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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published May 29 2011

Eriksmoen: Radcliffe was first black to manage white baseball team

Five members of the Major League Hall of Fame played professional baseball in North Dakota: Happy Chandler in Grafton, Satchel Paige in Bismarck and Minot, Hilton Smith in Bismarck, Willard Brown in Minot, and Willie Stargell in Grand Forks.

I did not include Buck O’Neill, who had only one at bat for the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks in 2006. At least two other North Dakota players should be enshrined. It has long been argued that Roger Maris deserves to be there. But what about Ted “Double-Duty” Radcliffe?

While playing professional baseball, Radcliffe had over 4,000 hits and 400 home runs as a batter. As a pitcher, he won nearly 500 games with 4,000 strike-outs. When he agreed to be the player-manager of the Jamestown Red Sox in 1934, Radcliffe became the first African-American to manage white professional players. On June 19, 1999, he was called out of retirement to pitch for the Schaumburg Flyers as they played the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks in the Northern League. Although he threw only one pitch, at the age of 96, he became the oldest player to ever appear in a professional baseball game.

Theodore Roosevelt Radcliffe was born July 7, 1902, in Mobile, Ala., the seventh of 10 children. His father was a contractor for a shipyard company who built houses for ship construction workers. One of Theodore’s neighbors was Leroy “Satchel” Paige, and the two spent much time playing baseball together. Radcliffe claimed that he was Paige’s first catcher.

When Radcliffe got older, he helped his dad build homes, receiving a dollar a day. After his father refused to give him a raise in 1919, he convinced his younger brother Alex to join him in hopping a freight train to Chicago, where their older brother lived. Radcliffe received an offer to pitch batting practice, and the next year, he was signed by the Illinois Giants, a semi-pro baseball team. He played with the Giants until 1926 as the team toured all over the Upper Midwest, including North Dakota.

In 1927, Radcliffe joined Gilkerson’s Union Giants, a semi-pro team out of Spring Valley, Ill. In 1928, Radcliffe signed with the Detroit Stars, a team in the Negro National League. In 1929 with the Stars, he raised his batting average from .266 to .310. In 1930, Radcliffe signed to play with the St. Louis Stars. Since St. Louis was short on pitchers, he agreed to also help out on the mound. Famed sports writer Damon Runyon witnessed a double-header where Radcliffe caught one game and pitched the next. Impressed with this, Runyon called him “Double-Duty,” and it became his nickname the rest of his life. Radcliffe played for the Homestead Grays in 1931, the Pittsburg Crawfords in 1932, and was a member of four different teams in 1933.

In the early 1930s, two teams rivaled for baseball supremacy in North Dakota: Jamestown and Bismarck. In order to try to obtain an advantage, the owner-manager of the Bismarck team, Neil Churchill, signed Satchel Paige as their star pitcher in August. The three-game series to determine which team could claim the bragging rights as the state’s best team went to Bismarck. Paige won two games, and a third game ended in a tie.

When it appeared Paige would return to Bismarck in 1934, Jamestown went looking for a comparable player and signed Radcliffe. Not only was he the catcher and one of the team’s star pitchers, he was also named manager. When Paige signed with the Pittsburg Crawfords, it was evident that Jamestown had the strongest team. Not only did the Red Sox dominate the other North Dakota teams, but they also defeated many of the teams from the Negro Leagues. Jamestown finished the season with a 38-15 record. Radcliffe batted .355 and was 17-3 as a pitcher.

Toward the end of the 1934 season, a team of major league all-stars agreed to play three games against an all-star team of North Dakota players. Radcliffe would miss the first game because he needed to briefly return to Chicago. Despite his absence, his team defeated the major leaguers 6-5 in Valley City. Arriving in time for the second game in Jamestown, Radcliffe delivered two hits as the North Dakota team won again. The next day in Bismarck, Radcliffe pitched as his team defeated the major leaguers 11-3.

In 1935, Paige returned to play for Bismarck, and Radcliffe joined the Brooklyn Eagles. Churchill wanted to make the Bismarck team a super club and convinced Radcliffe to join Paige and the other tremendous athletes he signed. After securing his release from the Eagles, Radcliffe returned to North Dakota on June 21. Bismarck won over 90 percent of their games, defeating their opponents in 28 of the final 29 games. Radcliffe went through the season undefeated as a pitcher. At the conclusion of the season, Bismarck was invited to participate in the first National Semipro Championship. Bismarck defeated their opponents in all seven games to win the championship.

In 1936, Radcliffe returned to the Negro Leagues and became a manager in 1937. Except for the 1940 season when he played for Vera Cruz in the Mexican League, Radcliffe played for eight different teams in the 11 years he spent in the Negro Leagues. During that time, he was named an all-star three times as a catcher and three more times as a pitcher. In 1943, at the age of 41, Radcliffe was named the most valuable player. While playing for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1945, his roommate was Jackie Robinson. Radcliffe spent three years as a player-manager in the Manitoba-Dakota League, batting .459 in 1951 and .364 in 1952.

Radcliffe was later hired as a scout by the Cleveland Indians. He retired to live in Chicago, where he became a regular attendee of White Sox games. Beginning in 1996, he was invited to throw out the baseball each July 7 on his birthday whenever the White Sox played a home game. When Radcliffe died on Aug. 11, 2005, at the age of 103, he had been the second-oldest former professional baseball player. In 2008, the White Sox instituted the annual “Double-Duty Classic,” an event at Cellular Field to encourage African-American kids to take an interest in baseball. This event was named in honor of Theodore Roosevelt Radcliffe.

“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments or corrections to the Eriksmoens at cjeriksmoen@cableone.net.