William Julius Johnson
Judy Johnson’s Earnings in the Negro Leagues*
1921: Acquired for $100 by the Hilldale Giants
1921: Salary $115/month plus meal money
1922: Salary $135/month
1924: World Series bonus: $192
1929: Salary $250/month
1930: Salary $500/month as player/manager Homestead Grays
“If Judy Johnson were playing
professional baseball today, there would not be enough money to pay him.”
- Connie Mack
Batting Averages 1921-1936*
- 1921 Philadelphia .214
- 1923 Philadelphia .237
- Cuba .345
- 1924 Philadelphia .327
- Florida .500
- 1925 Philadelphia .364
- Cuba .250
- 1926 Philadelphia .302
- Cuba .372
- 1927 Philadelphia .228
- Cuba .329
- 1928 Philadelphia .231
- Cuba .341
- 1929 Philadelphia .416
- 1930 Phil Grays .275
- Cuba .240
- 1931 Philadelphia .284
- 1932 Phil-Pittsburgh .246
- 1933 Pittsburgh .239
- 1934 Pittsburgh .243
- 1935 Pittsburgh .257
- 1936 Pittsburgh .235
- 1954 First African-American player to coach in the majors.
- 1975 Hall of Fame induction
.344 career average
*statistics based on incomplete records
Other Jobs Held
Supervisor, Continental Can Company
Owner/Manager of variety store
School bus driver
Security office, department store
Scout/spring training coach: Phil. Phillies and Milwaukee Braves
Tributes Offered by Friends and Colleagues
The tributes and epithets of others sound almost too good to be true. Their words ring with praise - authentically so, repeatedly, and without exception:
"I wish God could have arranged to make a whole lot of Judy Johnsons. I don't think he made enough. I think he thought one or two would be enough."
"He always took time for people."
"He was jolly all the time and very sensitive."
"Soft-spoken," "gracious," "kind-hearted," "sincere" ... "no-nonsense" ... "dedicated and honest" ... "humble yet magnificent" ... "a player's player" with a "remarkable memory" ... one who "put the benefit of all above the needs of self."
"When you met Judy, you loved him."
On Being Voted into the Hall of Fame
"When Joe Richler told me I had been picked, well, if you had cut off my feet, I think I would have floated right up through the roof. I felt so good I could have cried."
- Judy Johnson
I wouldn't be posting these stats or writing this post were it not for Ellen Rendle, who gathered the facts of William Julius Johnson's life and told his story lovingly, respectfully, and elegantly in Judy Johnson: Delaware's Invisible Hero (The Cedar Tree Press, 1994). This slim volume arrived at my doorstep four days ago, and it was just as I'd hoped it would be. Johnson's story was still in print and it was mine to hold.
They don't make many books like this anymore.
Cloth-bound, this is an old-fashioned kind of book that feels amazing in your hands. Yet even as you grasp it, the slim yet solid volume feels like a vanishing thing, an art form that's inevitably and regrettably giving way to new techniques of reading and learning.
“This book was composed in eleven point Goudy Oldstyle, two point leaded and printed on special-made 100# Curtis Text, felt finish, by The Cedar Tree Press, Inc. Wilmington, Delaware. It was bound by Advantage Bookbinding of Baltimore in cloth, using Curtis Tweedweave endleaves.”
Rendle's biography of Johnson is just 76 pages long, but it "reads" longer, maybe because it holds such substance. In an astonishingly short space, the author succeeds in covering many significant details of Judy Johnson's impressive and lengthy career. Her compact, evenly-paced narrative reflects Johnson's even-keeled temperament, and nothing seems to be missing. It makes you wonder why some books need to be more than four hundred pages long.
The grueling schedules, miserable circumstances, and shameful experiences of his baseball career notwithstanding, Judy Johnson was blessed to enjoy those things that matter most in life, often at key turning points in his career. He was fortunate to have been born in Snow Hill, Maryland, "a beautiful tiny town along the Sassafras River" to parents who provided him with a stable home, including a spacious back yard outfitted for physical play. Judy chose well when it came to the big decisions of his life: marriage to a strong, understanding woman committed to her family and her own vocation (39 years in the teaching profession); travels to Cuba for winter ball; affiliations with teams that enjoyed relative financial stability and drew enthusiastic crowds; devotion to his family, including daughter Loretta, who eventually married Bill Bruton (teammate of Hank Aaron, Al Kaline, and Bobby Thomson among others). Judy Johnson had grandchildren who knew and loved him; year after year and together with his wife, he tended a bountiful garden; he was blessed with kind neighbors and longtime friends.
While celebrating Johnson's achievements, Rendle displays neither adulation nor condescension. Hers is a quiet book. Several lovely details, images, and personal quotations humanize the beloved Hall of Famer. Johnson laughs, for example, when describing his courtship of a young lady (his future wife) whose father's close supervision often forced Judy to take his leave with a "hit-and-run" kiss. He enjoyed a simple wedding, according to daughter Loretta, who described her dad as a person who wasn't "into all that fuss." Clearly the man had a witty way with words and a sensible attitude toward life's basic sacraments. Judy and Anita's marriage would survive 49 years, and once his beloved passed away, Judy would come to know true sorrow and loss, almost inconsolably so.
How, then, do we measure the quality of one life?
By his or her salary? The jobs she held? The company he kept? What others say? The way she treated others? Maybe all of the above. If you happen to believe in baseball's power to give your life added meaning, as I do, and if you truly love the game, maybe you'll feel - as Judy Johnson probably did - that in the end baseball is more about love than it is about the money.
Early in 1989 William Julius Johnson suffered a stroke, never to speak again. He died on June 14 in Wilmington, Delaware. In his final days, "he'd often tear up at the sight of a good friend, or their kind gesture. Judy usually had a baseball in his hand."
Ellen Rendle, Judy Johnson: Delaware's Invisible Hero
(The Cedar Tree Press, Inc.), 1993.
First Printing - 1,000 Second Printing - 2,000