You want some Malloy? I got some Malloy!

Margie Peterson (far left) and Peggy Peterson (far right) talk with David Bowman and Belinda Manning (daughter of Newark pitcher Max Manning) talk about Robert Peterson‘s landmark book, “Only the Ball Was White,” after listening to a recording of Robert’s stirring address at the very first Malloy Conference 20 years ago. Here is a passionate essay by Larry Lester describing the influence of the book on Larry and his work.

Derrick Jones (left) presents a surprised Larry Lester with a beautiful, hand sewn, Negro Leagues-themed quilt for Larry’s years of dedication and efforts.

Other than taking forever to put together this post, I’m still riding high on the wave of coolness — wave of coolness? — that was SABR’s 20th annual Jerry Malloy Negro Leagues Conference, held this year in Harrisburg from July 27-29.

In my previous post, I kind of let loose with some emotional thoughts about how important the Malloy conference — and similar efforts to promote, preserve and teach folks about the legacy of the Negro Leagues, as well as our very American history in general — to our both those who attended and to the mission of baseball research.

So I’ll try to keep this one light-ish in tone and heavy on picture. In addition to some I took, there’s a whole lot snapped by other attendees, including Missy Booker, Ted Knorr, Leslie Heaphy, Sherman Jenkins and Rodney Page. I lost track of who exactly took which one, so I hope it’s OK if I just give a general photog credit here. Also diligently snapping photos the entire weekend was official conference photographer Louis C. McKinney, who owns a photography business in Marietta, Pa.

If I included photos by anyone else I neglected to list, let me know. Many thanks to all!

And, of course, thanks to the dedicated folks who planned, plotted and prepared this year’s edition – you know who you are!

Just a quick note … the Harrisburg Senators game on July 28, at which the former players were honored, was rained out, which was quite the bummer. I love minor league baseball — you do not even know — so this was a disappointment. As the Louisiana Weekly sportswriters of yesteryear might say, ol’ Jupe Pluvius had his way that night.

One more comment … A bunch of media outlets either previewed or covered this year’s conference, including the New York Amsterdam News, PennLive.com, The Burg community newspaper, WN.com and Gameday Gold (by Thomas Tuttle).

Oh, also … thanks to the ever-gracious and ebullient Phil Ross for the breakfast bagel and cream cheese! Also, many humble thanks to all the new friends I made at the conference, as well as the folks whom I had known or communicated with over the years that I finally had a chance to meet this year. There were many of you, a fact of which I’m extremely grateful.

OK, let the festivities begin!

My good buddy Phil Ross and me. He’s obviously the handsome one here.

Floyd Stokes (left) and Ted Knorr (Harrisburg kid and my annual Malloy roomie, along with Lou Hunsinger Jr.) present their children’s Negro Leagues activity book at the conference’s education forum.

The highlight of the conference for me was undoubtedly the attendance of my good friend Rodney Page, son of legendary team owner/manager/league executive/sports promoter/hotelier Allen Page, who served as a chairman of sorts of the New Orleans Negro Leagues scene for 30 years.

I hope to write more about Rodney and my friendship with him soon, but for now, I’m extremely glad that I was able to convince him to attend the Malloy this year — he lives in Austin, Texas — and I know he had a blast. So thanks to Rodney for attending, and to everyone else who made him feel so welcome at our “family reunion.” He learned a lot, shared a lot and probably even cried a big over the three days.

Rodney and I at the meet-and-greet.

Rodney with Belinda Manning, David Bowman and Jim Myers at the banquet.

Rodney providing moving comments at the meet-and-greet, with Larry looking on.

Rodney (second from right) with former Negro Leaguers Sam Allen, Jim Robinson and Ken Free, along with other descendants of Negro League figures. The members of the group were recognized, thanked and given certificates for their gracious attendance.

Rodney and I with KC Monarch Sam Allen.

One of the highlights of the conference was the Rap Dixon tour, led by local experts/researchers Ted Knorr and Calobe Jackson. It was a muggy day, and I ended up absolutely soaked with sweat, but it was worth it. Rap was a stupendous outfielder for the Harrisburg Giants, among other clubs.

Dozens of us piled onto a specially rented school bus for the trek, which included key stops on Adams Street/Hygienic Hill in the borough of Steelton, where Rap Dixon and many other black residents lived, went to school and worshiped; and historic Midland Cemetery to pay respects at Rap’s grave, which a couple years ago received a stunning tombstone after going unmarked for decades.

Here is a TV report about our tour.

Ted speaking in front of Rap Dixon’s home while a TV fellow films him and Calobe looks on.

Calobe giving the tour bus rich details about Rap.

Steelton Mayor Maria Romano Marcinko reads the borough’s proclamation honoring Rap and declaring Rap Dixon Day. Here is a borough press release on the event.

SABR CEO Marc Appleman with the Rap proclamation. Marc is a regular Malloy attendee.

Community activist Barbara Barksdale filling the tour crowd in about the Hygienic School, the school Rap attended as a youth as Mayor Marcinko listens in. In the background, local kids play to-on-two on the court that sits where the school used to stand.

Borough parking staffers and Steelton police rolled out the red carpet for us. We had a police escort!

The following three photos show Reich Field in Steelton, which honors Rap.

The presentations, as usual, were splendid and quite educational. In addition to the ones mentioned in the captions to the photos below, we had:

  • Rich Puerzer’s relating of the importance and legacy of Colonel William Strothers in Harrisburg blackball;
  • Jeremy Beer‘s revealing look at the man and off-the-field personality — the true personality, not the one glorified by writers of back then and today — of Oscar Charleston;
  • An alternative history of Negro League baseball, in which presenters Ed Edmonds and Michael Cozzillo tantalizingly speculated on what would’ve happened if Major League Baseball had expanded by accepting entire black teams;
  • Gary Sarnoff’s look at the role Bill “Chick” Starr — as executive of the then-PCL members Padres — played in the integration of baseball. In 1948 Starr signed catcher John Ritchey as the first black player in the PCL.
  • Mary E. Corey’s and Mark Harnischfeger’s fascinating presentation called, “Byways, Segues, Digressions and Detours,” which, according to their proposal, “focuses on a variety of off-the-beaten-path connections to our research into the social and economic impact of the Negro Leagues”;
  • Ken Mars’ summary of his in-depth baseball archaeology of pre-1890’s black baseball, including the city’s participation of the 1887 National Colored League. Here’s a link to some of his work;
  • One of my faves from the weekend — Paul Spyhalski‘s examination of the role black baseball played in early-20th-century Iowa resort tourism and how blackball helped make the tourism industry boom in the Hawkeye State.
  • Todd Peterson’s exhaustive statistical analysis of Negro Leagues’ top-level players to prove, numbers-wise — that blackball stars were indeed of Major League-level;
  • Bill Johnson’s heartfelt, personal look into the life and career of the great Art Pennington, who …
  • A similarly passionate examination of outfielder Jim Zapp by Bill Nowlin, Rick Busch and James Zapp Jr., who told the crowd how much Zapp Sr. inspired them personally;
  • A discussion by Emily Rutter, who made possibly the most intellectual and philosophically challenging presentation — the emotional and historical implications and impacts of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning and Tony Award-winning play, “Fences,” as well as the Oscar-nominated movie directed by and starring Denzel Washington (who got robbed of his second Best Actor Oscar).

Melissa Booker (here with Derrick Jones) gave a nifty presentation on influential but overlooked Pittsburgh Courier writer William Nunn Sr.

Jeff Williams discussed the political philosophies and connections and how those factors influenced him and his dream of integrated baseball.

John Graf presented a fascinating hypothesis — what if a Satchel-led group of dozens of black ball players competed in a “fantasy league” for a season?

On top of the research presentations, the conference included three power special panels — a Q&A featuring Negro Leagues veterans Jim RobinsonKen Free Sr. and Sam Allen, moderated by Carmen Finestra and also featuring historians Calobe Jackson and Andy Linker; the Ted Knorr-hosted discussion on the stellar short film by emerging filmmaker Scott Orris, “There Were Giants,” about the 1954 Harrisburg Giants; and a culminating playing of Robert Peterson’s moving and immortal address at the very first Malloy conference (Peterson, of course, is the author of the seminal, “Only the Ball Was White”).

One more items: At Thursday’s meet-and-great, author Michael G. Long of Elizabethtown College narrated his efforts toward his new book, “Jackie Robinson: A Spiritual Biography,” about Jackie’s religious convictions and how he applied them during his career.

I’ll close out this photo-ganza with a handful of other cool pics, a lot of them from Saturday night’s dinner and award ceremony that featured a massive silent auction, a delectable barbecue buffet and music by the Mark Hunsberger Quartet …

Sherman Jenkins (with his stellar new biography of Ted Strong) and John Wakelin. John and I, tangentially, had a neat discussion earlier in the conference about a 1940’s-era photo John uncovered from Kosciusko, Miss., and John’s efforts to track down the photo’s baseball-related details.

Three generations of Charles Crutchfields (Junior, III and IV) after Charles III received the prestigious Fay Vincent MVP Award. The Crutchfields are relatives of the great outfielder Jimmie Crutchfield.

