than thirty articles on this long neglected and little understood area.

McCray was named to MLB’s Special Origins Committee in 2011 and he also chaired SABR’s Origins Research Committee for many years, attracting new diggers as well as interested readers in the subject of baseball’s earliest days. McCray was recognized with the Bob Davids Award, SABR’s highest honor, in 2018.

Lawrence E. McCray’s life outside of baseball was also exemplary. Born on May 21, 1942, in Utica, New York, he graduated from Union College with a BA and BEE in 1965 and was awarded a Fulbright scholarship for 1967–68 in India. He received his Ph.D from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1974. His dissertation, “The Politics of Regulation,” was awarded the APSA’s E.E. Schattschneider Prize as the best dissertation in American government and politics for 1974.

He began his career at the Environmental Protection Agency, where he organized and implemented reforms in environmental decision-making processes. Then, as a member of the Carter administration, he was the first program director of the US Regulatory Council. He was the founding director of the policy division at the National Academy of Sciences from 1981 to 1998; his 1983 report, Risk Assessment in the Federal Government: Managing the Process, is often credited as the source of a new paradigm for federal risk regulation. Following his retirement, he was a mentor in science policy at MIT’s Center for International Studies, where he enjoyed advising many graduate students.

He was an avid hiker, tennis player, and endurance cyclist — who once biked to every home ballpark in the Boston Red Sox farm system along the East Coast.

He is survived by his wife Alexa; children J and Malika; grandchildren Max, Miles and Nora; son-in-law Brian and daughter-in-law Erin. A celebration of life is planned for the spring of 2024 in Lexington, Massachusetts.

Originally published: January 3, 2024. Last Updated: January 3, 2024.