Ashwill: Walter Johnson, Negro Leaguer?

From SABR member Gary Ashwill at Agate Type on December 5, 2012:

A few weeks ago [SABR member] Bill Staples flagged a fascinating passage from Edwin B. Henderson’s classic, The Negro in Sport (1939), about Walter Johnson and black baseball.  It was actually quoted from a Shirley Povich column in the Washington Post, originally published on April 7, 1939, in which Povich talked to Walter Johnson about the Negro Leagues.  The column contains Johnson’s oft-quoted endorsement of Josh Gibson, saying that “any big league club would like to buy” Gibson for $200,000.  “He can do everything.  He hits that ball a mile. And he catches so easy he might just as well be in a rocking chair.  Throws like a rifle.  Bill Dickey isn’t as good a catcher.  Too bad this Gibson is a colored fellow.”

But the column goes on to tell this somewhat less well-known story.


The idea of Walter Johnson being hired to pitch for a “colored team” (which, by the way, he doesn’t name) is fascinating.  I can’t say I’ve ever heard of a similar situation—a famous white major league pitcher being picked up for a game by an otherwise all-black team, and to pitch against another black team. I really can’t think of one.  This would amount to Walter Johnson (and his catcher, Gabby Street) “playing colored baseball,” as he put it to Povich. 

Read the full article here:

Originally published: December 5, 2012. Last Updated: December 5, 2012.