Donald Conway, Ruby Berryman and Phil Ross.

Jay Hurd, Susan Rayl, John Graf and Sherman Jenkins. Rayl’s in-the-works PhD dissertation is on the Harlem Rens, the legendary “black five” basketball team.

The last two are just really cool shots of the Malloy family.

Finally, here’s a couple self-indulgences — a beautiful signed print of Double Duty Radcliffe that I couldn’t afford but splurged on nonetheless during the silent auction at the banquet, and my goofy mug.

Really quick … some the other award winners:

  • Significa contest titlist — Rich Puerzer (his second title). Runners up were Todd Peterson and John Graf;
  • First registrants — Dan D’Addona, Jay Hurd and Roy Langhangs
  • Farthest Distance traveled — Missy Booker from Portland, Ore.;
  • Scholarship winners Jakez Smith, Sophia Dossin, Niger Reaves and Isabella Baynard;
  • Robert Peterson Recognition Award — Duke Goldman and Makayla & Jeff Klein;
  • John Coates Next Generation Award — Sherman Jenkins and Courtney Michelle Smith;
  • Tweed Webb Lifetime Achievement Award — Jim Overmyer, Calobe Jackson and Bryan Steverson;
  • Fay Vincent MVP Award — Charles Crutchfield III.

If anyone knows/remembers the other award winners, please let me know. I was too stuff with barbecue to retain memories!

Post-script: 2018. Where are we goin’ next year? The scuttlebutt has several locales tossing their hat into the ring, including St. Paul, Daytona Beach, Birmingham, D.C. … We’ll see who nabs the honors. Personally, I’d like Birmingham, cuz it’s in driving distance for me.

But, my hometown of Rochester, N.Y. — home of the Luke Easter SABR chapter — has expressed interest! Obviously, that would be my ideal choice, because my hometown is, well, awesome. The Red Wings (the Twin’s Triple-A team) would doubtlessly be glad to help out, or at least host us for a game. There’s also the short-season, Single-A Batavia Muckdogs (they’re in the Marlins system) maybe an hour away, and I might be willing to take a contingent out there for a game if possible.

OK, post-post-script: I wanted to point out links to some other neat posts put up on the Malloy Facebook page over the last few weeks. Check ’em out if you can! …

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Unity in passion, strength in numbers

It’s been more than two weeks since the conclusion of the 2017 Jerry Malloy conference in Harrisburg, and I’m just now putting fingers to keys in reflection. It’s taken me so long, I think, because there’s been so many other things flitting through and swirling around in my head.

This year’s conference was a fantastic, rewarding experience — just what I needed as I tried to rebound from my crash-and-burn experience at last year’s version. It was incredible to see so many friends and fellow black baseball historians again this year. As the one and only Larry Lester says, “It’s nice to see family again.”

Plus, my roomie Ted Knorr put together and pulled off a remarkable, educational and inspiring event in his hometown. The poor guy ran himself ragged for four days — and that’s not counting the year of lead-up prep work he did before July 27 rolled around — but he hung in there and, with help from a whole bunch of compatriots and supporters, it was a smashing three-day experience. So, many congrats and huge thanks to Mr. Knorr and even else involved.

Since I returned to NOLA, however, I’ve been viewing this year’s experience in Harrisburg as a reprieve of sorts from what else has been going on in my life. In addition to the usual financial challenges — the perpetual woes of a freelance journalist and researcher are always floating over my head — the atmosphere and state of our nation as a whole has weighed upon me heavily, much as it has many others. Watching the incremental dissolution and crumbling of rational, respectful discourse, then our cherished electoral process, then our journalism, then our international relations, and finally our very spirit of generosity and understanding … it’s just been very hard to witness and process the decay of the soul of our nation without feeling a draining of my own optimism and faith in the future of our society.

And then what happened in Charlottesville Saturday … well, I can’t really speak for anyone else, but the violence and terrorism inflicted upon peaceful protestors by fearful, hate-filled bigots has affected me very deeply. Combined with the sudden, frightening threat of actual nuclear war with a poverty-stricken, despotic dictatorship halfway around the world, the Virginia tragedy has, in some ways, driven me into my own head, unable to understand or even grasp what’s happening around me, and around us as a country. It all seems like a nightmare, a horrific dreamscape from which I just want to withdraw and hide.

Nothing seems real, and nothing seems important, other than physical and psychological survival. Thus, over the last few days, it’s been very difficult to see how researching and writing about baseball history matters much right now.

