April 16, 2013
I went on a business trip last week to Wilmington Delaware. To get there, I took a train ride through the rustiest part of America. Seriously, I’ll blog about this later on, but I saw more rusty and decaying hulks- trains, bridges, buildings- than I thought existed. I saw abandoned factories for products and companies that have not existed for decades. Problem was, using the camera while on a swiftly moving train, shooting through dingy windows, was not an option. And when I arrived in Wilmington, there was very little worth taking pictures of.
This statue was in front of a new minor league ballpark for the Blue Rocks, whom I believe are an affiliate of the KC Royals. This is William Julius “Judy” Johnson, one of the stars of the old Negro Leagues.
In 1919, Johnson played for a Philadelphia semi-pro team, the Madison Stars. He was acquired by a Negro major league club, the Hilldale Daisies, for $100, and played for Hilldale from 1921 to 1929. During that time, he was nicknamed “Judy” because he resembled Judy Gans, a player for the Chicago American Giants. Future Baseball Hall of Famer John Henry Lloyd became Johnson’s mentor and taught him how to play third base.
In 1924, Johnson had a batting average of .327. Hilldale faced the Kansas City Monarchs that year in the first Negro World Series, and Johnson led all batters with a .364 average in a losing effort. The following year, Johnson batted .392, and Hilldale defeated Kansas City in that season’s Negro World Series. In 1929, Johnson batted .416.
When the Hilldale club folded, Johnson became the player-manager of the Homestead Grays. There, he discovered and became a mentor to future Hall of Famer Josh Gibson. Johnson then ended his career playing for the Pittsburgh Crawfords from 1932 to 1936. He was the team’s captain and helped them win the pennant in 1935. Johnson had a career batting average of .298 in the Negro major leagues.
After his playing career ended, Johnson was a coach and scout for several Major League Baseball teams; he signed Dick Allen. Johnson became the first black coach in the majors when he coached the Philadelphia Phillies in 1954.