Rodney Page with Stella Wells. Thanks to Rodney for the photo.
Editor’s note: I wrote most of this post a couple days ago, but I’m just now posting it tonight (Wednesday evening) from the Harrisburg Hilton. Yep, I made it in one piece, and the friendly faces are trickling in. The festivities start tomorrow.
Giddiness is a funny state of being, a blend of joy, anticipation and mania that both excites and exhausts. When it strikes, barely contained happiness verges on irrational, reckless optimism. Any anxieties about the possibility of ultimate disappointment is shoved out of the mind and replaced by a somewhat forced belief that everything is going to be freaking awesome. It’s a frame of mind perhaps best vocalized by the late, much missed Flounder: “Oh boy, is this great?!?!”
Alas, I find myself unequivocally giddy right now. In about 24 hours, I board a plane en route to Baltimore, where I’ll then procure a rental car and motor to the Harrisburg Hilton for the 20th annual Jerry Malloy Negro Leagues conference.
It’ll be my sixth straight Malloy — following Cleveland (2012), Newark (2013), Detroit (2014), Pittsburgh (2015) and Kansas City (2016) — and every time I attend one, it’s like a homecoming. The Negro Leagues community is indeed a big family, and the Malloy conference is a joyous reunion.
Old friends exchange hugs, voluminous knowledge is exchanged, and passions are shared and celebrated. At the Malloy conference, one eternal truth becomes evident — fans are historians, and historians are fans. When you love the history of African American baseball, there’s really no distinction. Just the way it should be.
Unfortunately, for me, at times, attending the Malloy has been challenging for me. As someone who deals with bipolarism, mood disorders and anxiety issues, I become susceptible to periods of mania — such as giddiness — followed by crippling crashes into exhaustion and depression.
That’s happened a couple times with me at the Malloy conference. I’ve simply crashed and become unable to function and enjoy the proceedings like I wanted to. It’s a crushing, draining and embarrassing turn of events that triggers guilt for letting people down and depression for demolishing my plans, and the plans of others.
It happened last year at Kansas City, and it was not good.
As a result, I want this year’s conference in Harrisburg to be an amazing experience. I want to share the fellowship, savor the experiences and learn some pretty cool stuff.
Thus my current giddiness. And because, with me, giddiness often leads to crashing and burning, I’m also anxious about the conference. So, at this moment, I’m trying to mentally multi-task — tempering the negativity and anxiety while, at the same time, keeping a lid on the mania and, well, giddiness.
It’s a taut high wire to walk, but I know I can do it. We shall see.
Because there is indeed lots of cool stuff to look forward to this week …
First off, I convinced my very good friend Rodney Page to attend the conference this year. Rodney’s father was New Orleans promoter/owner/entrepreneur Allen Page, arguably the most important figure in black baseball history in these parts.
The gathering (including me and Rodney) to dedicate Wesley Barrow’s tombstone.
Allen was more than just a sports impresario and kingpin for three decades in the early to mid-20th-century Negro Leagues scene, but he became a player on the national stage as well — by creating and hosting the annual North-South All-Star Game, becoming president of the Negro Southern League, by buying and bringing the St. Louis Stars to the Crescent City (making them the only major league-level baseball team in Big Easy history).
Unfortunately, Allen Page is greatly overlooked, not just in New Orleans, but nationally as well. NOLA hasn’t really developed a reputation as a Negro Leagues hot spot, a disheartening situation that simply belies the rich, expansive blackball history here. For nearly a decade now, I’ve been working to change that.
Rodney has been a partner in that effort. He contacted me after I published this article in the Times-Picayune, and from there, we developed a close bond and friendship. I helped arrange an interview a few years ago with Rodney by a reporter at WWL in New Orleans, and Rodney gave much time and money toward the effort to place a headstone on the grave of NOLA manager extraordinaire Wesley Barrow.
Thus I’m thrilled that Rodney will be there in Harrisburg, especially because he’s agreed to share some of his memories of and reflections on his father and Allen’s legacy on New Orleans baseball. That will undoubtedly include tales of meeting the great Willie Wells as a child — El Diablo a close pal of Allen and a regular face at the Page Hotel on Dryades Street here — as well as his continuing friendship Willie’s daughter, Stella. (Both she and Rodney live in Austin, Texas.)
There’s even more NOLA Negro Leagues related stuff — this article I wrote for the Times-Picayune that came out today about the blackball in the Big Easy, including Allen Page.
And I know I’m piling side note on top of sided note at this point, but earlier this month I nominated Allen Page for induction into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. If Page were to get the call from Natchitoches (where the LSHOF is), it would be pretty much the first time Allen would have received any sort of formal honor — at least over the last half-century — in Louisiana. Like I said, Allen Page has been overlooked, and massively so, for far too long, and that has to change.
There’s another reason the impending conference will be a milestone. With this edition, the Malloy marks its 20th anniversary, and it also comes full circle — the very first gathering two decades ago was in Harrisburg as well!
This year’s landmark conference is being arranged, coordinated and hosted by another good friend of mine — and yearly Malloy roommate — Ted Knorr, who hails from the Pennsylvania state capital. Along with Larry Lester and other SABR stalwarts, it looks like Ted has put together a bang-up baseball brouhaha.
Ted was instrumental in getting the first Malloy off the ground 20 years ago, and he’s been a dedicated, knowledgeable member of the committee ever since (including running, and providing many of the questions for, the annual Significa contest on the final day of the conference). For his longtime, hefty contributions to the Malloy and to SABR, last year Ted received the prestigious Fay Vincent Most Valuable Player Award from the Negro Leagues committee at Kansas City. In a massive understatement, it was well earned.
Ted at Rap’s grave
Part of Ted’s extensive involvement in the Negro Leagues commitment is his signature mission — to teach, promote and honor the legacy of Herbert Allen Dixon, better known as Rap, one of the most accomplished and talented outfielders in Negro Leagues history. (Here and here is info about Dixon.) Rap was a key cog in the great Harrisburg Giants teams of the 1920s, and, like Ted, he called Harrisburg home.
On Thursday, Ted will lead a tour visiting some of the key locales in Rap’s life, such as his grave, which now has a beautiful headstone thanks to the efforts of Ted and a whole crew of fellow volunteers.
On top of the Malloy news, I’ve experienced a bunch of other happenstances over the last few months …
That right there is a copy of the contract Gentleman Dave Malarcher signed with the Chicago American Giants for the 1926 Negro National League season. And yep, that’s the one and only Rube Foster’s signature on it as well.
I had the opportunity to dig this treasure out — along with a whole bunch of other Malarcher nuggets — when I visited the archives of Dillard University to research a story on DU’s founding. Dave was a Dillard alum — actually, he was a graduate of New Orleans University, one of the two NOLA HBCUs that merged to form Dillard — and he donated many of his personal papers and photos to his alma mater later in life.
This was actually the second time I’d seen the Malarcher file — I dove into it several years ago for an article I whipped up for the Dillard alumni magazine about Gentleman Dave.
Pluuuuuuuus, earlier this summer I visited the mighty metropolis of Union, La., Dave’s hometown along the Mississippi River levee. While I was there, I tracked down and trekked back to his brand new tombstone that was erected after he was posthumously inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. Here’s that pic:
I’ve since been mulling over working on a longer project about Malarcher, maybe even a book about the wily third baseman and manager. So we’ll see where that heads. …
Finally, many thanks and congratulations to Doug Schoppert, who gave a remarkable presentation about Louis Armstrong and Satchmo’s love for baseball last month at the SABR 47 conference in NYC. I was happy to help out Doug out, very humbly, with preparing for his presentation by offering my research about Louis’ own semi-pro baseball team in 1931 New Orleans, the Secret 9. A link to an audio recording of Doug’s presentation is here — just scroll down some to find the paragraph on him.
Alrighty, that’s enough damage to your retinas for now. I’ll try to blog a bit from Harrisburg when I can, but I make no promises. There’s just too much cool stuff on the agenda.