"Double Duty" Radcliffe
Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe
KYLE P. McNARY
special people in Double Duty's life who passed away during the writing
of this book: Double Duty's wife, Alberta Radcliffe. Teammates and opponents
in baseball--Marlin Carter, Jimmie Crutchfield, Ray Dandridge, Saul Davis,
Joe Desiderato, Howard Easterling and Quincy Trouppe.
1. Introducing Double
Cliff "Rube" Chambers, major-league pitcher, 1948-1953.
Baseball has always been it for me the game I have never tired of playing or watching. One of the most vivid memories of my childhood is the first World Series I ever watched, the 1975 classic between the Boston Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds. Since I learned to read 20-some years ago, I have devoured everything I could get my hands on concerning baseball history. I thought I knew everything about baseball. I was wrong.
In 1990 I came across a newspaper article about Negro League baseball and it suddenly struck me that I really knew only half of baseball's story. I went to my local library and read every book concerning Negro League baseball available there were three. Still hungry for information, I wrote to every library and historical society in the country for any and all material concerning Negro League baseball. Every boxscore I received, every article, every photograph, was a small piece to a huge puzzle.
One magazine article I received was a 40-year-old interview with Satchel Paige. In the article Paige talked of "the greatest team I ever played for," a Bismarck, North Dakota semipro team in 1935. Having lived in Bismarck as a child my interest was sparked. With further research I learned that besides Paige, Bismarck boasted Negro League stars Quincy Trouppe, Red Haley, Hilton Smith, Barney Morris and Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe. My interest was sparked even more. I needed to know more about this team tucked away in the corn fields and I decided to travel to Bismarck to uncover the true story for myself. A few weeks before I was to leave for North Dakota, an acquaintance, who knew of my interest in the Negro Leagues, came across Double Duty's home address and offered it to me.
I wrote to Double Duty with questions concerning the Bismarck baseball team and did not expect a reply. (In the past four years I have written letters to over 200 former and current players, officials, politicians and celebrities less than 10 have responded!) In two weeks a hand-written letter came to my house from Double Duty. It read:
I got your letter today. Always glad to hear from people like you. Satchel and I were born in Mobile, Alabama. He and I played together for more than 30 years. I am the oldest player living today. I would like for you to call me and I can explain things to you. Call me at 12 o'clock at night or Sunday morning. I wish you luck. Excuse the paper, I'm almost out of it.
Smiles, Double Duty
I called Double Duty a few days later, at midnight, from a Bismarck hotel, and introduced myself. A deep voice with a lisp answered: "McNary? From Minneapolis? How you doing?"
Over the next half-hour I snuck in a sentence or two, but mostly I sat back and listened to a man tell me who the greatest ballplayer of all-time was: himself. I was thoroughly entertained and yet I couldn't help thinking to myself, "If he was so great, why haven't I heard of him?" After talking on the phone a few more times and hitting it off well, Double Duty asked me if I would like to write the story of his life, "Everyone would want to read it, don't you think?" he explained.
I was thrilled by his offer and was soon arranging for Double Duty and two of his closest friends, ex-Negro League stars Bobby Robinson and Lester Lockett, to travel to Minneapolis to work on the book.
Around midnight one November evening in 1992 I was waiting at the train depot for Double Duty and company to arrive from Chicago and thinking to myself, "How am I going to entertain three old men? I won't know what to say. What could I have in common with them?"
I quickly realized when Double Duty came off the train, followed by one hundred other passengers talking about "Satchel Paige's catcher," that Double Duty isn't entertained - he does the entertaining!
These three men were a joy to be around for the next 10 days. Lester Lockett, 83 at the time, had a constant boyish smile and was the willing target for Double Duty's teasing. Bobby Robinson, 89, was the quiet one, with a lean, muscular body, compliments of a post-baseball bricklaying career from which he had only recently retired. Then there was Double Duty. The first thing I noticed about him was his size. I never truly understood the term "larger than life" until I met Double Duty. He stands five-foot-nine inches, weighs around 250, and his round face has permanent dimples from a lifetime of laughing. It was his personality, though, that filled every room he entered.
Everywhere we went the next week and a half Double Duty stopped and talked, talked, talked to people young and old. He seemed to always have the knack of knowing what to say in each situation.
He sat down next to an 80-year-old woman at a restaurant and they started talking about driving. "Sometimes I drive to my daughter's house and back," the woman explained. Double Duty, ten years the woman's senior, responded, "I drive all over. Last year I drove from Chicago to St. Louis by myself."
Wherever we drove Double Duty also took it upon himself to point out every attractive woman.
"Hey, Bobby. Look at those houses. Aren't they something!"
"Sure are, Duty."
"I remember when I came here in the 40s, none of these houses were here. Oh, would you look at her! Bobby, look at the legs on that girl. Bobby, did you see her?"
With children, though, was when Double Duty was at his best. They followed him around like the pied piper, as he handed out packs of baseball cards for a mere "thank you" or a smile.
Readers may wonder what makes Double Duty's career so special. Why write a book about this man? I wasn't too far into my research before I realized how amazing Double Duty's career really was. Here are a few highlights:
On pitching and catching: According to Baseballistics by Bert Sugar, only five men in the history of major-league baseball have caught and pitched in the same game. Two of these players, Cesar Tovar and Bert Campaneris, accomplished the feat as part of a promotional gimmick in which they played all nine positions in a game. The other three players, Roger Bresnahan, Jeff Newman and Rick Cerone, came from behind the plate to pitch when their managers didn't want to waste a real pitcher in a blowout. Double Duty, on the other hand, was a real pitcher, a real catcher, and pitched and caught in the same game a few hundred times in his career. He pitched and caught because the Negro League teams he played for only carried from 12 to 17 players and each player had to be versatile to keep their jobs. After catching the first seven or eight innings of a game, Double Duty could still go to the mound and get the biggest hitters in black baseball out.
