Judy Johnson elected to the Hall of Fame
Born William Julius Johnson on Oct. 26, 1899 in Snow Hill, Md. (just 60 miles from Baker’s hometown of Trappe, Md.), he was an undersized boy whose father wanted him to become a boxer.
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“Daddy kept telling me I could fight but I knew he was wrong,” Johnson told the press when he was elected. “He made my sister my sparring partner and she used to whale the daylights out of me.”
The boy took a much stronger liking to baseball and sought to play professionally in nearby Philadelphia. Weighing about 150 pounds, Johnson was originally deemed too small to play for the Hilldale Daisies, the city’s Negro League team. But under the tutelage of fellow Hall of Famer Pop Lloyd, Johnson played his way onto the team in 1920 and earned his nickname due to his resemblance to Chicago pitcher Judy Gans.
He developed into a line-drive hitter and a defensive stalwart who could stand firm at the bag and make sublime plays look routine. Furthermore, he was widely renowned for his keen observation and intelligence. Later in his career, he would develop a pet play with Hall of Famer Josh Gibson as teammates on the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Johnson, known for being a master at interpreting opponents’ signs, would subtly whistle to Gibson when he sensed he could tag out a runner at third on a pickoff play. Gibson’s quick-draw throw worked like a charm, including one memorable barnstorming contest in which the tandem threw out Leo Durocher.
Johnson was named the Negro League Most Valuable Player in 1929 and would win one last crown with Pittsburgh in 1935 before retiring the following year. In 1954, the Philadelphia Athletics hired him as a temporary coach for Spring Training, making him the first African-American to coach in any capacity in the major leagues.
The man known for his vast baseball acumen would later scout for the Braves, Phillies and Dodgers, counting Dick Allen and son-in-law Bill Bruton as some of his greatest finds. Some believe his knowledge dictated that he should’ve served a greater leadership role on major league fields.
Matt Kelly is the communications specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum