April 27, 2021


Negro Leagues had their own two-way stars (Anthony Castrovince, 4/26/21, mlb.com)

To draw a direct line from Ruth to Ohtani is to ignore the rich history of Negro Leaguers who were two-way topliners.

"For me, the excitement of Ohtani creates the exact opportunity we have today, to say, 'Nah, it's not just Ruth,'" says Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. "Maybe this will put the spotlight on those legendary players that people did not know."

Major League Baseball is working with the Elias Sports Bureau to determine the best way to blend the available Negro League numbers with the data we've long had on hand from MLB, and that process is not yet finished. But when it is, the official records will be newly replete with players who shined in every facet of the game.

Due to financial limitations, Negro League teams were typically comprised of only 18-20 roster spots, and so it was commonplace for players to both pitch and play the field.

"The Negro Leagues consisted not only of league games but barnstorming games," says official MLB historian John Thorn. "The need to have a reserve team often meant that everybody got to play everything."

For Ted Radcliffe, who played in the Negro Leagues from 1929 to 1946 as a pitcher and catcher, playing both ways was not just a role but a brand. In a 1932 doubleheader between his Pittsburgh Crawfords and the New York Black Yankees at Yankee Stadium, Radcliffe hit a grand slam and caught the great Satchel Paige's shutout in the first game, then threw a shutout of his own in the second. Renowned writer Damon Runyon saw the performance and dubbed him "Double Duty" -- the moniker Radcliffe, one of the Negro Leagues' most lively ambassadors, would proudly wear for the rest of his 103 years.

"Duty was masterful," Kendrick says. "He was a great character, a great promoter and a great storyteller. But sometimes lost in the character is the fact that he was one helluva baseball player."

There were other great Negro League pitchers who could handle a bat, including Hall of Famers Ray Brown and Hilton Smith.

But if the goal is to center on true two-way greatness the likes of which Ruth attained for the Red Sox in 1918-19 and Ohtani is attempting to accomplish today, then three Negro Leaguers stand out among all others. Though they all have a spot in Cooperstown's hallowed Hall, their names are hardly household.

So as we simultaneously celebrate Ohtani and embrace the Negro Leagues as a big league-worthy brand of baseball, let's give these three amazing athletes their due.

Posted by at April 27, 2021 7:53 AM