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Negro Leagues
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Negro Leagues Legacy

Stars of the Negro Leagues

Hot corner man
Few could equal Johnson at third base
By Brian Wilson/MLB.com


After is playing career ended, Judy Johnson became a successful scout. In fact, he signed Dick Allen, who went on to become the American League MVP in 1972.
Born: Oct. 26, 1900, Snow Hill, Md.
Died: June 15, 1989, Wilmington Del.
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Hall of Fame induction: 1975

During his 1975 acceptance speech induction into Baseball's Hall of Fame, Judy Johnson, a Negro League player known for his ability to perform under pressure, was overcome by emotion. The long journey to Cooperstown that moved him to tears was complete -- though his speech, ironically, never was.

The irony doesn't end there, considering William Julius "Judy" Johnson was also known as a quiet man. The third baseman was respected by opponents and teammates alike, and was a student of the game.

"Judy Johnson was the smartest third baseman I ever came across," Pittsburgh outfielder Ted Page said, according to The Negro Leagues Book. "(He was) a scientific ball player who did everything with grace and poise. You talk about playing third base, heck, he was better than anybody I saw -- and I saw Brooks Robinson, Mike Schmidt and even Pie Traynor."

If William Henry Johnson had his way the junior Johnson, born 1900 in Snow Hill, Md., would have been hitting the speed bag rather than manning the hot corner. A licensed boxing coach and the Athletic Director of the Negro Settlement House in Wilmington, De, Judy's father instructed him and his sister Emma in the sweet science of boxing, and hoped Judy would become a boxer. But his son preferred baseball.

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Judy began his professional career in 1918 after playing with a semipro team in Chester, Pa. He played for the Bacharach Giants for $5 per game followed by three seasons with the Madison Stars before making the Hilldale Daisies in 1921.

He batted only .227 in his rookie year, playing at shortstop while manager Bill Francis manned third. But Johnson developed into a star as the Daisies won pennants from 1923 to 1925. Johnson hit .391, .369 and .392 in those seasons, the third of which included a World Series victory over the Kansas City Monarchs. The previous year, Johnson led the team in hitting in their Series loss to the Monarchs.

A 1926 beaning resulted in a slump that affected his next two seasons. But after a comeback year in 1929 in which he hit .390, the heady Johnson got the opportunity to manage and took it, acting as a player/manager with the Homestead Grays in 1930.

He returned to the Daisies for a year before joining the Pittsburgh Crawfords, managed by Hall of Famer Oscar Charleston (and owned by nightclub owner, numbers runner and bootlegger Gus Greenlee -- otherwise known as "Mr. Big") in 1932. As captain, Judy hit .332, .333, .367 and .306 before being traded back to Homestead along with power-hitting catcher Josh Gibson. After playing sparingly, Johnson retired to work outside the game.

The Major Leagues came calling for Judy, however -- and again it was his baseball acumen that attracted their attention. Connie Mack hired him as a scout for the Philadelphia Athletics, and he's credited with signing Richie Allen while scouting for the Phillies. His good eye also resulted in him signing his future son-in-law, Bill Bruton, when he was a Milwaukee Braves scout.

After his 1975 induction, Johnson's native Wilmington bestowed an honor upon him as well, naming the park on Second and Du Pont Streets after him.

Brian Wilson is an editor/producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.