April 17, 2005


History called up for Duty: Century's worth of memories come to life when former Negro leaguer Ted Radcliffe reminisces `I didn't care about anything else. Baseball was it,' says oldest living professional (WILLIAM GILDEA, 4/13/05, WASHINGTON POST

Here he comes now, hunched over his walker, all dressed up in a dark pinstriped suit and grey fedora, making his way with some difficulty out of the sunlight of a late Sunday afternoon and into the Negro League Cafe. Many of the patrons recognize him as a baseball legend. He is guided to the VIP banquette along the back wall, where he can relax and tell stories about when he played the game, and at the same time observe all the patrons in the restaurant. He is delighted by the coincidence that a women's group of maybe 65 have gathered in the room for dinner, boasting of a still-keen eye for the ladies. He is 102 years old.

Ted (Double Duty) Radcliffe gives off a rumbling laugh as he takes a seat, raising his smiling face on a tilt and ordering chicken. The writer Damon Runyon dubbed him "Double Duty" after seeing him catch a shutout by Satchel Paige and then pitch a shutout himself in the second game of a Negro leagues doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. He played baseball as a catcher and pitcher for 36 years, until 1954. He was the only man to hit a home run off Paige and strike out Josh Gibson.

Double Duty still has the squat build of a catcher, about 5-feet-10, 200 pounds. He also managed for 22 years.

Family and friends call him Duty.

"Duty, do you want the greens and the macaroni?" asks his grandniece, Debra Richards.

"No, just the chicken. Just the chicken.''

Duty is the oldest living professional baseball player of a Washington-based team, having played off and on for the Homestead Grays. He is older than the oldest living former Washington Senator, Cuban pitcher Connie Marrero, 94.

In fact, Radcliffe, the oldest living Negro leagues player, is older than any living former major leaguer, topping 100-year-old Ray Cunningham, an infielder with the St. Louis Cardinals in the early 1930s. Al Spearman, who played in the Negro leagues and is 78, has this to say: "Duty was before my time.''

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 17, 2005 2:28 PM

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is in Kansas City, it shares half of a new building with the American Jazz Museum. It is a really interesting, albeit small, museum. If you are ever in KC, it is worth a few hours.

Posted by: pchuck at April 18, 2005 10:15 AM