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All Time Lists: 20 Greatest Players of the Negro Leagues

Greatest Negro Leagues team in history? 1932 Pittsburgh Crawfords. Standing: Benny Jones, L.D. Livingston, Satchel Paige*, Josh Gibson*, Ray Williams, Walter Cannady, Cy Perkins, Oscar Charleston*. Kneeling: Sam Streeter, Chester Williams, Harry Williams, Harry Kincannon, Henry Spearman, Jimmie Crutchfield, Bobby Williams, Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe. (*Hall of Fame)
(Photo Credit: J.E. Miller, K.C.) English: Judy Johnson at the 1924 Colored World Series.
(Photo Credit: J.E. Miller, K.C.) English: Judy Johnson at the 1924 Colored World Series.

Judy Johnson, Third Base

William Julius “Judy” Johnson (October 26, 1899 – June 15, 1989) was born in Snow Hill, Maryland, and early in his childhood moved to Wilmington, Delaware so his father could be employed in the shipyards there. Although his father wanted him to become a pugilist, Johnson preferred baseball instead and joined the Bacharach (NJ) Giants semi-pro team. He was courted by the Hilldale Daisies, and attached to their minor league team. In 1921 he joined the Daisies at $135 a month. He received the nickname “Judy” because he resembled Chicago America Giants pitcher Judy Gans.

In his first season he was placed at shortstop, and struggled at the plate, but in 1922 he was moved to third base and began to be mentored by renowned infield John Henry Lloyd. He blossomed in 1923, not as a power hitter but as a consistent hitter who could find the gaps in the field, and also developed skills to receive walks by crouching to be hit on the sleeve. In that year, Johnson hit and impressive improvement of .391, followed by leading the Daisies in 1924 to a league pennant. He played good, consistent ball until the Daisies were forced into temporary closure in 1930 by the Depression.

Johnson was signed on with the Homestead Grays as player/manager in 1930, but returned to the reborn Daisies who had joined the East-West League. He was able to sign with the Pittsburgh Crawfords in 1932. Owner Gus Greenlee had decided to assemble the best players he could coerce in his team, and the 1932 Crawford team was one of the best in baseball history, compared to the “Murder’s Row” of the 1927 New York Yankees. The 1932 Crawfords had five future Hall of Famers, Judy Johnson, Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige and Oscar Charleston. Johnson was successful, playing over .300 ball during his five years with the team.

Although he was still playing well, he was traded to the Homestead Grays for a couple of marginal players, and it depressed Johnson enough to play a few games for his new team before informing them of his retirement. He returned home to Delaware, where he worked for a cab company and in his brother’s general good store but was hired by the Philadelphia Athletics in 1951 as a scout. He scouted through the 50s and 60s for the Braves, Brewers, Phillies and Dodgers, and in 1971 he was appointed to the Baseball Hall of Fame’s committee to selected notable Negro League players into the Hall. In 1976, he stepped down from that position to accept his own induction into the Hall.

Johnson retired to his home in Marshallton, Delaware, and suffered a stroke there in 1988. He passed away at the age of 89. His home became listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995, and he was inducted into the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame.

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