Judy Johnson

"The Crawfords had some good clutch hitters...Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Jimmie Crutchfield...But Judy was the best of them all. When you had men on base, Judy was the guy you wanted up there."

--Pittsburgh Crawfords pitcher Leroy Matlock
quoted from "The Pittsburgh Crawfords" by James Bankes
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©Copyright 2003, Kyle McNary, McNary Publishing


Negro Leaguer of the Month
March, 2003

Sherwood Brewer
Born: Oct. 26, 1899 in Snow Hill, MD
Died: June 15, 1989 in Wilmington, DE
Ht: 5'-11", Wt: 145
Batted and threw right.
Positions: third base
Years: 1918-1937

Teams: Atlantic City Bacharachs, Madison Stars, Hilldale Daisies, Homestead Grays, Pittsburgh Crawfords.

Inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1975.

If you look strictly at batting statistics, you may wonder why Judy Johnson, with good but not great numbers, is enshrined in the Hall of Fame. His value to a team, though, belied mere numbers.

First, Johnson was one of the great clutch hitters of his era, making each hit count. Second, he had one of the game’s great minds, always studying the game and his opponents to gain every advantage he could. Third, he played one of the slickest third bases ever.

He has been compared defensively to Brooks Robinson and most think his arm was much stronger. He came in on bunts, caught off balls in the hole, and stabbed balls down the line. If he had used the bigger gloves of Robinson’s day, he might never have missed a grounder!

Johnson grew up in Wilmington, Deleware and played baseball for his dad’s Royal Blues as a teenager.
Johnson quit high school and worked on the docks in New Jersey through World War I, before signing with the Madison Wisconsin Stars, the equivalent of a minor league black team. It was with the Stars that Johnson picked up the nickname "Judy" because he resembled teammate Judy Gans.

In 1920, Judy made the black big time when he was discovered and signed by the Philadelphia Hilldales. For several years, Johnson teamed with Jake Stevens as black baseball’s best left-side infield pair.

As a hitter, Johnson was the man teams hated to see at the plate because he would do anything to get on base. If he couldn’t hit a certain pitcher, he’d lean into a pitch, take a walk, anything--a team player all the way.

In his prime, Johnson batted as high as .380 with moderate power and around 20 stolen bases, but as he got older he became more of a .280 hitter. He knew his job was to get on base for the big hitters, and he never tried to do more than that.

Off the field, Johnson is remembered as a sweet person and his nickname Mr. Sunshine was well-earned.

In the first modern Negro League World Series in 1924, Johnson led the Hilldale with a .341 average including a game winning homerun, but the Monarchs won the series five games to four.

In 1925, the same teams met again in the World Series with the Hilldales winning and becoming the only Eastern Colored League team to ever win the Championship. Johnson batted only .250, but, as usual, his few hits were very important.

Johnson was named the East’s best third baseman in 1925 in a poll taken by the Pittburgh Courier, and the most valuable player in the East in 1929 by Courier sports editor Rollo Wilson.

After leaving the Hilldales, Johnson spent some of his best seasons with the Crawfords where he batted well over .300 every year from 1932-1936.

In a 1952 Courier poll, Johnson was named the second best third baseman in Negro League history, behind only Oliver Marcelle.

After retiring as a player, Johnson became a Major League scout with several teams including the Milwaukee Braves, for which he discovered Bill Bruton, his future son-in-law.

Unlike many Negro Leaguers, Johnson was able to enjoy his Hall of Fame inclusion as he lived for 14 years after his induction before dying at age 88.