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William "Judy" Johnson

William “Judy” Johnson

William Julius (“Judy”) Johnson was born in 1899. He was an African American Negro League baseball player.

Born in Snow Hill, MD. Judy Johnson was the son of William Henry and Annie Lee Johnson. His father was a sailor, a licensed boxing coach, and the athletic director of the Negro Settlement House in Wilmington. William Johnson wanted Judy to be a boxer, and Judy learned to box from his older sister, Emma, but Johnson, who was 5′ 11″ (1.80 m) and 150 lb (68 kg), was far better suited for a career in baseball.

After working as a dock worker during World War I, Johnson began his baseball career in 1918, reaching the top-level Negro Leagues in 1921 with Hilldale, a team for which he played through 1929. In 1918, for five bucks a game, his semi-pro career began with the Bacharach Giants.

The following year he tried out for the Philadelphia Hilldales, the premier team in the area. He failed to make the cut and joined the local Chester Stars to develop his skills. In 1921, he signed with the Madison Stars before finally making his professional debut with Hilldale of the Negro Leagues in 1922.

In 1930 Johnson was a player-coach for the Homestead Grays, and in that capacity he discovered Josh Gibson. From 1935 through his last season in 1938, Johnson was the captain of the Pittsburgh Crawfords, one of the greatest franchises of all time. Although his playing days preceded the break of the color barrier by nine years, Johnson became the first Black assistant coach for a major league team in 1954.

Judy Johnson Statue He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1975. Johnson Field at Wilmington’s Frawley Stadium is named for him. Johnson is known as Delaware’s folk hero of the diamond. Judy Johnson died on June 15, 1989, in Wilmington.

“Johnson was the best hitter among the four top third basemen in the Negro Leagues, but no-one would drive in as many clutch runs as he would. He was a solid ballplayer, real smart, but he was not the kind of fellow who could ‘just get it done.’ He was dependable, quiet, not flashy at all, but could handle anything that came up. No matter how much the pressure, no matter how important the play or the throw or the hit, Judy could do it when it counted. “

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