Ratcliff becomes Radcliffe: Double Duty’s roots

Radcliffe, Theodore-Bismarck

So I’m working on an article for Lagniappe magazine in Mobile, Ala., about the great Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe, who’s a native on that city. Unfortunately, despite his famed multi-tooled talents and his extremely colorful character, Double Duty has always been overshadowed by that other famous Negro Leagues product of Mobile, Satchel Paige.

My article aims to help change that … I’m not sure if I’d call it an injustice, but it’s definitely something that needs to be rectified, because Ted Radcliffe deserves recognition not only for his accomplishments, but for his longevity in both the game and in life, and for the vast wealth of information he supplied to our collective knowledge of Negro Leagues history.

The piece on which I’m working will not only examine Double Duty’s Negro Leagues legacy, but also his impact on the city of Mobile and its culture as well as his own roots and youth in the city on the bay. (I started my research with a wonderful interview he did with The History Makers, some of the highlights of which I included in this previous blog post.)

But the effort into looking into Ted’s roots almost immediately hit a roadblock because known knowledge, i.e. on Ancestry.com and other research sites, included limited amounts of information, most of which was based on this Census report from 1920, which logs residents of Mobile:


It spells the family’s last name as “Radcliff,” and it lists Ted by his middle name, Roosevelt, who, it says, was 17 at the time (which, according to interviews he did, is around the time he left Mobile for the North — Illinois and Ohio, in particlular).

The family lists includes his father, James, and his mother, the former Mary Marsh, as well two brothers and two sisters. (Notice also that the family lives right next door to that of William Radcliff. I haven’t been able to conclusively pin down if William is James’ brother, but in all likelihood they are indeed siblings.)

Aside from this Census documents and a few death index records, there has been very little to go on regarding Ted Radcliffe’s genealogy. We do have these excerpts from the aforementioned History Makers interview:

– Now let me ask you this. I want to talk to you about where you were born. And I want your mother and father’s name.
– My father was named James Radcliffe. My mother was named Mary Louise Radcliffe. I was born in Mobile, Alabama, July the 7th, 1902. And I started to playing baseball when I was eight or nine years old. And I didn’t look back.
– Let me ask you. What do you–what about your father James Radcliffe. What do you know about his–him and his family?
– Well my father was a great carpenter. He was the only Negro who could read (unclear). He went to Booker T. Washington School [Mobile, Alabama]. He could read (unclear) blueprint. He was a good man. He brought us up. He brought us up here. He was a good man.
– Hmm. Did he talk about growing up?
– No.

And …

– Was he born into slavery?
– Huh?
– Was your father born into slavery? No.
– He was born after slavery.
– After slavery. Okay. Okay.
– But my grandmother was.
– Do you remember your grandmother?
– Yes, I remember all of them.
– Okay. And what was she like?
– She was a great woman.
– What was her name?
– Her name was Elizabeth. And my mother name was Mary. And my oldest sister was Olga, Emma. I remember all of them.
– And your mother. Did she talk about growing up?
– She used to talk about it. I had a great mother. I had a great father. We didn’t go lacking for nothing.
– And how long did you live in–what were your siblings’ names? Can you go through their names? How many, kids in the family?
– How many kids? Brother and sisters? It was nine. Five boys and four girls.
– Can you give me their names in order?
– Olga, Emma, Ernest, Stanley, Ferney, ‘Double Duty,’ Ellie, Portia and Dorothy [sic, and Alexander ‘Alec’ Radcliffe].

So that’s a start. But, so far as I can tell, it’s also always been the limit to the popular knowledge of Ted’s roots. I knew via cursory research that James, his father, was born in a place called Millers Ferry, Ala., but I found no further details.

That, it turns out, is because Millers Ferry is an aging, unincorporated community in Wilcox County, Ala., which is located in the southwest part of the state, not all that far from Mobile. Wilcox County is, all things considered, pretty tiny; as of the 2010 Census, its entire population was less than 12,000.

Having said that … I couldn’t find the James Radcliff(e) family anywhere in the Census before 1920, either in Mobile or in Wilcox County.

But, from there, I guessed that James’ family — as well as that as his eventual wife, Mary Marsh (Ted’s mother) — was from Wilcox County somehow. But how, exactly …?

So I went back to our old pal Google, did some basic searching, and found that there was a slaveowner in Wilcox County named … Leonidas Ratcliff. I also discovered that in the 1870 Census (the first one after the end of slavery), there were numerous African-American Ratcliffs living in Wilcox County … where James “Radcliff(e)”, Double Duty’s father, was from!