In a poll conducted by the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper in 1952, Double Duty was named as one of the top six catchers in Negro League history and one of the top 20 pitchers!
On longevity: Playing twice as long as most Hall of Famers, 36 years, is hard to put into perspective I'll try. Early in his career Double Duty played against Honus Wagner who started his major-league career in 1897. Toward the end of his career Double Duty played against Willie Mays who retired following the 1973 season. Double Duty played against the sons of slaves and with the fathers of astronauts.
On career statistics: You play 36 years and you're bound to put up some unbelievable career statistics. Double Duty did!: 500 wins and 4000 strikeouts as a pitcher; 4000 hits, 400 homers and 700 doubles as a batter. He had seasons with 20 wins and 20 home runs and at different points in his career led his teams in wins, ERA, homers, RBIs and batting average. He holds numerous records that will never be matched, such as pitching and catching two no-hitters in his career (he actually caught more).
Some might question the competition Negro Leaguers played against day in and day out. It is true that white semipro teams made up a great percentage of Double Duty's competition. But it is also true that conditions Negro Leaguers played in were infinitely tougher than in the majors. Double Duty played as many as five games in one day, had few days off, and for much of his career traveled cramped up in automobiles or buses.It was a common occurrence for Negro Leaguers to travel all night to get to a game, dress in the dugout, then play a game without batting or infield practice.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that many Negro Leaguers performed better against major-leaguers during the slower-paced off-season than in their own hectic league. Double Duty, a lifetime .303 hitter against all competition, belted major-league pitchers at a .403 clip in exhibitions and never lost a decision as a pitcher against major-league all-star teams.
Negro League baseball is a relatively new subject to baseball fans and it's important that the early history of black baseball be understood in order to fully understand Double Duty's career.
According to Sol White's Official Base Ball Guide, the first all-black professional baseball team in the United States was organized in 1885. The team was a group of waiters from New York's Argyle Hotel who played games to entertain hotel guests and spoke gibberish on the field in an attempt to pass themselves off as Spanish-speaking Cubans (as Cubans they stood a better chance of getting games against white teams).
For several years prior to this, blacks had played on amateur teams and a few exceptional players were hired by white minor-league and major-league teams.
In 1882 Moses Fleetwood Walker was a catcher with Toledo in the American Association, then considered a major-league, when they met a team led by Hall of Famer Adrian "Cap" Anson. Anson refused to play unless Walker was removed from the field. The color line was tentatively drawn.
In 1887 there were probably as many as 20 black players on minor and major-league teams when Anson drew the color line in deep, ugly ink. Anson refused to play Newark of the Eastern League because their star pitcher, George Stovey, was black. Word traveled fast through baseball circles and soon the unwritten rule in Organized Baseball was "no blacks allowed." 60 long years would pass before the color line would be erased.
The first successful organized Negro League was born in 1920 when Rube Foster, manager of the Chicago American Giants, and several owners of black teams in the Midwest and South, organized the original Negro National League. Teams included the Kansas City Monarchs, Chicago American Giants, Chicago Giants, Indianapolis ABCs, St. Louis Giants, Detroit Stars, Dayton Marcos and Cuban Stars. It was Foster's vision that a successful Negro League would gain the respect of Organized Baseball and eventually culminate in admission of black teams into the major-leagues.
Foster, as president of the league, went to great lengths to insure the league's strength and he demanded that players behave gentlemanly on and off the field to avoid black baseball getting a bad reputation. If a team in the league was weak, Foster would find them players or give them some of his own players, and J. L. Wilkinson, owner of the Kansas City Monarchs, often loaned money to fellow owners who were having trouble meeting payrolls.
In 1923 the Eastern Colored League was formed among the best black teams on the east coast Atlantic City Bacharachs, Philadelphia Hilldales, New York Lincoln Giants, Baltimore Black Sox, Brooklyn Royal Giants, Homestead Grays. Whereas the teams in the Negro National League lived a cooperative existence, the Eastern League was out for blood. Contracts soon became worthless as Eastern League teams, led by Cum Posey, owner of the Homestead Grays, began raiding Negro National clubs of their stars by offering them more money. Negro League players, their careers being short and tenuous, were usually quick to change teams if offered more money. This was real free agency. Very few star players played on less than five teams in their careers and many played on more than a dozen. Double Duty did things a little bigger than most and wore the uniforms of more than 40 teams in his career seven in one season! One player claimed to have seen Double Duty catch Satchel Paige in the first game of a doubleheader, and then turn around and pitch against him in the second game. I know better than to doubt it.
Both Negro Leagues folded for a few years during the depression and both leagues changed names the Eastern League became the new Negro National League and the original Negro National League became the Negro American League but the relationship between East and West stayed antagonistic into the 1940s.
This book frequently makes reference to classifications of baseball that also need defining:
Organized Baseball: All minor-league and major-league teams. No blacks were allowed to play for these teams from 1887 until 1946 when Jackie Robinson was signed by the minor-league's Montreal Royals. Big-leagues is synonymous with major-leagues.
