By Michael LeCompte
Mamie Johnson was one of only three women to play in the Negro League and was the only one to pitch.
Born in South Carolina in 1935 Johnson began playing baseball at the age of seven. After her family moved to Washington, D.C. she continued playing baseball whenever she could. When she was 17 Johnson tried out for teams in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (subject of the popular movie A League of Their Own). However, she was not seriously considered for a roster spot as teams subtly let her know that they were a league for white women only.
Seemingly rejected from organized baseball Johnson enrolled at New York University. During a visit home to Washington, D.C. in 1952, though, she was playing ball at a park when a retired Negro League player noticed her skill and got her a tryout with the Indianapolis Clowns. Johnson made the Clowns’ starting rotation in 1953 and signed a $500 a month contract. After one of the first batters she faced yelled “how do you expect to strike me out, you’re no bigger than a peanut” in reference to her diminutive size, the nickname “Peanut” stuck.
Although she stood only 5’3” tall and weighed only 100 pounds, Johnson was dominant on the mound, possessing a devastating curve ball.
It was rumored that the legendary Satchel Paige himself had taught Johnson how to throw a curve. According to Johnson, though, “he didn’t teach me how to throw it, he just taught me how to perfect the one I had.”
Over three seasons with the Clowns Johnson compiled a 33-8 record and also hit a respectable .273. She retired after the 1955 season so she could spend more time with her son and worked as a nurse for the next 30 years.
Looking back on her baseball career Johnson recounts that “if I had played with white girls, I would have been just another player, but now I am somebody who has done something that no other woman has done.”
Last summer Johnson was in attendance at the Little League World Series to watch Mo’ne Davis, a 13 year old African-American, do something no girl had ever done before by pitching a shutout.
After the game the only woman to ever pitch in the Negro League said of Davis, “this girl’s the best thing since food.”
Today Johnson is part of a commission trying to revive baseball among the youth in African-American communities of Washington, D.C. The field where she played growing up has been named “Mamie Peanut Johnson Field at Rosedale Recreation Center,” and she is personally involved with recruiting children to play and forming city leagues and teams. Now 79, she has “decided that before I go, I am going to see people like me playing baseball again.”
Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, the only woman to pitch in the Negro League, ensuring that her legacy lives on by providing the opportunity for kids to play the game they love.