After that, the pieces quickly began to fall into place. Because, in the 1910 Census of Mobile, I found James and his burgeoning brood — under the surname Ratcliff. James — who, incidentally, is tagged as “mulatto” in the document — is the head of the house, with Mary and six kids, including 7-year-old Roosevelt. Also dwelling in the home are James’ 65-year-old mother, Elizabeth Bennett (likely the grandmother to whom Ted Radcliffe referred in his History Makers interview); James’ 85-year-old grandmother, Nancy Stuart; and his 34-year-old brother-in-law, H.W. Marsh, a fact that confirms Mary’s maiden name.



So let’s go back a little more, back to the 1900 Census, in which we have 32-year-old James Ratcliff and family living in Mobile — there’s wife Mary, 28; daughter Olga, 10; son Ernest, 3; son Ferny, 2 months; and grandmother Nancy Stewart, 75 (notice the difference in spelling of her last name from the 1910 Census).

Interestingly, though, there’s also a six-year-old daughter named Mamie, who isn’t mentioned in any other Census record for the family, or by Ted himself in his History Makers interview. Did she die shortly after the 1900 document was transcribed, and before Theodore Roosevelt Radcliff(e) was born?

Also of interest is the fact that there’s also a 55-year-old woman named Eliza Bennett living as a servant in a separate home in Mobile. Is this Ted’s grandmother (and James’ mother)?

After (or, I suppose, before) that, things get somewhat murky — actually, very murky. Nailing down James Ratcliff (Ted’s dad) in Wilcox County via documents has proven difficult. There is, for example, a sharecropper named James Ratcliff listed in an 1880 Census report of agricultural production in the town of Canton in Wilcox County; he rents a total of 60 acres that produced a whopping $100 in products.


But is that James Ratcliff listed in that farm report the same one who fathered Double Duty Radcliffe? That’s highly unlikely, given that, using later documentation, Ted’s father would have been around 12 in 1880.

And in an 1870 report on agricultural production in Clifton, Wilcox County, there’s a a farmer named Jake Ratcliff; “Jake” is sometimes used as a nickname for “James.” So is this Jake Ratcliff the same as the James Ratcliff in the 1880 farm document? I’m just not sure yet.

Further, regarding Elizabeth Bennett — Ted’s grandmother and James’ mother — the 1870 and 1880 Census reports includes a slew of African-American Bennetts. But again, connecting any of those Bennett families to Elizabeth (or Eliza?) Bennett — and therefore James and Ted Radcliff(e) — will prove tricky, especially because, so far in my research, I’ve found a familial spider web of connections to women named Elizabeth Bennett in both Wilcox County and Mobile.

I also need to research more extensively Mary Marsh’s background and her ancestral roots, a process I’ve really only just begun. However, just like Double Duty’s paternal side of the family, there were slaveowners named Marsh in Wilcox County pre-war, and there are numerous African-American Marshes listed in Wilcox County post-emancipation.

That’s enough for this post, and in a follow-up article, I’ll try to delve a little more into the hazy picture in Wilcox County and attempt to further discern Double Duty Radcliffe’s family tree. But here’s what I believe so far:

Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe can trace his entire family tree back to slaves in Wilcox County, including those owned by Leonidas Ratcliff and HIS ancestors (and they owned dozens of them). Leonidas Ratcliff was originally from North Carolina, and he seems to have purchased and/or brought slaves with him to Wilcox County, Ala., from several states, including both Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama and possibly Mississippi.


I also believe that the Jake and James Ratcliffs listed in the 1870 and 1880 agriculture reports, respectively, are one and the same person, and that that man is Double Duty’s grandfather and that Ted’s father, James, is actually a Junior, the son of Jake/James Ratcliff, who himself was no doubt originally a slave owned by Leonidas and family.

Finally, Elizabeth Bennett is both a sphinx and a key to much of Double Duty’s genealogy, and unraveling that mystery will be quite a challenge.

But, onward and upward …!

Edward Stone found!!! But, of course …


The good news: I think I’ve found the long-lost burial location of Negro League outfielder and Wilmington, Del., native Ed Stone, at long last, after a pursuit that included several blog posts (like this one and this one) and this article in Delaware Today magazine.

The short of it: Ed Stone is buried, of all places, the relatively small town of Butler, N.J., at Mount Holiness Memorial Park. That’s the good news. The bad news: as is so tragically often the case with segregation-era black ballplayers, his grave is unmarked.

Now, how I found this out and the details … If you’ll notice on the first blog post link I included about, I recently received a terse comment from Ed Stone’s son, Russell: “Ed Stone is in Butler, N.J.”

I’ve since emailed Russell Stone several times for more information and to try to talk but have yet to receive a response.