The fact that Saturday’s eruption of evil was rooted in and fed by ethnic, cultural and racial hatred makes me ponder whether the dedication and work of me, you and others passionate about the Negro Leagues has really, truly made a difference. For years — and decades, for many of us — we’ve striven to learn about our nation’s cultural past, to understand our country’s mistakes in order to prevent them from happening again.

As black baseball historians and enthusiasts, we’ve tried to show people, through the lens of the American pastime, that all people are capable of great, courageous, honorable things, that wondrous achievements can be forged in the crucible of fear and hate, and that, ultimate, love, understanding and bravery can eventually triumph over darkness.

Because of this dedication — and the overwhelmingly positive response from the public, SABR and the average baseball — we, as a family of researchers, writers and fans, have come to believe personally in the notion that every one of us can always strive for knowledge, for learning, for personal betterment and the betterment of our society. We believe that one man or one woman — a Jackie Robinson, an Effa Manley, a Rube Foster — can make a difference, can change minds and win over hearts. We learn about such legendary figures, and they inspire us as individuals to make ourselves and our country better.

And then something like Charlottesville happens. Over the last excruciating few days, that tragedy — especially when laid upon all the other hate and fear that has piled up on our national psyche since a fool with fake hair and false notions of reality rode down an escalator to announce he wanted to be our “leader” — has made me wonder, “Jackie’s stoic pride, his potent bat, his fleet feet, his Herculean endurance of hate and bigotry, his steely character … was it all ultimately for naught? This is what he — and Rube and Sol and Josh and Effa and Oscar and Bud and so many others — fought for? For it all to come to this? To a nation torn apart at its very ideological and spiritual source?

Why bother trying to educate people, whether it be about baseball history or any other subject, if a stubborn, fearful, hardened minority will always do whatever they can to destroy any learning the rest of us try to offer and experience?

Why bother telling folks about how, for decades, black men and women who were shunned and rejected by white society and its Organized Baseball and forced to form their own units, their own teams, their own hardball families and scramble and scratch and claw to establish their own leagues, their own tours, their own identity? Why relate to folks about how African-American teams had to tirelessly criss cross the country, playing one or even two games every single day just to put food on the table and play the sport they love because white society refused their talents and passion?

Why relate tales of having to go around to the back of restaurants to accept scraps of food, about having to eat crackers and sardines on a cramped, smelly bus at 2 in the morning, day after day, night after night? Why tell people about these men and women who were sometimes literally just one step ahead of a hateful mob in white sheets and carrying torches, just because those men and women loved baseball — loved the American pastime — so much that they’d risk such challenges and terrors?

Why even bother telling people about those terrifying scenes — and the resulting triumph over them — that took place so long ago, when similar scenes are playing out at this very moment? Why try to show people the historical error of our ways when those errors are, in reality, not even history, but are now? This is how far we have come? This?

Why even bother?

Why even bother to pursue your passion, if that pursuit occurs in a societal vacuum of ignorance? Why bother to spread your enthusiasm and love of learning to others when so many won’t even listen?

Why even bother when horrific things like this keep happening? Why even bother to teach people who don’t want to learn? Why preach understanding when so many persist in hating?

Why care about history when that very history keeps leading to violence and fear, when that history continues to be irrelevant for so many? Why teach of the past when the present, the here and now, is so bewildering, dark and dispiriting?

Why?

Because of the Malloy. Because our annual conference reminds us, even briefly and in the darkest times, that togetherness and respect united behind a shared passion and faith can still make a difference. Because the love found in a family can truly be a beacon in the night, a lighthouse in a swirling, raging storm, a guide to better things.

Because in just three days, the 100 or so of us who gathered in Harrisburg showed what love and learning and respect can do. It can bring together people of different genders, different races, different sexual orientations, different backgrounds in the spirit of baseball — the true spirit of our nation.

Because the Malloy conference renews that spark of inspiration within all of us. Those 72 hours together reminds us that we are not alone, we are never alone in our pursuit of truth, knowledge and understanding.

And as long as we can hold on to that — and I know we all will — we collectively can find the strength and courage and passion to push forward with our mission. We can continue to fight for what we believe, for what we know, deep down, is true and just. We can, both individually and as a team, tap into and channel the spirit of No. 42 and show the world that, dammit, our souls will not be drained, our devotion to our fellow man and woman will never be dimmed, our lives will never lose focus or purpose.

We will soldier forward. We will not give up. And we will never, ever stop spreading the message of love and respect.

 

OK, with that out of my system, I’ll spend the next few days putting together a post about the Malloy that’s decidedly less serious and more fun. I’ll again put out a call for any pictures or other submissions folks would like to send me. I’d be grateful for whatever you want to share! Just email me at rwhirty218@yahoo.com. Thanks!