Ask a Negro Leaguer Column

Week of September 14, 2005

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Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe

Hey Joe: Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe died August 11 here in Chicago at the ripe age of 103. As you know, Radcliffe earned his nickname by playing both pitcher and catcher -- sometimes on the same day. Did you ever play against him? Can you give us a story about him that we can't find in his obituary page?

Thomas Francis, Chicago, Illinois

Oftentimes I've wondered: "Who didn't know 'Double-Duty'?" Because wherever he landed, his mark was always left there. Regarding me playing against him -- in all honesty, I did. But at the time, he was old as dirt. Such historical moment occurred in July of 1950. Information documenting the occasion was contained in a newspaper, which I received recently from South Bend, Indiana. Found in a section of its sports column, among other sports activities of the day, were two box scores of a baseball contest between the Memphis Red Sox and the Chicago American Giants. Revealed was that "Duty" went two for five and I did likewise for Memphis in a game we won 10 to 4.

Before it, which was my first time playing against the Chicago American Giants, I was completely unfamiliar with "Double-Duty." Obviously, especially after the game, he remembered me. Upon his team's visit to Memphis, he found my room at Martin's Stadium and informed me that the New York Giants had purchased the contract of Willie Mays from the Birmingham Black Barons. He then asked me to come with him to Canada. "Duty," at his advanced age then, joined by numerous other black players, was representative of enormous durability. Had Jackie Robinson not joined the Dodgers at age 29, which created positions for blacks in the white baseball system, players like myself -- unless very special -- would've caught particular hell trying to land a job in the Negro Leagues. These guys were forerunners to guys like Julio Franco, the Atlanta Braves first baseman.

Hey Joe: What is your opinion on the designated hitter?

J. Marsh, Neola, Iowa

Pinch hitters in certain instances have been a lifelong component of baseball. But I've known of pitchers and regular players that took being lifted for a pinch hitter as a personal insult. Since baseball has become so dramatically streamlined, showbiz is the name of the game. However, unlike most original Negro Leaguers who played well beyond their youthful years, designated hitters -- in reference to money -- make more for doing less.

Prince Joe Henry, one of professional baseball's original "clowns," was an all-star infielder for Negro League baseball teams in Memphis, Indianapolis and Detroit throughout the 1950s. But up until the late 1940s, Prince Joe didnt know anything about the Negro Leagues. His knowledge of organized baseball was limited to the Cardinals and Browns games he attended during his preteen years at Sportsmans Park, accompanied by lifelong buddy Eugene "Gene" Crittendon, who could pass for white.

Perhaps Henrys most vivid memory of those games: Upon entry, white ushers would politely escort the boys to a small section of the left-field stands reserved for "Colored." After climbing past several tiers of bleachers, theyd arrive at their stop, rows and rows behind their white counterparts.

Even at a young age, the boys were conscious of the double standard -- and determined to vent their disdain. The opportunity would arise with the urge to urinate. Rather than head for the latrine, the boys would edge their way to the front of the section and let fly. As the liquid foamed its way down the concrete steps toward the white kids, Henry and his pal would ease back and relax, politely rooting for the visiting team to beat the hell out of the Browns or the Cards.

After all, Henry and Crittendon hailed from Brooklyn, Illinois, a small, predominantly black township just east of the Mississippi River. So hospitable were the residents of Brooklyn that they were known to take in a rank stranger, treat him to breakfast, lunch, supper and a night out on the town -- and afterward, if he messed up, treat him to a good ass-whippin'.

Direct questions on any and all topics to [email protected]. If we don't like yours, we'll hit Joe with our own.

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