So I resorted to calling all of the cemeteries in Butler, N.J., and that tactic brought my a massive and fortuitous amount of luck. A staffer there checked the cemetery’s records, and found two Edward Stones there: one who died in 1967, and one who died on March 20, 1983.

And that’s him, because it jibes with Social Security death information that says he died in March 1983 in the community of Long Island City in the Bronx. The Social Security information lists his birthdate as Aug. 21, 1909, and that his SS number was issued before 1951 in New Jersey.

Again, that jibes with what we already knew about Edward Stone — he lived much of his life, both during his playing career and after, in New Jersey (mainly Newark), and he spent his last years and died in NYC.

Now, according to the records at Mount Holiness cemetery in Butler, the Ed Stone buried there who died in March 1983 had a middle name name of Daniel — Ed “Ace” Stone’s father’s name. This Ed Stone passed away in NYC, where an NYC funeral home handled the arrangements. Stone’s body was then shipped to Butler, where the existing plot is owned by Susan Stone and has one person left in it.

And the grave is unmarked.

But now the question is this: Why in the world would a man who lived in the Big Apple (as well as other large cities like Newark earlier in his life) be buried in … Butler, N.J.? Butler is a town of just over 7,500 in the northeast corner of Morris County with an African-American population of just over 1 percent. Butler is about 33 miles west of the Bronx, and Morris County is located in north central New Jersey. Its county seat is Morristown.

So we have a big breakthrough, but lingering questions remain — namely, why Butler? Ancestry.com does have a few city directory pages and public records indexes that list an Edward Stone in various towns in Morris County, but that’s all I’ve found so far.

The mission now, as has always been the case: talk to direct family members, namely Russell and/or Susan Stone. The quest is ever ongoing …

‘I know I’m elated’


As is often the case with long-gone African-American players who are beneficiaries of the nationally known Negro League Baseball Grave Marker Project, it took some doing on part of project volunteers to find a relative or descendant of Clarence “Waxey” Williams.

But Harrisburg activist Calobe Jackson Jr. did it. He found Mrs. Elaine Williams Barker in the Lancaster, Pa., area. Waxey, a catcher who died in 1934 in Atlantic City and is buried in an unmarked grave there (at the time there were apparently financial difficulties getting his body back to his hometown of Harrisburg), is Mrs. Barker’s great uncle on her mother’s side.

Clarence is currently high on the NLBGMP list, and with Jackson coordinating the effort on the Harrisburg end and baseball history enthusiast Michael Everett working diligently to raise funds on the New Jersey end, the project to give Waxey a burial stone — and, at long last, dignity in death — is moving swiftly along.

NLBGMP officials and volunteers would obviously prefer if relatives of the beneficiary player could be present at the grave marker dedication ceremony, and it looks like that might happen with the discovery of Elaine Barker.

And, she says, if the Waxey grave marker effort does come to fruition, she might not be the only one of Clarence’s kinsfolk there for the ceremony.

“I’d like to be there if there’s nothing pressing I have to do,” she says. “I’d like to be there and bring lots of family members.”

She says the second sentence with a laugh, subdued but still gleeful. Elaine says she knew she had a famous baseball player in her family tree — she actually read up on Waxey and discovered a great deal online — but she wasn’t aware of the anonymity of his final resting place in Atlantic City.

“I didn’t realize he didn’t [have a grave marker],” she says. “Calobe told me that [Clarence] did live in Atlantic City, but I didn’t know the specifics of his burial.”

Mrs. Barker said she never knew Waxey Williams personally, but just from what she read about him.

“Oh no,” she says when asked if she had met him. “He was dead long before I was born. The only things I know are what I’ve read in books and online.”

Baseball seems to run in the Williams’ family’s blood. Another earlier relative, Robert Williams, was also a pretty good ballplayer, Elaine says, as was her own father.

But Waxey was the star of the family, the supreme defensive backstop with the colorful personality, quirky personally history and a penchant for boosting his team’s morale and getting under the skin of their opponents. The fans in the stand always loved to see Waxey take the field — although some fans, possibly spurred on by racism, grew to loathe Clarence Williams and his antics.

But love him or hate him at the time, Waxey Williams certainly made his mark on baseball history.
“That really makes me know that we have someone interesting in the family,” she says. “It makes me feel good to have someone who was a famous ballplayer.”

Mrs. Barker says she’s grateful that the NLBGMP and its volunteers are working diligently to honor her great uncle.

“I’m really looking forward to this,” she says. “The kids are elated, and I know I’m elated.”

For more posts I’ve written about Waxey Williams, go here and here.

