Radcliffe, Theodore Roosevelt (“Ted”)

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Radcliffe, Theodore Roosevelt (“Ted”)

(b. 7 July 1902 in Mobile, Alabama; d. 11 August 2005 in Chicago, Illinois), professional baseball player and manager whose career, mostly with the Negro Leagues, spanned more than thirty years and thirty teams. Known as “Double Duty,” he became the oldest living major league player.

Radcliffe was the seventh of ten children of James Radcliffe, a construction worker, and Mary Radcliffe, a homemaker. He grew up in Mobile playing baseball with the neighborhood kids, who included the legendary pitcher Satchel Paige and third baseman Bobby Robinson, as well as Radcliffe’s brother Alex. They played “with a ball made of rags wrapped with tape.” Radcliffe left school after completing the fourth grade and in 1919 he began his baseball career by hitchhiking to Chicago with Alex, who became a well-known third baseman for the Chicago American Giants. The next year Radcliffe signed with a semiprofessional team, the Illinois Giants, for $100 a month. He joined the Detroit Stars of the Negro National League in 1928, beginning his Negro League career. The five-foot, nine-inch tall, 210-pound Radcliffe eventually played for thirty teams, fifteen of them in the Negro Leagues, from ages nineteen to fifty-two. He switched teams every few years, usually trying to follow the best money.

In 1932 Radcliffe was playing for the Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) Crawfords of the Negro National League in a Negro League World Series doubleheader against the Monroe (Louisiana) Monarchs of the Negro Southern League in Yankee Stadium, New York City. In the first game Paige shut out the Louisiana team, 4–0, with Radcliffe as his catcher. Radcliffe then pitched the second game of the doubleheader and also shut out the Monarchs, 5–0. In modern baseball, no one catches the first game of a doubleheader and then pitches a complete second game. The sportswriter Damon Runyon was in the press box and wrote, “It was worth the price of two admissions to see ‘Double Duty’ Radcliffe play.” Radcliffe was seldom known as “Ted” again, with the nickname “Double Duty” evolving into “Mr. Duty” or even “Duty” in his later years. For 1932 Radcliffe batted .325 as a catcher and won nineteen games while losing eight as a pitcher.

Radcliffe’s long career involved him with the great characters of the game. In one remarkable moment, while playing in Cuba one winter for the legendary manager Adolfo Luque, Radcliffe was removed from a game by the manager for “not trying.” Luque, who was known to carry a pistol under his uniform, followed the pitcher into the clubhouse and a loud explosion, like a gun shot, was heard in the dugout. Players rushed in to find out what had happened. The pitcher Rodolfo Fernandez, who was in the clubhouse, said, “I pushed Luque’s arm just as he shot at Radcliffe.” Radcliffe left Cuba the next day.

As a catcher, Radcliffe played against the finest players of his day. When facing James “Cool Papa” Bell, said to be the fastest man to ever play baseball, Radcliffe said, “If he bunts and it bounces twice, just put [the ball] in your pocket.” This is not to say Radcliffe did not compete vigorously. When playing against a barnstorming team that featured the furiously aggressive base stealer Ty Cobb, Radcliffe wore a chest protector that had “Thou Shall Not Steal” emblazoned across it. Radcliffe took his aggressiveness to contract negotiations as well. He was not able to agree to a contract for the 1935 season, so he and Paige, another holdout, played for an integrated team in Bismarck, North Dakota.

As it turned out, Radcliffe never achieved the salary he sought, with his maximum being $875 per month, while Paige became the highest-paid player in the major or Negro leagues in 1942, when he earned $37,000 that year. At the 1944 All-Star game, during World War II, Radcliffe and his brother Alex joined Paige in demanding that the proceeds of the game go to wounded servicemen. The owners finally gave in, and each player was paid $200 (up from $50) to play. The Radcliffe brothers won the game with hitting heroics, saying it “was for their mother,” and each earned a $700 bonus.

Radcliffe served in the army for nine months in 1944, but was honorably discharged due to asthma. He played or managed baseball teams until 1954 (some sources say 1952 or 1956), after batting .364 and going 1–0 as a pitcher for the Elmwood Giants of the Manitoba-Dakota League. At the time, the Pittsburgh Courier named him the fifth-greatest catcher and the seventeenth-greatest pitcher in the history of the Negro Leagues, which were then defunct. Radcliffe was an All-Star six times, chosen three times as a pitcher and three times as a catcher. In 1943 he also was named as the Negro American League’s Most Valuable Player. It is estimated that his career totals were 4,000 hits and 400 home runs, with a .303 batting average.

After retiring from baseball, Radcliffe ran a bar in Chicago for several years. He was married twice, first, in 1932, to Ann, whom he divorced in 1940, and then to Alberta. Radcliffe and his second wife had three children together and lived a modest life in the housing projects in South Chicago. In 1990 they were robbed and beaten, an event that brought Radcliffe’s financial plight to the attention of the Baseball Assistance Team (BAT), which assists elderly players without means. With BAT’s assistance, he moved into a church-run home near the site of Comiskey Park. His final actual baseball appearance occurred in 1999, when at age ninety-six he made one pitch for the Schaumburg Flyers of the Northern League. Radcliffe often attended Chicago White Sox games at the nearby U.S. Cellular Field. After he turned 100, he threw out a ceremonial first pitch at U.S. Cellular Field each year on his birthday. At age 103, Radcliffe died of complications from cancer.

In retirement Radcliffe was the guest of three U.S. presidents and was featured in a WGN (Chicago) documentary, which received an Emmy Award. He received the Illinois Historical Committee’s Lifetime Achievement Award (1997), was inducted into the Yesterday’s Negro League Baseball Players Wall of Fame in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and was honored as an Outstanding Citizen of Chicago. Jerry Reinsdorf, the owner of the Chicago White Sox, said at his death, “Double Duty shared such a love for baseball and a passion for life. He leaves such a great legacy after experiencing so much history and change during his long life.”

The definitive biography of Radcliffe is Kyle P. McNary, Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe: Thirty-Six Years of Pitching and Catching in Baseball’s Negro Leagues (1994). For further details about his career, see Donn Rogosin, Invisible Men: Life in Baseball’s Negro Leagues (1983); Phil Dixon with Patrick J. Hannigan, The Negro Baseball Leagues, 1867–1955: A Photographic History (1992); Tom Gilbert, Baseball and the Color Line (1995); Roberto González Echevarría, The Pride of Havana: A History of Cuban Baseball (1999); and Lawrence D. Hogan, Shades of Glory: The Negro Leagues and the Story of African-American Baseball (2006). Obituaries are in the Chicago Tribune and New York Times (both 12 Aug. 2005).

Clark C. Griffith

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