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--Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe
Leaguer of the Month
He could hardly hit a lick, but Larry Brown may have been the best defensive catcher the Negro Leagues ever produced. He could catch anything a pitcher could throw, called a great game, and had a rifle for an arm.
Brown was born in Pratt City, Alabama in 1905, a few miles from Birmingham. Brown's mother died in 1918, leaving Brown alone in the world so he took to the road to find work.
Brown worked for a railroad company and some coal mining companies before finding a full time job as a baseball player in 1920 with the Knoxville, Tennessee Giants.
Brown, like many catchers, only took up the position when there was an injury to the regular backstop. Brown took to the position immediately, though, and didn't hang up his gear for 30 years.
Over the next 30 years Brown would get spiked and run over by the likes of Oscar Charleston and Crush Holloway, would break all the fingers on his throwing hand, and would squat until his knees ached. He caught nearly everyday, though--more than 200 games some seasons, usually for a salary of $150-$250 a month.
Brown made the black big time in the early 20s with the Memphis Red Sox, a team he would play off and on for through the 20s, 30s and 40s. In all, Brown played for more than 10 teams, and in Cuba.
Brown played in 6 East-West All-Star games (1933-34, '38-'41), including the first two in 1933 and 1934. He was the leading vote-getter for catchers in 1933, beat out the great Frank Duncan (also a great catcher but mediocre hitter) by a 2 to 1 margin in '34, and beat out Josh Gibson in '35 but did not play. This, despite being a .260 hitter for most of his career with little power.
Calling games, though, is what Brown did best, and he got the most out of every pitcher he teamed with, including Harry Glass, Satchel Paige, Willie Foster and Double Duty Radcliffe. Radcliffe, himself one of the game's greatest catchers, picked Brown as the catcher on his all-time all-star team. Only Biz Mackey is mentioned as often as Brown when discussing the great defensive catchers in the Negro Leagues.
Brown had only one obvious weakness, and it wasn't on the baseball field: he was a heavy drinker, which makes his durability even more amazing.
It's a pretty good bet that if Brown would have been a better hitter with a little more power, his name would be mentioned in the same breath with Johnny Bench, Josh Gibson and Roy Campanella.