NLBM: Thriving again and looking to the future


You remember a few years ago when the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City was consumed in both controversy and red ink thanks largely to the mismanagement of a prior administration, which inexplicably tried to shift the institution’s focus away from its founder and spiritual heart and soul, Buck O’Neil?

Well, those days are in the past, according to current NLBM President Bob Kendrick, who tells this blogger that after an aggressive blitz of fundraising, some serious financial belt-tightening and a general righting of the ship, things appear to have turned around for the once-besieged institution.

Such progress is especially significant now given that 2015 marks the 25th anniversary of the NLBM. While Kendrick stresses that museum administrators and supports are fighting a never-ending battle to keep the facility in the black, things are almost assuredly looking up, with the launching of several new initiatives, displays and promotions in the offing in the very near future.

“We have effectively stabilized museum finances having posted four consecutive years of operating in the black,” Kendrick says. “But there’s still much to be done. We feel that we’ve just scratched the surface over our first 25 years of operation in terms of the number of people we can reach and the impact we can have as an international institution.

“In our world you are always in fundraising mode,” he adds. “We are now looking strategically at how we secure the long-term future of the NLBM through the establishment of an operating endowment. Work also continues on the exciting expansion of the NLBM to build the Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center at the site of the Paseo YMCA, the birthplace of the Negro Leagues.”

The Buck O’Neil Center seems to be a key, and quite ambitious, component of the museum’s outreach and research efforts, especially because it’s being constructed at the site of such an historic event, the day Rube Foster and a handful of other visionaries got together at that YMCA to launch the first Negro National League for the 1920 season.

The founding of the first NNL was arguably the most significant event in black baseball history, because it created the first sustained, long-lasting and successful attempt at forming a circuit of African-American baseball teams.

There are signs that the country is again starting to pay attention to the NLBM — after many in the media and the baseball community had all but given up on it — is this USA Today article that lists the museum as one of the 10 non-ballpark baseball attractions every fan of the American pastime must attend.


So we have increased recognition, new vitality and the launching of the Education and Research Center. But those are only a few signs of the NLBM’s newly established vision for the future, Kendrick says. There’s much more coming.

“This year, the NLBM is celebrating its 25th anniversary, and we have focused our programming to tout this milestone anniversary,” he asserts. “We’re continuing to challenge ourselves to create dynamic and broad-based programming that educates but also expands our reach.

“We just opened a new, free temporary 25th-anniversary exhibit entitled ‘Silver Slugging Memories,’” he adds. “The exhibit takes a fascinating look back at how the NLBM grew from a one-room office to become ‘America’s National Negro Leagues Baseball Museum,’ and the many milestones and memories that occurred over that time span. It’s been quite a journey for a museum that no one gave any chance of succeeding.

“We’re also beginning work on a new traveling exhibit, ‘Barrier Breakers,’ that will debut in 2016. The exhibit will chronicle black and Hispanic baseball players who broke their respective MLB team’s color lines.

“In addition, we’ll remain very active in building cooperative relationships with both Major- and Minor-League teams and exploring the opportunity to build permanent satellite exhibits in cities that had significant Negro League history.”

That, to say the least, is quite the formidable challenge. The ambitiousness of such a far-reaching — historically, geographically, financially and outreach-wise — is definitely daunting.

But to me, an effort to connect with minor-league teams is a welcome and much-needed endeavor, because while much of the African-American baseball story and research has traditionally focused on the segregation, then integration of the Major Leagues.

However, the fact is that the strictly-enforced Jim Crowism of the American pastime encapsulated all of “organized baseball,” including the minor-league systems that fed the Major League teams.

And when the integration of the sport did occur, it took place initially in the minor leagues — with Jackie Robinson playing for the Montreal Royals in 1946. And many of the players from the Negro Leagues and Latin America who were recruited to break the color barrier by the various MLB teams received their first seasoning in organized baseball via the minors.

It’s also vital that we celebrate the players (and managers) who integrated the various minor-league circuits that dotted the American landscape at every level of player — figures like NOLA’s own Herb Simpson, who, while he never made it to the Majors, remains a crucial part of the history of hardball integration when he became the first African American to play in not one, but two minor league circuits.

On top of that, numerous current minor league teams celebrate Negro League baseball and the history of African-Americans in the sport, much like every Major League team does.

Another cool thing the NLBM has started is the Hall of Game, which inducts players and other figures who have contributed significantly to the legacy of the Negro Leagues and who embody the spirit of the legends of the past.

And that remains the crux of the NLBM’s existence — keeping the memory alive.

“At the forefront of existence is to ensure that the legacy of the Negro Leagues plays on long after there are no players left to attest to the scope and magnitude of what these leagues represented both on-and-off the field,” Kendrick says.

