Chris Maloney is now a Mississippi Brave. Credit: Tate Nations

Jackson native Chris Maloney, new manager of the Mississippi Braves, spent 28 years employed by the St. Louis Cardinals. He managed championship minor league teams at three different levels. He coached first base and third base for the Major League Cards. Management thought so much of him, they interviewed him for the Cardinals manager’s job when Tony LaRussa left.

Then, after all that, the Cardinals fired him. That was last June. The Cardinals were mired in a losing streak. The general manager wasn’t going to fire himself and didn’t want to fire the manager. Somebody had to go. Chris Maloney, the third base coach, turned out to be that somebody.

Rick Cleveland

Chris Maloney doesn’t want to talk about all that, except to say, “I had 28 years with the Cardinals, and it was a great experience. They trained me as a kid and deepened in me the great love I have for baseball.”

Says his father, Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer Con Maloney: “What happened last June floored all of us, but Chris handled it better than the rest of us. He took it stride. In many ways it has turned out to be a blessing.”

How’s that?

After what happened in St. Louis, Chris “Hammer” Maloney had several different opportunities in baseball, including remaining with the Cardinals in a different capacity. Instead, he chose the job with the Mississippi Braves and, at age 56, will manage the Atlanta’s Class AA team when it opens the 2018 season Thursday night at Trustmark Park.

So he was able to spend all last fall watching his son, Jake Maloney, go out for football for the first time and score touchdowns as a wide receiver for Jackson Prep. He watched Jake help Prep win an eighth straight state soccer title. He was in the bleachers Tuesday night when Jake got two hits in a Prep baseball win. The Maloney clan, including Chris’ 19-year-old daughter, Ann Bradley Maloney, will be out in force for the Thursday night season opener.

Said Con Maloney, “Being here with his kids has been so special. Chris got to spend Jake’s senior year of high school with him. That’s huge. You can’t replace that.”

And perhaps you can’t replace managing the game you love in the place where you learned to love it.

Chris Maloney played his first baseball in his backyard where the grass was worn down to dirt in the spots where the bases and home plate were. He wore his first uniform at age 7 in the Northeast Jackson Minor League. He hit his first home run over the fence as a 9-year old at those parks on Lakeland Drive. His dad was the owner of Jackson’s Class AA franchise that played across Lakeland at Smith-Wills Stadium. He played high school ball for D.M. Howie at St. Joseph High.

What’s more Chris went on to play for Ron Polk at Mississippi State, where he is the answer to a trivia question: Who was the first baseman who played ahead of baseball legend Will Clark at MSU? Maloney was a hard-hitting senior. Clark was a freshman. Then Maloney came down with the flu. Clark took his place and hit a pair of home runs against LSU.

That’s when Maloney became State’s designated hitter for the rest of his senior season.

“It’s great to be back in a baseball uniform in Mississippi,” Chris Maloney said. “You know back when the Braves first came here, I told my wife, ‘You know, that’d be a great job to have some day.’ And now I’m here.

“It’s different looking down and not seeing red shoes,” he said. “It’s different not having a red bird on your chest, but I’ve been impressed with how the Braves are doing things at both the minor league and major league levels. The Atlanta Braves are going to have a really good ball club here soon.”

Meanwhile, the Braves have entrusted many of the top prospects in the organization to Chris Maloney, and to hear many of those prospects talk, they look forward to playing for Maloney, even if they are far too young to know that he once played ahead of Will Clark.

Austin Riley, who will play third base for the M-Braves and who was drafted in the second round out of Southaven in 2015, said Maloney has made a favorable impression.

“He’s a good dude, funny and pretty laid back,” Riley said. “He’s been around. He knows baseball inside and out. Plus, he’s a southern guy like I am. I’m looking forward to it.”

So is Chris Maloney. Said he, “To be back in your hometown doing what you love to do – that’s special.”

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.