August 20, 2004
Fans get a chance to see living history
By DOUG LESMERISES
Nestled in a wheelchair, he is 102 years of living proof of the existence of a player you might otherwise think exists only in a writer's imagination.
Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe" will be at Frawley Stadium on Saturday for the ninth annual Judy Johnson Night, giving baseball fans an ever-diminishing opportunity to mingle with history.
Radcliffe is among the last of the Negro League's cast of out-sized characters; like pitcher-philosopher Satchel Paige; Josh Gibson, the black Babe Ruth; and Cool Papa Bell, whom Gibson said was so fast, he could turn out the lights across the room and be under the covers before it got dark.
Radcliffe's nickname was draped on him during the 1932 Negro League World Series, when he caught Paige in the first game of a doubleheader, then pitched a shutout in the second game, leading sportswriter Damon Runyon to dub him Double Duty.
Runyon died 58 years ago. Radcliffe remains, called just Duty by his friends.
Twenty months ago, 48 African-American players from the Negro Leagues' heyday, before Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier in 1947, were alive. Today, according to Negro League Baseball Players Association president Stanley Glenn, only 25 remain.
"There won't be many left soon, the way we're going," said Glenn, who lives outside Philadelphia.
Efforts to honor Negro Leaguers continue to sprout. A monument recognizing players from the Negro League's Philadelphia Stars was placed at Fairmount Park in Philadelphia last summer, and Glenn said fund-raising has started for a museum at the site. A groundbreaking ceremony for the Negro League Legends Hall of Fame in Washington, D.C. was held last weekend.
But Saturday, Frawley Stadium will host living history. Radcliffe may be the last living teammate of Judy Johnson, the baseball Hall of Famer and The News Journal's Delaware Athlete of the Century, who died in Wilmington in 1989.
A statue of Johnson stands outside Frawley Stadium so he'll always be remembered. Better even than a statue is a Johnson story, and Radcliffe can tell them, not because he heard them, but because he lived them.