“Our job as a cultural institution is to not only preserve the history but continue to develop creative and innovative ways to make this history relevant to an ever-changing generation of young learners.

“We’ve built a great attraction over the course of our first 25 years,” he concludes. “Now we’ve set our sites on securing the future of the NLBM while establishing an international headquarters for Negro Leagues and social history.

“Oh, and along that journey is our ambitious goal to become the preeminent cultural institution in the world. Like the Kansas City Monarchs, we want to be the ‘Talk of the Town…All Over the World!’”

Can the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum achieve that goal? We’ll have to see. But the fact that it manage to survive near death and come back from the brink of shuttering its doors arguably stands as a testimony to the resilience of its administration and supporters, who come from all over the country and the globe.

For more information on the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, check out its Web site and its Facebook page.

An intro to Double Duty

Radcliffe, Theodore-Bismarck

Photo courtesy Negro Leagues Baseball Hall of Fame

OK, back online again, hopefully. Got a few things to serve up over the next week or so, including research into the family history of the great Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe, about whom I’m writing a story for a newspaper in Mobile, Ala., his hometown.

I’ve already made some interesting discoveries along those lines, but before I dig into the nitty gritty, I just had to do a post about a lengthy interview Ted gave in 2001 for The History Makers, because the interplay between Ted and the interviewer is by turns hilarious, sarcastic, poignant and just plain fun.

The conversation really reveals what a character Double Duty was and puts on display his wildly colorful, brash and endearing personality. There were more than a couple points in the interview that had me laughing out loud. The man had brass ones, that’s for sure.

There’s a few notes to make before digging in. One, I left the language intact, including the n-word, because I think it helps portray the man, his time and his personality.

Two, it might be hard to read about how he felt about Ernie Banks, given that Mr. Cub recently passed. But again, Ted’s thoughts reveal what’s in his mind and his own view of the world and the people in it.

Third, this is a long post, largely because it was a lengthy interview and there are so many great nuggets in it.

Fourth, I personally found a little bit of hypocrisy in how Ted bragged a fair deal about how much money he demanded and received as a player and then how he severely criticizes today’s players for essentially doing the same thing, only on a much larger scale.

Finally, Double Duty’s comments are quite frequently, for this day and age, decidedly un-PC. His views on women, especially, reflect the personality and uniqueness of a man who was born in 1902 — many, many decades ago. In many ways he viewed women as sexual objects, and his comments about men and women do make you wonder what his thoughts were on homosexuality and the evolution of gender roles in today’s society.

He also, at one point, talks about how he was happily married to a wonderful woman for 60-plus years, then brazenly brags about his numerous adulterous sexual exploits throughout his career. All in all, then, it can be a difficult read at times. But that’s Double Duty, uncensored and unvarnished.

So, as a way to return to active blogging and to hopefully brighten your day, I give you some of the best quotes from Ted Radcliffe’s 2001 interview with The History Makers …

On growing up in Mobile:

“I remember when I was in Mobile … we lived right next to a field — two doors from a field. We used to play ball day and night. We used to soak a ball in kerosene all day and play with it. … So we could see it at night. … We’d light it and play with it. We had gloves on to catch it. And we’d play too.”

“I never worked on no boats. I never worked in Mobile. I used to hustle round the railroad station … A friend of mine was working down there and they carried me down there to make … two or three dollars a day. Which was good money then. But I ain’t never had a job in my life. … I don’t know what work is. … I didn’t work on no banana boat, none of those places. Because I had too much sense.”

On his playing prowess:

“And then I went to the coast. And I started to play. And I played twelve years on the coast. We played every big league … player you could name. Ted Williams — we whipped them all. And they recognized me. … “[E]verybody wanted Double Duty back then. Everybody wanted me.”

“Illinois Giants had … all nations here. White, colored and Chinese. I was the only black. But I was hell, I was hell and all of them had to follow me.”

“I did a lot of help for ballplayers. Because I had more guts. And of course I’d ask the white folks for their eye teeth. They didn’t pay me, I’d quit. When I say something, I mean it. I made a good name for myself, I’ll admit that. I’ll admit because I pitched and caught. I was the only man that could pitch and catch.”
“I went down to Cuba. I stayed down there for a year for twenty-five hundred a month. And then when I got … in a position to get what I wanted, I didn’t care where I played. And so they gave me some money.”

“… I beat the best. Some of the best Negro players that ever lived. But I throwed that thing at them. Dance by my music or don’t dance at all. Ain’t that right (laughs)?”

On his predilection for the ladies, beginning with his time playing for the Illinois Giants:

“But there wasn’t no coloreds there but me. And I started going with the white girls. They didn’t bother me. They didn’t bother me. Them white girls come looking for me and I’d be waiting for them (laughs), give them what they wanted.”

“[An agent in San Francisco] was the president. He was the mayor of the town and he ran it. When [Ted and Satchel] said we wanted a girl, he’d get her for us. That’s the truth, because we was up there. Some of the people that wanted to object to us fooling with white women, but he would get them for us anyway. When we’d come, he’d have them in bed waiting for us. I’d say, ‘God bless America.’”

“Listen, how you gonna live with … you can’t live without women. … You can’t live without a woman. A woman can’t live without a man. … A man don’t love women, something wrong with him.”

“They claimed that I had more women than anybody. But I didn’t have them. I’d just tell them … I just put my cards on the table. You understand. And tell them what I wanted. I got it. Ain’t that right, partner?”

“[Jackie] was as nice a fellow God ever put breath in. He was a nice man. He was a gentleman. But he always wanted me to get him wom- … he didn’t have enough nerve. He didn’t have nerve like me. I said, ‘Come here …’ I’d called her one — I called her a bitch in a minute. I’d say, ‘Come here bitch.’ And she’d come. And she come there and come there. I said, ‘I want you to get this other girl and wait downstairs.’ She’d be waiting when I come there. And I’d take them on to the hotel (laughs).”

On a related note — why he liked Bill Clinton:

“Because he liked women. … Didn’t I tell the truth? [as the interviewer laughs]. … But you know one thing. I met Clinton twice … He is a nice man, him and his wife. And she stuck with him. because most of them would have left him. And she’s still with them. He’s a good man. But he loves his women. He wanted some outside. He wanted to test the field (laughs).”

On his ability and renown as a manager:

“Oh I was responsible for everything. But when I said something, I meant it because they knew I’d let them go. When I speak, I don’t speak but once. I tell them what I want. I got to have it. If the owners don’t back me, I’d leave the team. … [Y]ou’re boss and you put me in to manage a team. … I say something, I’ve got the last word. And when I say something, if you don’t back me up, I don’t fool with you.”

On specific players:

“When I played against Ty Cobb when he went to Cuba in ’25, and I was playing down there. he came down there. And he tried to steal second, I throwed him out both times. he quit. He said, ‘I ain’t gonna play against no nigger. Ain’t no nigger gonna throw me out.’ I said, ‘Well you ain’t gonna run no more. And I won’t have a chance to throw you out.’ I said. ‘Every time you run I’m gonna throw your ass out.’ …

“He was a hatred. He didn’t like coloreds. He was a racist. And I was gonna throw his ass out if he ran. …”

“Satchel was a great pitcher. He was a nice man too. But he was ignorant. You had to talk to him because he didn’t like white folks. He’d fight in a minute. But he could pitch.”

“Look, now … Jackie wasn’t the best ball boy be we gotta [unclear] he the best baseball player. We had some ballplayers better than Jackie. I caused Jackie playing ball. Because Jackie was getting ready to go into medical school. But I got him to play.”

“Jackie was a good ballplayer and he was a gentleman. But he loved women, but he didn’t have no nerves. He always wanted me to get them.”

“I wouldn’t of scouted [Ernie Banks]. No, because he didn’t do enough for coloreds. See, he only worked for white folks. He was born in Texas and he showed he was a Southern Negro. But all of the rest of the ballplayer[s] cooperated. But Banks never cooperated. Even though he’s a good friend of mine. But he stayed his distance and I stayed mine. And, you know, if they don’t do right, I don’t want them. If you can’t help your people, you can’t help nobody. Can you? If you don’t help your people … now, any colored organization I donate my time to for them now. But I ain’t gonna donate none for no white man, because he then made enough money without doing that.”

“And [the Cubs] asked me about Ernie Banks because I played against him for a year. I told them the truth. He was a good ballplayer. But he never did nothing for his people. That’s the only thing that hurt me. He never did nothing for his people.”

On his philosophy as a backstop:

“You had to know the hitters. … [Y]ou study a hitter when you’re playing pitching and catching. And you know what they like best. High or low … if they like high baseball, you come inside on them or outside with a curve ball. You know. You use some psychology on them. And they that say I was the smartest catcher that ever lived. And I thank them for it because I used to talk to them and make them feel good and then throw somethin’ at them.”

On the modern-day ballplayer:

“I see things that never happened when I pitched. Some ballplayers … don’t give all out. Some of them don’t hustle. When a ball gets by, they walk at it almost. When a ball got by a ballplayer in my day, they hustled more than they did before it got to them. But it’s different now — it’s money now. If you ain’t giving them money, you don’t get nothing.”

“But some of them don’t hustle like they used to. If they get to make a name for themself now … they get some money, they don’t care. They give some ballplayers … ain’t no ballplayer worth no million dollars a year! Ain’t no ballplayer … I wouldn’t give a son-of-bitch over a hundred thousand, I don’t care who he was. If you can’t live off a hundred thousand, you couldn’t live. You used to live off five thousand, didn’t you? They just making things go up more. A ballplayer ain’t worth that kind of money.”

General thoughts on life, beginning with why he left the Illinois Giants for greener pastures:

“Because it was more money. It takes money to make you happy don’t it? … Don’t money make you happy? … I made good money all my life. Thank God.”

“I never fool with a low class person.”

“[Baseball] made it good for me. It made a name for me and I’m proud of it. I made a good living all of my life. And I’m well respected today. Some people forget about players. But they don’t forget about players like me. They still think about me, because I could do something.”

“… I wouldn’t have been [good] without [God’s] help. I don’t believe I could have did it without God’s help. Because I’ve been in situations pitching and catching all over the world, where I come out ahead. So it must be good to me. God has been good to me, and I thank him. I thank God for being good to me.”

“That’s life, ain’t it? Huh? Anywhere you live and be happy you’re living good. Ain’t that right? Ain’t that right?”

Rough week getting better

I greatly apologize that I haven’t posted anything for a while … It’s been something of a rough week on this end — story deadlines, health issues, personal matters, etc.

However, I do plan on catching up greatly next week, got a bunch of things brewing … Dave Malarcher, Ducky Davenport, Ed Stone, the NLBM … for starters, hopefully.

So keep checking back — I’ll post stuff as soon as I can, a`nd thanks for your patience!

Tulane pigskin coach honors Negro Leagues father


All photos courtesy of the Curtis Johnson Family Archives

Curtis Johnson Jr. loved baseball. He wanted to play it as long as he could, largely because his father, Curtis Johnson Sr., nicknamed “Colt,” pursued the American pastime and loved it wholeheartedly.

In fact, Curtis Sr. was so good that he played for the legendary Kansas City Monarchs in 1950; in April of that season, for example, he took the mound for the royals against the San Antonio Aztecs and went the distance, limiting the Texas aggregation to seven scattered hits in nine shutout innings in Kaycee’s 13-0 victory.

“He was very, very proud of it,” Curtis Johnson Jr. says of his dad’s professional baseball career. “He talked about the outstanding gentlemanship [in the Negro Leagues]. Just the way they dressed and acted as an organization.”

Curtis Jr., a New Orleans native like his father, played both football and baseball as a youth, following in his father’s footsteps.

“I loved baseball,” Curtis Jr. says. “I was actually a better baseball player than football player.”
But an injury in his junior year at St. Charles High School sadly cut short Junior’s hardball career, and he ended up focusing on pigskin.

“My father was heartbroken when I went to football,” he says. “His whole thing was baseball.”
Of course, things ended up turning well for Curtis Jr. — he went on to star on the gridiron for the University of Idaho, where he graduated in 1985 with a bachelor’s in physical education.

He then launched a coaching career that flowed through San Diego State, SMU, Cal, the University of Miami and ultimately as wide receivers coach on his hometown New Orleans Saints’ NFL championship in 2009.

Johnson’s success mentoring football players in general and wideouts in particular then landed him the job as head football coach right here at Tulane, where he immediately began the rebuilding process of a moribund program.

Curtis Johnson Sr. also enjoyed a fulfilling, stellar life. After suiting up for the Monarchs, Senior attended and pitched for Grambling, where he arguably achieved his greatest baseball fame. Johnson Sr. was also a terror at the plate, combining clutch hitter with surprising power. In May 1953, for example, Johnson joined with two other Grambling pitchers to hurl a no-hitter in a 9-2 triumph over Houston-Tillotson; a month earlier he had crushed a home run a Tigers doubleheader thrashing of Arkansas State.


Receiving an award with the legendary Buck O’Neil

While Johnson was at GU, the Tigers became an HBCU national powerhouse, so much so that, after he departed in 1953, Grambling fell into a funk because it had lost one of its best pitchers — in fact, the Tigers had excelled in 1953 largely because of possibly the best HBCU pitching corps in the country.

So where did Curtis Johnson Sr. go after leaving Grambling? Oh, just the New York Yankees system.

Yep, Johnson became one of the first African-American players signed by the Yanks, a major league team that was trying to erase a reputation of being recalcitrant on integration.

Curtis Sr. viewed it as an opportunity of a lifetime, says his son.

