Judy Johnson

Positions: Third Baseman; Infielder; Manager
Teams: Madison Stars; Philadelphia Hilldales; Homestead Grays; Darby Daisies; Pittsburgh Crawfords, 1919-1938

Of the few Negro League players recognized by the Hall of Fame, Judy Johnson (inducted in 1975) has perhaps the weakest batting stats. His fielding at third base is usually described as steady or intelligent rather than spectacular. Yet everyone who played with him or saw him play agreed that he was a great ballplayer.

Judy Johnson, Oscar Charleston, Ted Page, Josh Gibson, Jud Wilson,
The 1932 Pittsburgh Crawfords "Big Five" included (from left to right) Oscar
Charleston, Ted Page, Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson, and Jud Wilson.

William Julius Johnson (1900-1989) was born in Snow Hill, Maryland. He started his career in 1918 as a semipro, getting his break when World War I called many black players away from baseball. He was a worthy fill-in during the war, but he still needed seasoning, and by 1918 he was playing for the Madison Stars, a farm team.

He returned to one of the powerhouse teams in the east, the Philadelphia Hilldales, in 1921, taking over the third base job. He was a line-drive hitter who drove in a high number of runs, despite not hitting a great amount of homers.

Johnson played for Philadelphia 11 years (from 1921 to ’29, and 1931 and 1932), and played winter ball in Cuba. He hit a career-high .406 in 1929, a year in black baseball that matched white baseball for unprecedented offensive totals. He was chosen MVP by sportswriter Rollo Wilson for the season. Judy moved to the Homestead Grays as a player-manager for the 1930 season.

Johnson was a member of perhaps the best Negro Leagues team in history when he joined Gus Greenlee’s Pittsburgh Crawfords in 1932. Greenlee built the first stadium completely owned by an African American.

To fill his new ballpark, Greenlee was determined to have the best talent that he could find, raiding the Pittsburgh-based Homestead Grays and other teams for the best black players money could buy. The Crawfords were managed by Oscar Charleston and included Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, and Cool Papa Bell. Johnson finished his playing career with the Crawfords in 1938.

Later, Johnson became one of the most astute scouts for the majors when organized baseball began to accept black players. “I could have gotten Hank Aaron [for the Athletics] for $3,500,” said Judy. “I got my boss out of bed and told him I had a good prospect and he wouldn’t cost too much, and he cussed me out for waking him up at one o’clock in the morning.” Johnson would also go to spring training with the Phils until he retired in 1974.

Here are Judy Johnson's Negro League statistics*:

.303728 2,692816 125 44 19 51
*Note: Johnson’s career statistics are incomplete.

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