Museum welcomes SABR’s Jerry Malloy Negro Leagues Conference

Written by: Bill Francis

Two weeks after the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum opened its groundbreaking and historic new exhibit on Black baseball, the Cooperstown institution played host to a celebrated conference dedicated this important aspect of the game’s history.

The 24th annual Jerry Malloy Negro Leagues Conference, presented by the Negro Leagues Committee of the Society for American Baseball Research, was held June 6-9. Its theme this year was celebrating “Stories Untold: Voices of Black Baseball,” and its main events took place at the Hall of Fame’s Grandstand Theater.

“It is a tremendous honor to host SABR’s Jerry Malloy Negro Leagues Conference here at Cooperstown and it could not come at a better time, on the heels of opening our new exhibit, The Souls of the Game: Voices of Black Baseball,” said Hall of Fame President Josh Rawitch. “This conference has brought forth some of the best research and scholars on the topic for nearly a quarter century and their efforts have helped tell the stories of that incredibly important chapter in American baseball history.”

Visitors watch a presentation at the Malloy Conference
SABR's 24th annual Jerry Malloy Negro League Conference was held for the first time this year in Cooperstown. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

The Jerry Malloy Negro League Conference, named for a pioneering researcher who passed away in 2000, was held for the first time this year in Cooperstown. Since 1998, the conference is the only symposium dedicated exclusively to the examination and promotion of Black baseball history.

This year, the conference had more than 100 in-person attendees as well as another 50 who watched the presentations online. Those who took part listened, learned and took part in great conversations about Black baseball and its important place in American history.

In total, 25 presentations took place, ranging from such varied topics as “The Many Fronts of Baseball’s Integration: 1946,” “Roster Management and On-Field Success in the First Negro National League,” “Josh Gibson Blazes a Trail Through Big League Ballparks: 1930-1946” and “The Long Road to Induct Satchel Paige.”

Dan Nathan speaks at the Malloy Conference
Dan Nathan presents "The Negro League Renaissance: Prelude to a Conversation" during the Jerry Malloy Negro Leagues Conference. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

“It’s a conference dedicated to understanding the history of Black baseball in its largest context,” Kent State University professor Leslie Heaphy said. “It’s not just solely about the Negro Leagues, but it’s about Black baseball, so it covers everything from the 19th century on up.

“It’s a conference open to anybody that wants to come and learn, with presentations made by people who are academics, people who are simply researchers, as well as authors, fans, the whole deal.”

For Ted Knorr, a self-described Negro Leagues buff from Harrisburg, this trip to Cooperstown is the 21st Jerry Malloy Conference he’s attended.

“What the conference means to me is about how far we’ve come because the players haven’t changed. They always were the equal of, say, Ted Williams or any of the great pre-integration era players,” Knorr said. “There’s more women and more African American participation. And we still have to work on that. And it’s bigger.

“I’m hoping all the new participants come away thinking, like most of the veterans, it’s the best weekend of the year. It’s a family reunion.”

James Brunson III, an acclaimed Black baseball author and researcher, called it exciting in the sense of bringing together scholars interested in this certain aspect of the sport.

“An ongoing challenge that we have is to educate people and get them to understand, first of all, that Black Americans have been playing baseball from the beginning of organized baseball,” Brunson said. “But more importantly, to do research to help propel this thing forward.”

SABR was founded in the Hall of Fame’s library in 1971, with its Negro Leagues Committee one of the organization’s original committees.

Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum