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Ted 'Double Duty' Radcliffe, 103; Star Catcher in Negro League Also Pitched

August 12, 2005|Fred Mitchell | Chicago Tribune

Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe, a star in the Negro league and believed to be the oldest former professional baseball player, died of cancer Thursday in Chicago. He was 103.

Radcliffe was an all-star catcher and pitcher in the Negro league for half a century, playing for more than 30 teams.

Records were not always kept, but his biographer, Kyle P. McNary, estimated that Radcliffe had a .303 batting average, 4,000 hits and 400 homers in 36 years.

After starring as a pitcher and a catcher, he became a manager.

Damon Runyon gave him the nickname "Double Duty" after Radcliffe caught the first game, then pitched the second in a 1932 Negro League World Series doubleheader between the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Monroe Monarchs at Yankee Stadium.

Radcliffe caught a shutout by Satchel Paige in the first game, then pitched a shutout in the second, prompting Runyon to write that Radcliffe "was worth the price of two admissions."

Radcliffe pitched five and caught nine of the all-star games in which he played and hit .376 in nine exhibition games against major leaguers, years before blacks were allowed to play in the major leagues.

In his later years, Radcliffe was frequently in the crowd for White Sox games at U.S. Cellular Field and occasionally visited the clubhouse. It was his tradition to throw out the first ball on his birthday, July 7.

Two weeks ago, he was scheduled to travel to Alabama for a ceremony celebrating the Birmingham Black Barons, but he fell ill and was hospitalized in Chicago.

"Double Duty shared such a love for baseball and a passion for life," White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf said. "We all loved to see him at the ballpark, listen to his stories and share in his laughter. He leaves such a great legacy after experiencing so much history and change during his long life. He will be missed by all of us with the White Sox."

In May, Radcliffe was among 14 Negro league players honored in a pregame ceremony at RFK Stadium before the Chicago Cubs played Washington. Sitting in a golf cart behind the plate, Radcliffe made the ceremonial first pitch by handing the ball to National coach Don Buford.

Born in 1902 in Mobile, Ala., Theodore Roosevelt Radcliffe began his professional career with the Detroit Stars in 1928. He went on to play for the St. Louis Stars, Homestead Grays, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Columbus Blue Birds, New York Black Yankees, Brooklyn Eagles, Cincinnati Tigers, Memphis Red Sox, Birmingham Black Barons, Chicago American Giants, Louisville Buckeyes and Kansas City Monarchs.

He managed the Cleveland Tigers in 1937, Memphis Red Sox in 1938 and the Chicago American Giants in 1943.

Hall of Famer Ty Cobb once reported that as a catcher in an exhibition game, Radcliffe wore a chest protector that said, "Thou shalt not steal."

At 5-foot-9 and 210 pounds, Radcliffe had a strong throwing arm and good reflexes. As a pitcher, he was known to throw the emery ball, the cut ball and the spitter, pitches common at the time but long since outlawed.

One of 10 children, Radcliffe played baseball with his brothers and their friends, using a taped ball of rags.

Ted and one of his brothers, Alex, hitchhiked to Chicago in 1919 to join an older brother. A year later, Ted signed with the semipro Illinois Giants for $50 for every 15 games and 50 cents a day meal money. This worked out to about $100 a month.

He traveled with the Giants for a few seasons before joining Gilkerson's Union Giants, another semipro team, with whom he played until he joined the Detroit Stars of the Negro National League in 1928.

Radcliffe was the regular catcher for the Stars for the first half of the season. When the pitching staff became weary toward the end of the season, he began pitching and helped the team to a championship. His career-best batting average was .316 for the 1929 Detroit Stars.

The 1931 Homestead Grays, according to Radcliffe, was the greatest team of all time. That Pittsburgh team included Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, Jud Wilson and Smokey Joe Williams.

Radcliffe managed the Memphis Red Sox in 1937, in addition to catching and pitching for them. In 1943, at age 41, he rejoined the Chicago American Giants and won the Negro American League MVP award. The next season, he blasted a home run into the upper deck of Comiskey Park to highlight that season's East-West All-Star game.

Funeral services are scheduled for Wednesday in Chicago.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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