“For my father, the Monarchs were the black equivalent of the Yankees,” Johnson Jr. says. “They were a championship team like the Yankees. That was the reason he signed with the Yankees when they invited him, because of his time with the Monarchs.”

While Curtis Johnson Sr. never made it all the way to The Show — Elston Howard, of course, became the first African-American to suit up for the big-league club — he spent several years playing for the Yankees’ minor league teams, including being one of five black players in the NYY system in 1957 and one of eight two years later.

Curtis Johnson Senior

After retiring from his pro career and coming back to Louisiana, Curtis Sr. continued to stay active in baseball, especially as a member of the city’s Old Timer’s Club, a group of former Negro Leaguers organized by local legend Walter Wright. He frequently played in the club’s annual all-star reunion game at Wesley Barrow Stadium, even earning game MVP honors twice.

He was also a member of the world-famous Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club.

But Curtis Sr.’s impact on Louisiana life wasn’t limited to baseball. Johnson Jr. says what his father was perhaps most proud of was becoming the first African-American councilperson in St. Charles Parish, where he represented St. Rose from 1988-2000.

“He would say that was one of the highest points of his life,” Johnson Jr. says.

Over those dozen years on the St. Charles Parish council, Curtis Sr. earned the respect of his peers, who all lauded how hard he worked for the people who elected him. When he died suddenly of a heart attack in January 2004, Johnson was fondly remembered by his colleagues in civic service.

“His purpose in life was to help people,” former parish councilman Ellis Alexander told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “If you talk to a lot of people about Curtis, I bet every one of them would tell you that he was known for helping people.”

Added Hahnville resident Joan Becnel: “He was a very conscientious elected official. He really worked hard to serve the people of his district.”

And this from then-parish CAO Tim Vial: “One of the things about Curtis is that he was not a person who sought credit for his accomplishments, but his comfort came in knowing that he did something to help make it better for people.”


Still, despite his undeniable impact on political and social life in the region, a big part of Curtis Johnson Sr. still longed for his playing days, including his time with the Monarchs, says Johnson Jr.

“He was so extremely proud of it,” the Tulane football coach says. “It was one of the fondest experiences of his life.”

And it was just relishing his own glory days that was important for Curtis Johnson Sr. — it was also passing on his passion for the national pastime.

“It was one of those things he was just so adamant about,” says his son. “He wanted baseball to resonate with young kids today. he wanted to champion that call, to get young black kids into baseball.”

A (belated) review of the reunion

I had been really hoping last week that I could attend the sixth annual Negro Leagues reunion in Birmingham, which was held May 25-27, just about six weeks before the scheduled grand opening of the state-of-the-art, interactive museum dedicated to all levels of African-American baseball, from the talent-laden and fiercely competitive industrial leagues on up to the legendary Birmingham Black Barons Negro American League team that was the jewel of deep South blackball.

However, unfortunate fiduciary limitations prevented me from making the trek from NOLA to the reunion, which was attended by 70-plus former players, coaches and executives. It included attendance at the 20th annual Rickwood Classic.

But although I couldn’t be there in person, I just spoke last night with Macon, Ga., native  and current Birmingham resident Ernest Fann, who spent several years playing pro and semi-pro ball in the Negro Leagues circa 1960. During his stint in the blackball big time, Fann played for, among other squads, the Raleigh Tigers, about whom I’m writing a story for the Raleigh News & Observer newspaper.

(Because of my story on the Tigers, I had also interviewed Sam Allen of Norfolk, Va., who played for the team in 1958-59. I wrote a couple posts here and here about my conversations with Sam.)

Following up on my chat with Ernest Fann and on the players reunion last week in Birmingham, I just wanted to write a little bit about Ernest’s thoughts on the event last week.

Ernest has been going to these reunions for several years, and for the last couple years he’s been able to help out with pulling it together — he offered to drive fellow attendees around the city.

“The reunion went great,” he told me. “Every year, I get a chance to volunteer to drive players around and make them feel comfortable while they’re in town.”

Ernest said he’s encouraged by all the youngsters who attend the reunions and get a chance to talk with former Negro Leaguers about the players’ experiences on and off the diamond.
“It’s good for them to know who we are and what we did,” he said. “It’s a good chance to educate the kids.”

Ernest always gets thrill going to the Rickwood Classic, when he gets a chance to return to the legendary ballpark where, many years ago, he had one of his greatest experiences — playing there for the first time. Being at Rickwood, he said, is a truly unique, even magical experience.

“I had the opportunity to walk around the stadium and see all the history and pictures and plaques,” he said. “I wanted to be a part of something like that.”

I’m working on getting some photos from the reunion to post, so keep checking back. I can’t guarantee it, but I’ll see what I can do. 🙂