William Julius “Judy” Johnson (1899-1989)

Posed action of Pittsburgh Crawfords Judy Johnson
Image Courtesy of Baseball Hall of Fame

William Julius “Judy” Johnson was a professional baseball player in the Negro Baseball Leagues. He played third base and was a team manager from 1921 to 1937. Johnson was born on October 26, 1899 to William Henry Johnson and Annie Lee Jackson in Snow Hill, Maryland. Johnson also had an older sister, Mary Emma, and a younger brother, John Johnson. His family relocated from Snow Hill to Wilmington, Delaware in 1909 when he was ten years old where his father worked as a seaman. When Johnson was eight years old, his father began training him to be a boxer, but he was not interested in the sport.

Johnson instead played Sandlot Ball where he joined his father’s amateur team, the Rosedale Blues, which competed with black and white teams in the area. Johnson dropped out of Howard High School in Wilmington to work in the shipyards and played weekend games with baseball teams.

In 1918, Johnson joined a professional baseball club, the Bacharach Giants, in Atlantic City, New Jersey. A year later, he signed with the Hilldale Daisies in Darby, Pennsylvania. During this time Johnson gained the nickname “Judy” because of his strong resemblance to Chicago American Giants pitcher Judy Gans. During his first year with the Daisies, Johnson played shortstop. He struggled that year with .188 batting average (BA).

During the 1922 season, Johnson began playing third base. The next year (1923) he emerged as a star player and leader of the Daisies. The team won their first Eastern Colored League championship with Johnson batting .391. In 1924, the Daisies made it to the 1924 Colored World Series against the Kansas City Monarchs where they lost in five games. In 1925, Johnson and the Hilldale Daisies returned to the Colored World Series for a rematch against the Monarchs. This time they defeated the Kansas City team five games to one to become Negro World Series Champions. Johnson continued to play for the Daisies until 1929 when he signed with the Homestead (Pennsylvania) Grays as a player manager.

Johnson returned to the Daises in 1931, managing the team but left in 1932 when he signed with the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Although he was 33, he was still productive, hitting around .300 BA. Johnson was a two-time All-Star selection while playing with the Crawfords.

Pittsburgh Crawfords, 1935, Including Oscar Charleston, Judy Johnson, Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson & Satchel Paige
Pittsburgh Crawfords, 1935, Including Oscar Charleston, Judy Johnson, Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson & Satchel Paige

In 1937, Johnson was traded back to the Homestead Grays in exchange for players Pepper Bassett and Henry Spearman. He played a few games for the Grays until he announced his retirement from baseball in 1937.

After retirement Johnson worked for the Continental Cab Company in Wilmington, Delaware and managed a general goods store for his brother in that town. In 1951, Johnson was hired as a scout for the Philadelphia Athletics where he tired unsuccessfully to get the team to signed a young Hank Arron. Johnson also scouted for the Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers, Philadelphia Phillies, and Los Angeles Dodgers during the 1950s and 1960s.

In 1975, Johnson stepped down from scouting when he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1988, Johnson suffered a stroke and died a year later on June 15, 1989 in Wilmington, Delaware at the age of 89. Johnson was married to Anita Johnson for 50 years until her death in 1985. The couple had one daughter, Loretta Johnson.