Negro League baseball: Usually considered to be all-black teams belonging to a formal league such as the Negro National League, Negro American League, Eastern Colored League or Negro Southern League. Black teams that did not belong to any formal league are usually referred to as black traveling teams or black barnstorming teams. These were nomadic clubs that did not belong to any formal league but instead chose to go from one small town to another playing mostly white semi-pro and town teams. For the most part Negro League teams were strong-er than black traveling teams, but not always. Black superstars such as Double Duty, Cristobel Torriente and Luis Tiant played with black traveling teams that rivaled most major-league teams.
Semipro baseball: This is probably the most difficult classification to understand because of the many varied types of these teams. Quite simply, any team that paid its players and was not in Organized Baseball or Negro League baseball was a semipro team black traveling teams were technically semipro teams. Semipro teams were usually sponsored by towns, factories, post offices, shipyards, mills, companies, or in-dividuals. If backed by a huge factory, a semipro team could be of major-league caliber and players could earn more money than many major-leaguers. Other teams had to pass the hat after games to buy gas to get to the next town. Attendance for semipro games ranged from 10 to 10,000.
Semipro baseball, also called "Outlaw Baseball," often hired players shunned by Organized Baseball for offenses ranging from drunkenness to game-fixing. Semipro baseball was also the only class of baseball with integrated teams from 1887 until 1946.
Although it has been said before, it bears repeating: Negro League baseball is a difficult and frustrating topic to research. Despite more than 30 personal interviews with former Negro League players, ump-ires and officials, and the use of more than 40 newspapers, there were facts about the Negro Leagues and Double Duty's career that I could not find. The Negro Leagues of the 1940s and 50s were especially under-reported by "black newspapers" and were usually totally ignored by "white newspapers." On the other hand, several semipro teams that Double Duty played for throughout his career were religiously followed by local newspapers. As a result, some periods in Double Duty's career are chronicled with great detail, while others, unfortunately, are not.
My hope is that by looking at Double Duty's career as a whole you will be able to appreciate the wonderful and unique talents that made Double Duty an all-time great ballplayer and a truly unique character.
This book's format, like Double Duty's career, is different than most. Double Duty's dialogue is intertwined with what I felt was pertinent background information and specific game descriptions, as well as quotes from Double Duty's teammates and opponents. Similar to when Double Duty is entertaining a crowd with baseball stories, it's best to stay out of his way and let him do most of the talking.
Author, Kyle McNary
(Double Duty's diologue in blue)
According to Walter LaFeber, Richard Polenberg and Nancy Woloch in The American Century, black voters in Alabama had dwindled to 3000 in 1904, down from 180,000 only nine years earlier. Societal ignorance, poverty, absence of political power Radcliffe had his work cut out for him.
I was born in Mobile, Alabama on July seventh, 1902. My daddy named me Theodore Roosevelt Radcliffe. For a while people called me Roosevelt but I cut that name loose 'cause I didn't want no president's name. Since I got the name Double Duty in 1932 no one calls me Ted anymore. They all call me Duty.
I weighed nine pounds when I was born I always been healthy. My daddy was a contractor for the shipyard company. He built the houses where the people that made ships lived. I helped him I was a good carpenter. When I got older and he didn't want to give me but a dollar a day I came up to Chicago.
What did my mom do? What's she gonna do with 10 of us? five boys and five girls. Only me and my brother, Ernest, are still alive. He's 98. I see him every other day or so. I had a sister that died a few years back, was 101. I was the seventh kid two sisters and a brother, Alec, under me. Alec was a hell of a third baseman. He could hit! I had another brother, Forney, who played baseball but he quit. He fell in love and wouldn't travel but he could play shortstop! He played until '24.
My grandfather was white and my grandmother was half-Indian and half-black. People didn't want them to stay together but my grandfather would be at home with her every night I remember that. He died when he was 92 and she died when she was 99. Living long runs in my family.
Me, Satchel Paige and Bobby Robinson was all raised up together. Me and Satchel was born five blocks apart in Mobile. Bobby lived in a town called Whistler, just outside Mobile. Satchel was born on the same day as me, July seventh, in 1900 and Bobby was born in 1903. Everyone always wondered when Satchel was born. He'd tell people different birth dates but I know when he was born 'cause he lived right near me. When he went into the majors with the Cleveland Indians in 1948 the papers kept saying he was 42 or 43 but he was really 48.
Now Bobby I swear he's actually older then me. I know he is! He says he was born in 1903 but I know I can remember him carrying me across the street when we were kids. I don't mind, though. I like being the oldest 'cause I can make more money being the oldest.
Me, Satchel and Bobby started playing around together on the lot with a rag ball when we was eight or ten years old. We used to make a rag ball, tie it up with tape, and soak it in kerosene then light it and play night ball with it. Satchel didn't stay out too much because they kept him in a reform school all the time. He didn't get out until he was 17.
Now, Bobby could really play third base! As good as anybody that ever lived. When Bobby came up in the Negro Leagues he was kinda shy. He was only making $150 a month and he would send $100 of that money to his wife every month. He was scared to go to Western Union so I used to go with him. He was a family man and a gentleman all his life. I've seen him with only one woman in his life. I can't say the same for myself! He's high class.
You know who else lived in our neighborhood? Cito Gaston's daddy. We used to call him 'Big Boy' 'cause he was a big heavyset fella he could hit! Hank Aaron's daddy, Billy Williams' daddy, Willie McCovey's daddy we was all raised up together and we all played ball around Mobile. Hank Aaron and Billy Williams' dads are still living. Some of the greatest players came from around Mobile Mudcat Grant, Cleon Jones, Tommy Agee.
I don't remember when I first started to pitch and catch. I think I first started pitching in 1912 when I was ten years old. I always had a good arm. I started catching Satchel and all those big boys when I was 15. I used a big ol' Gabby Hartnett glove. That's right I was Satchel's first catcher and I caught him more than any catcher who ever lived.
The big Mobile team took me and my brother, Forney, when we were just kids. At that time Mobile had quite few teams. There was the Mobile Tigers, the Mobile Brooklyns and the Southern League's Mobile Bears. We were the Mobile Black Bears. And you know, Satchel I'm just thinking about him now we went together to play some game with the Black Bears in Birmingham and we really tore their asses up. Satchel pitched, I caught and hit a home run. They took up a collection and gave us $15. That was a lot of money to us. Someone said, 'That's the best young battery I've ever seen." Hell, that was the best battery in baseball history!
Satchel was wild as a marsh when he started playing. He had me running all over the place trying to catch his pitches. He got great control, though. He practiced 'til he got it right. I had great control, too. Jimmie Crutchfield, one of my best friends, said he never saw anybody with the control I had. That's what all the ballplayers said Lester Lockett and all of 'em.
When I played around Mobile we usually didn't get paid. We got some lemonade or some pecans or something. Sometimes they'd pay for two or three gallons of pop and we'd drink it after the game.
In 1919, when I was 17, me and my brother, Alec, hoboed up to Chicago. Wasn't nothin' doing around Mobile so we got tired of it. My oldest brother who lived in Chicago kept telling us to come up, so we did. I won $18 shooting craps to pay for my trip and me and my brother hoboed up here to Chicago and I've been here ever since.
From 1916 to 1919, thousands of blacks came North to escape the darkness of the oppressive South, hoping to find a land of opportunity. The black population of Chicago nearly doubled in that time. Unfortunately, what most blacks found was not opportunity but a different kind of oppression. In the South blacks were, for the most part, left alone and pushed aside as "half-citizens," but in the North they were forced into battles for their lives.
There may never have been a more violent and frightening time to move to Chicago than in 1919, with race riots that rivaled any in American history. One hot summer day in 1919, a black child swam past an invisible line of segregation at a Chicago public beach. He was stoned and drowned. The violence that followed was to be known as "the red summer" as black and white gangs roamed the streets hunting each other and one riot was so intense that blacks had to be moved from their homes into safety zones until tempers cooled. Teenager Ted Radcliffe managed to stay clear of trouble, though, concentrating on firing fastballs instead of guns.
All my family came up to Chicago right after us and we lived at 3511 Wentworth four blocks from the old White Sox Park, where the Chicago American Giants played.
See, the White Sox had built the park in 1910 and in 1916 the colored started playing in that park and we played there until 1938. Then we went to the big park, Comiskey, when the Sox were out of town. That's the way it was in New York, too. If the Giants were out of town we'd play at the Polo Grounds and if the Yankees were out of town we'd play at Yankee Stadium. We didn't care where we went. We just wanted to play.
My aunt lived right beside White Sox Park on the third floor. We could watch the games out her window for nothin', but most the time we'd go into the park before it opened and hang around until the teams started taking batting practice. We'd go in the outfield and shag fly balls.
When they saw how I could throw they started asking me to pitch batting practice and they'd give me a Coke for my pay. Today they pay a batting practice pitcher thousands of dollars to do what I did but I didn't care. I just wanted to watch all them great players.
Rube Foster was manager of the Chicago American Giants. They had Jelly Gardner, Cristobel Torriente and Jimmy Lyons in the outfield, Bingo DeMoss at second, Dave Malarcher at third, Dave Brown pitching. They were all fast and they could all bunt. Sometimes they'd bunt all the way through the lineup. They could score ten runs and the ball never leaves the infield. Looked like a track meet the way those guys could run.
Rube Foster was a great manager. He would manage from the stands and he always smoked a pipe he would give his players signals by puffing smoke. He was a nice man and I learned a lot about managing by watching him.
Four weeks after I got to Chicago I pitched a game for the Scrub Packing Company against the Armour Stockyard Company. I could throw so hard that them young boys couldnŐt hit me and we beat 'em 12-nothing.
Radcliffe's first introduction to big time black baseball,
played around Chicago that whole summer and the next year, 1920, I started
my professional career.
You know what? Satchel Paige was the greatest pitcher in baseball history and Josh Gibson was the greatest hitter in baseball history and I'm the only man in the history of baseball to hit a homer off Satchel and strike out Josh!
No one played longer than me but Satchel. Cum Posey, the smartest man in Negro baseball said in 1950 that I was the smartest catcher he had seen in 50 years so I must know something.
You know, you gotta have guts to play ball. I played everywhere a black man could play and now I'm going to tell you what it was like.
One might guess that the life of a young black baseball player in the 1920s was a difficult one. It was. It was also a dream come true for most black youngsters with athletic talent. While most laborers, regardless of color, could expect to make little more than a dollar a day, and Southern black farmers earned less than $300 a year, black ballplayers were paid from $50 to $200 a month to travel the country and play the game they held a passion for. The segregation and verbal abuse made things difficult at times but added to the adventure. Pull into a small town, beat the local baseball stars, drive off into the sunset the cowboys of their time.
In 1946 sportswriter Jimmy Powers made this assertion about Jackie Robinson, recently signed by the minor-leagues' Montreal Royals: "Robinson will not make the major-leagues. His is a thousand-to-one shot at best. The Negro League players simply do not have the brains or skill."
Attitudes about black ballplayers were similar in 1920 when Ted Radcliffe started his career only not as enlightened! One St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter wrote in that period that "the time is apparently coming when [baseball] shall be known as the great African game. It is baseball that the descendant of Ham is at his athletic best. Less removed from the anthropoid ape, he gets down on ground balls better, springs higher for liners, has a much stronger and surer grip, and can get in and out of a base on all fours in a way that makes the higher product of evolution look like a bush-leaguer."
It was from this climate of racial ignorance that Theodore Roosevelt Radcliffe spawned one of baseball's most amazing careers.
In 1920 baseball
was making what could be called its last great change. The "dead
ball," which was a bit mushy and didn't travel far, was replaced
with a tightly wound ball built for flight. As a result, playing for one
run was replaced by playing for the big inning led by the King
of the big inning, Babe Ruth. Instead of blooping balls over the infield,
major-leaguers began rolling up their sleeves and attacking the ball
major-leaguers haven't changed since.
Rube Foster's Chicago American Giants were the perfect example of the Negro League style of play. Foster, a charming man off the field, was a driving manager who demanded relentless speed and hustle on the field (Double Duty was similarly described as a manager in the 40s and 50s). During practice Foster would place his hat down near the base lines and have his batters bunt into it. Most Giants' players became such experts bunters that they could roll bunts into the hat like a professional golfer does 10-foot putts. According to one ex-American Giant, Foster once bet $1000 that his team could beat the mighty Kansas City Monarchs without ever hitting a ball out of the infield. The bunt-fest, according to the player, ended with Chicago winning, 1-0.
Besides daring bunting and base running, black baseball also refused to totally abandon the rough-neck style from the days of Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker. Going into bases with sharpened spikes flying, beanballs, and baseball doctoring remained commonplace in the Negro Leagues, and games often had more the feel of a Civil War battle than a ball game.
While many white baseball reporters of the time refused to admit that the Negro League game was up to major-league standards, they usually conceded that it was more exciting. "[Negro Leaguers] play," wrote Harry Salinger of the Detroit News, "with a verve, genuine zest, whole-hearted enthusiasm and flair lacking in the big-leagues."
Saul Davis started
his baseball career in 1919 and had his greatest success as an infielder
with the Chicago American Giants. He described black baseball in the 1920s:
dig no hole in the batter's box. If you did you got knocked down. And
you better take care of yourself 'cause you didn't have no doctor to go
to and you didn't have no insurance to go to. You had to have money to
go to the doctor because the ball club wasn't gonna help you. See, they
got the headgear, they got the gloves, and they got the shoes now. Good
have wanted a helmet? What for? I don't want to go contracting with no
cement! I'm a sportsman I wanted to play ball. If you can outsmart
me on the ball field than that's different. But you can't outsmart me
if I'm gonna stand up there and let you throw something that I can hit.
You know what I mean? Well that's what they do now.
On the Illinois Giants we traveled in a big old school bus. There were 14 men on the team seven on each side and the equipment in the back. The boss drove, but after a while he taught me how to drive and I drove most of the time 'cause I didn't need much sleep.
George Jefferson, Cleveland Buckeyes pitcher, describes life riding the buses: "We used to get into arguments on the bus and we would stop the bus stop anywhere. I don't care what time of night it is. Anywhere, any argument you have, we'll stop and settle it there. Who's the fastest runner, anything don't make no difference. See, we had quite a few St. Louis boys on the team and if you're from St. Louis and you hit me and another St. Louis boy is sitting next to me I'll turn and hit him. Just like family affairs. A bunch of young fellows out there. Once it's over it's over! You never did carry no chips on your shoulder after it was over. You settle your argument. We'd have all kind of arguments. We played a lot of cards, mostly blackjack. We didn't play no pinochle. We didn't play anything for nothing. Everything's for something. Sometimes you'd have to buy a fella his lunch or he'd buy your lunch. 'Course we couldn't play for too much 'cause we wasn't getting too much."
I played with the Illinois Giants from 1920 to 1926. We got paid $50 for every 15 games we played and 50 cents a day to eat on. I wound up getting $250 a month after I stayed out there four years.
The Illinois Giants played mostly in Southern Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and on into Canada. We just traveled all around playing from town to town. We would split the gate 60-40. 60 percent for the winners and 40 percent for the losers.
I never will forget one time we played a game in Billings, Montana and then we drove to Cheyenne, Wyoming. We were up in those mountains and there was a rock slide and we had to stop the car. We were out moving the rocks when a big mountain lion came after us. We all jumped in the car and the lion sat on top of the car and was growling. I said, "Well, somebody go get me a girl 'cause I ain't moving. I'm sleeping right here." We had to wait an hour before he got bored and ran off.
I remember playing in Minneapolis in 1921. We played at the fairgrounds. They had quarter horses running around while we were playing. I used to go to the whore house in Minneapolis owned by a man named Crump. It was a dollar on one side and two dollars on the other side for the pretty girls. I always went for the two dollars 'cause I was making more than the rest. I didn't drink or smoke but I was a ladies man. I always liked nice clothes and I ain't never had enough women I was just like a cat!
When I went into a town I was a good ballplayer and I could get the pick of the girls. There wasn't too much money to be made in those days but when I was in bed with one of those pretty young gals I was a happy bastard.
Red Haley started out with me in '21 with the Illinois Giants. He was a hell of a ballplayer. Clean-cut guy, married a young white girl. Nice hitter! Left-handed hitter and could hit left-handed pitching! Listen, nobody can teach you how to hit! You have to have some ability, but the main thing is you got to live a clean life and work hard and obey your parents because charity begins at home. If you can't listen to your daddy and mom after they raise you and bring you into the world you ain't nothin'!
I advise kids to listen to their parents and stay home. Don't fool with drugs and don't rush about no sex 'cause time will take care of itself.
Now people may not believe this but I was 18 years old before I had a girl 'cause I was so enthused with baseball and practicing everyday. I didn't think about girls until I got to Chicago. When I got my first girl no one was in the house but me and my daddy, but my daddy was okay. I told him, "Look out for me!" He said, "Go ahead." That's the first time I ever got some sex. I knocked her up. They made me marry her but I didn't stay with her. She married another boy and they had 13 kids. If she'd had 13 kids for me I'da poisoned her. How the hell you gonna take care of 13 kids? Shit! She was a nice girl, though. Her name was Verona Higgins. She always like me.
It was on the Illinois Giants that I learned how to throw the scratchball. A white boy named Murphy taught me how to throw that in 1921 up in a town called Traverse City, Michigan. He taught me how to hold it on one side to make it go down, another side to make it break to the left. I'd use a small piece of sandpaper to scratch the ball and once I got it down I became the best. That's why they called me the "Emery King" 'cause every time I threw it no one hit anything out.
Did I ever get caught? No. They tried to but they couldn't. I would stick a piece of gum on the piece of sandpaper or emery and stick it inside my glove. Then if an umpire came out to the mound I just put my hand down and slid it off onto the ground. I could make the ball break up two or three inches, break down, or break out. See, you just scratch it on either side with a little piece of sandpaper and it'll sail like a shell! Hold it on the seam instead of across the seam. But you hold it a special way to make it break up, down, in, or out. What makes it so hard to hit it's like hitting a knuckleball except you throw it as hard as your fastball!
Negro League umpire Bob Motley: "I have checked Double Duty's baseballs and I didn't find anything that was cut or mishandled. All I remember is his talking. He's telling the batter that he can expect a curveball, fastball or knuckleball or something. Then he'd go ahead and strike the batter out. He'd brag the way he could pitch. That's all I can remember."
I threw my fastball around 95 miles an hour Satchel threw over 100. I had the best control of anybody in the world ever! I had a curveball, dropball and I had they call it a slider now we called it an inshoot. Just throw it hard enough it'll break!
The Illinois Giants didn't want me to leave but in 1926 I went into the Negro Leagues for a month with the Detroit Stars. Bingo DeMoss, the manager of the Detroit Stars, lived two blocks from me and I had been knowing him since I was playing on the sandlots. He was a good friend of mine and he was trying to get me to play with him but I was with the Illinois Giants that was traveling through North Dakota that was so nice. I didn't want to leave but finally I went with Bingo. He was one of the greatest players who ever lived. He played from 1910 to 1930 one of the greatest second basemen and a great manager. He taught me a lot. When I went with him in 1926, I never will forget, I had a pair of shoes, two pairs of pants and a couple shirts and I told him just like I'm telling you, "I can't go away out of town like this. I don't have enough clothes to go away." He took me to the pawn shop, the Eli Pawnshop, and he bought me two used suits for $25 and a pair of Florsheims the first time I ever wore Tom McCann's. He dressed me up and I ended up playing for him for three years.
But I wanted more money 'cause I had a white friend that liked me in Detroit he used to scout with the Detroit Tigers. He told me, "Ted, you should be getting more than $200 a month. The way you can pitch, catch, and hit you ought to be the highest paid man." So I asked for $250 and Bingo wouldn't pay it so I quit and I went back out in the country with the Illinois Giants for another year.
A few times I took off and played for other teams when they called for me. I remember in 1926 Satchel was pitching with the Chattanooga Black Lookouts and the kid they had catching him was missing every other pitch. Very few catchers could catch that man when he was young. It was like catching a bullet. Satchel told his manager, "Get me someone who can catch me." Manager said, "Like who?" He said, "Get Ted Radcliffe." So they called me up and I caught him a few games and then met back up with the Illinois Giants in Wisconsin.
I left the Illinois Giants for good in 1927 and they broke the team up because I was the drawing card. I really enjoyed playing with the Illinois Giants. That part of the country Minnesota, Wisconsin and Canada it's really something. But we had trouble in a lot of towns. Traveling was tough back then! When we were playing in Southern Illinois and Indiana it was just like Mississippi. You had to go to the back of a grocery store to get a bologna sandwich. Segregation is pretty bad when you got to go to the back of a grocery store for a sandwich! The black ballplayers caught hell but we kept playing. We had to play because you couldn't make no money working. We had to do the best we could.
We couldn't get no hotel, couldn't take no bath. I've gone four or five days at a time without taking a bath. Back in those days they used to have barber shops where you could take a bath for a quarter. Some of the white people would let me take a bath because they'd feel sorry for me. Two or three of us would go in there.
They used to have a sign in Illinois down by East St. Louis along the railroad said, "No niggers allowed." You know the dictionary says that anyone can be a nigger if they're low grade but the white man put it on us to degrade us. It didn't bother me but they did it.
We were treated bad oh, it was awful. I don't like to talk about it sometimes 'cause when I think about how much money players are making today and they can't do nothin', and what we had to go through it's a joke. I played in the league for 36 years and the most I made in the U.S. was $850 a month. I was the pitcher, catcher, manager, secretary and helped drive the bus. And I was happy to get that money because it was tops in those days. Most of the players made $250 to $300 a month. I had one player, Jimmie Crutchfield, a good friend of mine, tell me the the most he ever made was $300 a month. He played 22 years and was a hell of a player would have made the big-leagues easy.
They get more money now for eating than we got for playing and they can't throw strikes, they can't bunt, and they got so many wild pitches that you'd think the catcher was an end on the football team. Baseball's a joke now. They getting the money but I don't envy 'em. I'm living good but it was a long struggle.
You know when we played they didn't keep records either. There were no reporters that traveled with the teams. The Chicago Defender and the Pittsburgh Courier, two colored papers, sometimes would cover the games on Saturday and Sunday sometimes. Faye Young was a writer for the Chicago Defender and he was a good friend of mine. He gave us some good write-ups. Wendell Smith wrote for the Pittsburgh Courier and he was a friend, too. Abe Saperstein of the Harlem Globetrotters got Smith a job at the Chicago Tribune and he got the big head, but I never had no problems with him 'cause I didn't need him. I always had a job and was always popular.
But blacks didn't get much publicity. We've come a long way. A fella named Howe would keep records statistics and everything when they got the money to pay him. The white papers? All the news that's fit to print except colored baseball. They pretended like we didn't exist. Statistics don't mean anything anyway. I'll tell you what matters: when the season rolls around, is there a team that wants you to play? If there is then you're good enough. If no one wants you then you ain't.
I have a mind like a possum I remember almost every game I ever played. I know what happened 'cause I was there I lived it for 36 years. We stuck in there 'til Jackie Robinson got in the big-leagues in '47 and now the doors are opening up. They're treating us like men.
You know, little towns all over the country would want us to come and play ball and then after we'd whip their teams they'd throw rocks at us and call us names as we were leaving.
I never will forget, in 1924, we were up at a place called Bear Creek in Wisconsin where people used to go fishing and hunting beautiful place. We went there to play the local team and the chief of police came down to our dugout. I was managing the Illinois Giants by that time that was the first team I managed. The chief said, "If you beat us we gonna whip you niggers' asses!" That's the words he used. So I called a guy on our team, Murphy, down to the dugout and I told him to go uptown and get two state police. They came and we had one in our dugout and one in theirs. The state police said, "You go ahead and play ball. Nothing's gonna happen to you." We run 'em out. We beat 'em 21-0. The fans didn't do anything to us but they called us all kind of names.
We had a tough time but the reason I kept playing was mostly 'cause there wasn't no work. You couldn't make over a dollar a day. I was making $250 a month that was a lot more then. And then you could get the girls 'cause they came looking for you even way back then. And you know you enjoyed being with the ladies if you were a man.
So I shuffled out there 36 years! It was a hard journey! There was another white guy, Robert Gilkerson, had the Gilkerson's Union Giants they were a traveling team out of Spring Valley, Illinois. I played with them off and on from 1927 to 1929 and we traveled all over the Midwest and Canada. We could have beaten any team in any league. Gilkerson gave me my first $300 a month. A lot of great players played with them over the years: Red Haley, Hurley McNair, Art and Charlie Hancock, George Giles, Steel Arm Davis, Cristobel Torriente. Oh, we had great teams! hardly ever lost a game.
During Ted Radcliffe's tenure with Gilkerson's Union Giants he had the great fortune of being tutored by a black baseball legend named Clarence "Pops" Coleman. Coleman, 25 years Radcliffe's senior, was born in 1877 in Louisville, Kentucky and became a star pitcher on the sandlots of Kentucky. One day his team's catcher failed to show and Coleman volunteered for duty and stayed a catcher for the next 40 years.
Homestead Grays utility man Bill "Happy" Evans listed both Radcliffe and Coleman as Negro Leaguers who should be in the Hall of Fame.
Coleman, who spent his best years as catcher for legends John Donaldson on the All-Nations and Dick Redding on the Indianapolis ABCs, moved to the Union Giants and continued to catch into his 50s. In his final years Coleman spent hours developing young Ted Radcliffe into one of the best backstops in baseball.
Because of the equipment used in the 1902s, catching was a much tougher position to master than it is today. Catcher's gloves looked like round leather pillows with an indentation in the center just big enough to hold a baseball built more to avoid the pain of catching a fast pitch than to actually catch the pitch. As a result, two hands were always necessary to "caress" the ball into the glove and keep it from popping out. Low pitches were especially hard to handle as merely sticking out the glove would only result in knocking the ball farther away. Good footwork was absolutely necessary in order to get in front of balls and Radcliffe was drilled repeatedly until his movement behind the plate was second nature.
Many of Radcliffe's theories on playing and managing also come from pages out of Coleman's notebook. Coleman, like Radcliffe, had few vices that would hurt his playing abilities. "Ballplayers can't party at night and expect to be able to hit the ball or think fast on the diamond," Coleman once lectured, "and for that reason we have rules that call for early retiring hours for the Union Giants. How much longer will I be catching? I should be going good at age 75, don't you think?"
Ted Radcliffe would repeat similar words as a manager in the 40s and 50s.
What was life like for a traveling black club in the 1920s? Was it really as rough as old-timers describe? Harry J. Earle, a rare black sports writer for the otherwise white Fairmont, Minnesota Daily Sentinel, was friends with many of the Union Giants and traveled with them one week to see for himself what life was like for a baseball barnstormer. He gave this report:
"This writer embarked for Charles City with the Gilkerson caravan Sunday night. We arrived in Charles City about 3:45 am. The Union Giants were slated for a morning game at 10 o'clock with the Charles City Collegians. The boys were in uniform at 9 o'clock, without breakfast. Arrived at the Lion's Park where a huge celebration was staged about 9:30. With no hitting practice, the Giants annihilated the Collegians 14 to 6. Young started the game, but gave way to Lefty Wilson after the Collegians had registered their 6 runs. Wilson had just hurled the game at Hand's Park, but he stood the Collegians on their heads. Not a man reached third base in the seven frames he worked. Lefty knows how to pitch.
"The morning setto drew a large crowd, but the afternoon game was the knockout. Fully 5000 customers saw the afternoon session. The morning game did not conclude until after 12 o'clock and as the aftermath was slated for 3, the boys were not allowed to eat. The four games in two days, and the 300 mile jump began to tell. Knight started on the mound for the Giants but had nothing, not even a prayer, so 'Steel Arm' Davis, the home run hitter, took up the burden, and his stuff ran short after two frames and Knight was sent back to the mound. When the smoke had cleared, the score was 14 to 1 in the favor of the Collegians. The Giants' one run being a homer coming from Mr. Davis.
"'Red' Learn worked on the mound for the Collegians in the afternoon and had plenty. His win was merited, but the fans of that city will always believe that the Gil's crew laid down. It is great stuff to listen to the different 'why fors' when a colored traveling club gets the short end of the score. Gilkerson has a better club than Charles City, and that's no joke, but they were beaten without a chance Monday afternoon and offered no alibi. It was just a simple case of vitality snapping. The life of a traveling ball club is plenty tough at best, but Gil caught three big celebrations five games in three days and the answer is there. Just why the fans will always think that the game was framed when Gilkerson drop one, is more than we can understand."
In an effort to avoid racial incidents, several black traveling teams of the time felt the need to clown and perform while playing white teams, reasoning that a smiling, laughing crowd was a less violent one. It was black baseball, after all, that first introduced base coaches, not only to help runners and give signs, but to entertain crowds with a constant line of chatter.
In the 1920s when the Illinois Giants visited Winona, Minnesota the local paper extolled of the Giants: "Their comic antics on the coaching lines are more than a circus."
Norman Lumpkin, outfielder for the Atlanta Black Crackers, remembered the ability to act as also being important to traveling teams:
"We were good actors, you had to be a good actor to survive. But we learned the hard way because if you'd run the score up and act like you beat 'em, those people really did run your ass out of town. It's a fact. Fans would use little vernaculars. They would use ethnic slurs and so forth. But you'd ignore it and go play your baseball. You could always cuss 'em back under your breath, you know, like a kid does to his father after he whipped his behind.
"It's a matter of just accepting this thing and then going on forward to make a living and keep living. You couldn't say what would happen until you got there. We would always go in like gentlemen and play. But a lot of times when we'd catch a lot of abuse, that was the time we would try to beat the holy hell out of the team. We would run 'em like rabbits. But all the time we'd pretend like we wasn't enjoying it and then get on the bus and laugh like hell."
Radcliffe played in every one-horse town in the Midwest while with the Illinois Giants and Gilkerson's Union Giants and it often seemed that the smaller the town, the worse the treatment. Newspapers in small Minnesota and Wisconsin towns had advertisements for games against Gilkerson's Union Giants on page five, and advertisements for Klu Klux Klan picnics on page six. Some black teams even played games as part of KKK weekend celebrations!
Small town newspapers, consistent with many of their readers, often described blacks in animal-like terms. A Minnesota newspaper, reported on a heated game between Gilkerson's Union Giants and the tiny town of Sherburne:
"The trouble seemed to have started when the locals met the coons in Windom. The boys said it was their game but the ump had robbed them of it. Bad blood was evident from the start and it's possible the only thing that saved them from being cut off from earthly existence was the fact that the coons were in the minority. When Frank Baar and Lefty Fletcher [Sherburne's pitchers] have their heaving duds on, all coons look alike to them. It makes very little difference to them under such conditions whether the opposing batters are coons, chinks, Japs, Indians or Mohammedans."
In the 1920s and 30s the Midwest was a popular territory for more than one hundred traveling teams, of all races and talent levels, and teams that used gimmicks were among the most successful. A few of the more clever teams were the various All-Nations teams with different nationalities at every position and a team that misleadingly advertised themselves as the Joliet Prison team. "The supposed prisoners were not prisoners at all," reported one sports reporter, "and some of 'em do not know any more about Joliet than a hog on Sunday. Not one had ever held up a pedestrian or robbed a bank or even shot at a policeman!"
It seemed the bigger the novelty, the bigger the crowds. Of course, many people viewed being black, in itself, a novelty, and black teams usually were the biggest draws.
Double Duty's years with the Illinois Giants and Gilkerson's Union Giants could be looked upon as being akin to a white player's minor-league career in which the traveling was exhausting, the competition fair to middling, and every game was another lesson on baseball's finer points. After years of polishing, a young player was hopefully ready for the big time. Ted Radcliffe was ready.