Jerry Malarkey plans to attend every Upper St. Clair High School baseball game this spring. Just not as the Panthers’ head coach.
After 37 seasons, Malarkey has decided to retire.
Malarkey, 68, owns 433 career wins and a WPIAL championship in 1992. He coached three players who ascended to Major League Baseball, including Sean Casey, Kevin Orie and Kevin Slowey as well as several Division I college standouts.
“It was a gut-wrenching, emotional decision but it was time,” said Malarkey.
While he won’t be wearing the uniform any longer, Malarkey added, “I plan on being the team’s biggest fan.”
Since 1976, Malarkey has been a supporter of all things USC.
Malarkey started as a social studies teacher, filling a vacancy created when legendary offensive line coach Joe Moore left to work under Jackie Sherrill at the University of Pittsburgh. He finished as a guidance counselor, retiring from the position in June.
In between, Malarkey coached both football and baseball. He even attempted to make Casey a lineman when he helped manage the freshman football team.
“That’s the first time I met him. I was 14 and had a little weight problem. So Jerry put me on the line. Offensive guard,” Casey said. “I wasn’t fast then. When I pulled on this one play, I did not get outside quick enough. Jerry yells, “Gees, Casey. If they put a large pepperoni pizza in front of you, then you would run faster.’ Football was torture.”
Casey went on to become an all-star first baseman while playing 12 Major League seasons with the Reds, Tigers and Pirates.
“I always knew Jerry as my baseball coach but it was my sophomore year, when he was my history teacher that I realized what a nice guy he was,” Casey said. “Jerry is one of the greatest human beings I have known. He had so much positive energy. If you did not love Jerry, it might be you, you might be the problem.”
As a guidance counselor, Malarkey helped players solve dilemmas from college choices to uniform designs. He said he recalled fondly sixth period when players like Max Mandler stopped in his office to figure out what hats the team would wear that season or what workouts they would be doing in practice.
He also remembered coaching Slowey through the disappointment of not being accepted to the Ivy League school of his choice and helping him see the value of accepting a baseball scholarship to Winthrop University in South Carolina. Slowey went on to pitch for the Twins and the Marlins before becoming the director of player services for the Major League Baseball Players Association.
“When I think back on my career, the things I remember are not the wins but the accomplishments of the kids, how they overcame obstacles, rose to the occasion and the strength of character they developed by doing so,” Malarkey said.
“Players don’t thank me for teaching them to keep their heads down on the ground ball or how to hit to the opposite field. When they come back, they say, ‘thanks coach, you believed in me’ or you gave them confidence that helped them later in life. That’s the stuff that means the most to me.”
Malarkey started his baseball coaching career at USC as the freshman coach in 1977. He moved up to junior varsity coach before taking over the varsity in 1985, replacing Mike Sheleheda, the school’s athletic director and driver’s education instructor.
Within seven seasons, Malarkey guided the Panthers to their only WPIAL championship title. Aside from Casey, the team’s roster boasted center fielder Mike McHugh, who was drafted by the Texas Rangers.
Mike Junko, a standout catcher on the team went on to play quarterback at Akron and is now USC’s varsity football coach.
“Coach Malarkey was always there for his players,” Junko said. “While he enjoyed great success on the field, what most people didn’t see were the daily visits in his office by his players that looked to him for support and guidance. He changed many lives and helped to set many of his former players on the path to success in life. I know this because I was one of those players that owes him a debt of gratitude for all he has done in my life.”
Malarkey’s life always included room for his players. He recalled an impromptu visit by Casey and Junko during the dinner hour.
“I told them I was just sitting down to supper with my family and they said, ‘that’s OK coach, we already ate,” said Malarkey. “So they sat around the table and talked while we ate.”
Appetite for baseballMalarkey’s love affair with baseball began nearly 60 years ago. He was 8 years old, reveling in the glory days of the Pirates, fresh off their 1960’s World Series championship. He pretended to be Roberto Clemente or Bill Mazeroski when his buddies played on the sandlots in Scott Township.
Though he played for some decent teams at Seton La Salle High School, Malarkey said he knew he had arrived when he made the American Legion all-star team.
Because he worked as a recreation director at George Junior Republic, a reform school for kids adjudicated by the courts, Malarkey did not play baseball while earning his bachelor of arts degree and teaching certification from Grove City College. After a year as a permanent substitute teacher at Keystone Oaks, Malarkey embarked on his education and coaching career at USC.
By 2018, he accumulated his 400th career win opening day. He reached the milestone when the Panthers defeated Valley, 6-1, in Myrtle Beach. Included in his 433 victories are a dozen section titles and three appearances in the WPIAL finals. Seven of his players, including Jerry Berteottti and Tom Sullivan were selected in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft.
Family made a difference in Malarkey’s life. He celebrated his 43rd wedding anniversary this summer by flying to Chicago to see the Pirates play and taking a trip to Asheville, N.C., to enjoy a trip to the famed Biltmore Hotel.
Malarkey and his wife, Laurie, have two children. Jeff Malarkey played baseball for his father at USC. He enjoys gardening with his daughter, Jenny. This summer the pair harvested potatoes, carrots, beans, herbs, chard and kale in a community garden.
“So I have plenty to do and there still are things I want to do while I have my health,” Malarkey said.
Malarkey said a lot of soul searching went into his decision to retire, as he knew he had a strong team coming back this spring.
“That’s what made it hard. They are a talented team but even better young men,” he said.
Mateo Cepullio is a centerfielder on the 2022 team. He is committed to Akron. He said that he was fortunate to play for Malarkey.
“He was amazing,” Cepullio said. “He taught me about baseball but more importantly about being a good person. I can’t thank him enough.”
Casey is grateful Malarkey stuck around long enough to coach his sons. A 2020 graduate, Andrew Casey now plays at Dayton. A 2021 graduate, Jake Casey plays at Kent State.
“I am so grateful Jerry coached and counseled my kids. I loved him to death and they did, too,” Casey said.
“There are certain people who come across your life who are so influential. They give great advice and they are people you can lean on. Jerry was one of them for me.”