A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
The Ladies of The Negro Leagues (Part 3)
|Mamie “Peanut” Johnson|
NEW HAVEN, CT.—The final chapter in our salute to the ladies of the Negro Leagues focuses on a pitcher who originally attempted to play in the all-white Women’s Professional Baseball League, but was turned down because of her race.
Mamie “Peanut” Johnson tried to become a member of the WPBL, the brainwave for the movie “A League of Their Own.” But she was denied entry.
“I’m glad they turned me down,” Johnson said. “Otherwise, I would have just been another woman who played women’s baseball.”
“I got to meet and be with some of the best baseball players that ever picked up a bat, so I’m very proud about that.”
Born on September 27, 1935 in Ridgeway, South Carolina, Johnson played with the Alexandria All-Stars, St. Cyprians and other semi-pro baseball teams around the Washington, D.C.
In 1953, she became a member of the Indianapolis Clowns at the age of 19. That season, Johnson finished with an 11-3 record. The next year, she went 10-1 and in 1955, she finished 12-4.
Johnson hit between .252 and .284 in those three seasons. When “Peanut” wasn’t pitching, she played second base.
For two seasons as a member of the Clowns, Johnson was a teammate of future home run leader Hank Aaron.
She also credits her pitching success with a lesson she learned from another Hall of Famer, Satchel Paige, who taught Johnson to throw her curve ball.
Johnson added, “Satchel just showed me how to grip the ball to keep from throwing my arm away, ‘cause I was so little.”
Her career as the Negro League’s first female pitcher was recounted in a new book released last year entitled, “A Strong Right Arm” by Michelle Y. Green.
When asked on an NPR radio show about she got along with her teammates, Johnson said, ” I met some of the nicest gentlemen I could ever meet and I got the highest respect in the world from all of them.”
But, she added, “You’ve got your gentlemen, and then you’ve got your men. Some of the “men” don’t know how to act, but after you prove yourself as to what you came there for, then you don’t have any problem out of them, either.”
“After you strike three or four of them out and, you know, it’s alright.”
While Johnson had much success on the field (a career mark of 33-8 in three seasons), she was quick to credit her teammates for her achievements.
Playing major league baseball was a “beautiful” experience, she says. “When you learn to do something and do it well, you begin to enjoy it.”
Currently, Ms. Johnson works at the Negro Leagues Baseball Shops in Bowie, Maryland. The store specializes in hats, memorabilia and clothes honoring Negro League stars.
NOTE: The African-American Registry, National Public Radio, and the Negro League Baseball Players Association contributed to this story.