Judy Johnson

Here is the Washington Post obituary for Judy Johnson, who died near the capital on June 15, 1989:

William Julius “Judy” Johnson, 88, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame and the first black coach in the major leagues, died June 15 at a nursing home in Wilmington, Del., after a stroke.

Mr. Johnson, a standout third baseman, played in the Negro Leagues from 1922 to 1937. He batted above .300 in seven of the nine seasons in which the Negro Leagues kept statistics, retiring with a lifetime average of better than .340. His best season was 1925, when he batted .392.

His best day, however, Mr. Johnson often said, came in 1975 when he learned he had been elected to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

“I felt so good, I could have cried,” he said in 1975.

Mr. Johnson was the sixth player chosen by the museum’s Committee on the Negro Leagues, established to recommend honorees who had played all or most of their careers before baseball’s color barrier was broken. He joined Satchel Paige, Buck Leonard, Monte Irvin, James “Cool Papa” Bell and Josh Gibson.

Mr. Johnson played for the Philadelphia-based Hilldale Daisies, which won three pennants during his years with the team, and Pittsburgh Crawfords for much of his career, including its 1935 championship squad. He finished as player-manager of the Pittsburgh-based Homestead Grays.

He came into the Negro Leagues under his given name of William, but soon picked up his famous nickname.

“One of the old-timers on my first team was named Judy Gans,” Mr. Johnson recalled in 1975 on the occasion of his induction into the Hall of Fame. “I resembled him and my middle name is Julius, so they started calling me Judy, too.”

Baseball was a year-round occupation for players in the Negro Leagues. After the long summer season, the players would play barnstorming major league teams in Cuba.

“You’d watch them play and say to yourself, ‘He doesn’t seem any better than me. I can play just as good as that.’ ”

His playing days were over long before Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947. “I never dreamt it would happen,” Mr. Johnson once told an interviewer of Robinson’s achievement. “I was just thrilled I lived to see the day.”

Former A’s owner-manager Connie Mack said Mr. Johnson certainly had the skills to be a star in the big leagues.

“If Judy Johnson were playing in the major leagues,” Mack once said, “there would not be enough money to pay him.”

After integration, Mr. Johnson was hired to find young talent. He came out of retirement in 1951 to scout for the Philadelphia Athletics and became the major leagues’ first black coach when the Athletics signed him as assistant to manager Eddie Joost in 1954.

He worked for the Milwaukee Braves and then returned to Philadelphia to finish his career with the Phillies as a scout. One of his accomplishments was helping sign the great infielder Dick Allen the night of his high school graduation before other scouts could reach him.

Mr. Johnson, who lived in Marshalltown, Del., was born in Snow Hill, Md., and moved to Wilmington at an early age. He quit high school as a sophomore and worked as a stevedore during World War I, before joining the Chester, Pa., Giants in 1918 at a salary of $ 5 a game.

Mr. Johnson was married for 50 years to Anita Johnson, who preceded him in death. His survivors include a daughter, Loretta. She is the wife of former major league centerfielder Billy Bruton, who was scouted and signed for the Milwaukee Braves by Mr. Johnson.

Published in: on August 14, 2009 at 9:34 pm  Comments (2)  
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  1. We lived in the same neighborhood as Judy Johnson. Each of our family members worked a paper route and Judy was one of our customers. The day he found out he was going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, I had come up to collect the paper money. I stood outside his porch and was able to see him interviewed. You could see how proud he was and it truly meant a lot to him. I got to give him a huge hug and chat for a few minutes. He once said “I love to teach baseball. I’d rather do it than anything. It’s like putting a seed in the ground; you like to watch it develop.” If you lived in Washington Heights you knew he was a great gardener. His quote fits him. He was an amazing man as was his wife and daughter. He will never be forgotten. What a wonderful man who paved the way for many others.

  2. I just noticed that the name of the city Judy Johnson lived in is spelled incorrectly. It is Marshallton NOT Marshalltown.


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