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Dr. Leslie A. Heaphy

Meet the Incredible
Dr. Leslie Heaphy

By Jeanne Sager
CANTON, OHIO — March 24, 2006 – It’s a baseball fan’s dream.
The call comes from Cooperstown, home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
“Would you like to be on this year’s voting committee?”
“They called and asked me, and I said, ‘Absolutely,’” said Dr. Leslie Heaphy, a class of 1983 Livingston Manor Central School graduate.
An associate professor of history at Kent State’s Stark campus in Canton, Ohio, Heaphy has earned her place in baseball history by recording it.
Her first book, “The Negro Leagues, 1869-1960” was born out of her research during graduate school at Kent State.
It was published in late 2002 by McFarland and Company, a North Carolina publishing house best known for reference and scholarly books.
Since then Heaphy’s been contracted by the company to edit a book a year on baseball, books that will come out of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR)’s annual Negro Leagues Conference.
The roots of Heaphy’s love for baseball are as all-American as the sport itself.
Her father, the late James Richard Heaphy (best known as the long-time pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Livingston Manor), lived and breathed baseball.
But none of his three sons were fans. That left his two daughters.
Charlene Vitale wasn’t interested, but Leslie lived for the times she’d cuddle up in front of the television with her father, listening to the crack of a bat on a ball.
“I kind of fell into that role by default,” she said with a laugh.
Her father was a diehard Yankees fan. Leslie rooted for the New York Mets – then and now.
Ironically, she never played the game as a teenager.
Softball was available for the girls at Livingston Manor, but Heaphy ran on the track and cross country teams instead.
Baseball, she said, is purely a sport for enjoyment.
“I’ve never been somebody who plays it for competition,” she explained. “I play for fun.”
These days she plays softball with a group of friends at Kent State – all for fun.
And she watches her Mets – on a baseball Web site she admits she’s “suffered the good and the bad” with the boys from Shea.
For Heaphy, the draw to baseball is the players themselves.
“I always thought it was fascinating to watch, being able to keep up with what the players did,” she explained. “There were some fascinating stories.”
It was during her college years that she began exploring the stories of the Negro League players, the African Americans who played the game even when they were kept off of Major League Baseball’s all-white rosters.
“When I started to look for something to read about them, I couldn’t find anything,” Heaphy recalled.
Heaphy was shocked.
“It’s such an important part of our history,” she noted.
She chose the leagues for her master’s dissertation and continued to research the subject through her doctoral studies.
Weaving through the tangled web of the publishing world was hard work, but she finally found luck with McFarland and began her task of educating the world about an important part of baseball’s history.
It was through her studies of the Negro Leagues that Heaphy found inspiration for her next book, the “Encyclopedia of Women and Baseball” which will be out in bookstores May 30.
Coupled with the plight of the African American player, the struggles that faced women trying to play the game and their successes caught Heaphy’s eye.
“These two areas of baseball . . . what really intrigued me was that their stories hadn’t been told,” she explained.
On the encyclopedia, Heaphy is credited as editor rather than author, although she wrote about 80 percent of the book.
A large portion of the remainder was penned by students in her history classes at Kent State.
This was a chance to get her students involved in her off-campus work, she said, and to give them a chance to have their work published.
This book brings to light a woman, Effa Manley, who will become the first female to ever be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this summer.
An executive rather than a player (the hall will be inducting seven Negro League players, five pre-Negro League players, four Negro League executives and one pre-Negro League executive along with the traditional Major League Baseball player elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America), Manley co-owned the Newark Eagles and regularly lobbied the Hall of Fame to include some of the great black players.
Heaphy will be on hand at the Hall of Fame in May for a weekend tribute to the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, scheduled for the same weekend as the annual Hall of Fame Game on May 15.
And she’ll return in August for her first Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Heaphy was one of a group of 12, chaired by former Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent, who were invited to cast the deciding votes on this year’s inductees.
Heaphy is the unofficial “keeper of the bibliography” for a Negro League statistical study that the Hall of Fame received a grant for from Major League Baseball.
She’s been to the hall many times, but never to an induction ceremony.
“This will be quite an experience,” she said.
And, of course, she’ll continue writing afterward, with new pieces of baseball history to uncover for the world.
“It’s one of those weird things,” Heaphy noted. “I don’t know how you can do the research without wanting to write about it.
“I’ve always liked to write . . . this is embarrassing, but my mom will tell you I wrote a play when I was in first grade which the whole class performed,” she recalled.
“It was really bad,” she added with a laugh, “but we still have it.”
That play is still at her mom, Jean’s, home in Livingston Manor which Heaphy visits as often as possible.
Her brother, Jonathan Heaphy, and sister, Charlene Vitale, also live in the Manor.
Her siblings are some of her best public relations people, she said, spreading the word about her books.
And through them she spreads the word of baseball’s past.
“It’s the best way to tell a story,” Heaphy noted.

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