By Cecil Wright, Sports Columnist
Mamie (Peanut) Johnson was born Mamie Belton on September 27, 1935, in Ridgeway, South Carolina. Her love of baseball started when she was 6 years old when, along with her uncle, she made bats out of tree limbs, bases out of pie plates and balls from rocks wrapped in tape.
Johnson attempted to play softball with girls but was used to playing hardball with boys. Therefore, she tried out for an all white boys’ baseball team organized by the Long Branch Police Athletic League where Johnson became the only African American on the team. In the early 1950s Johnson attended a National League tryout in Alexandria, Virginia but wasn’t allowed to try out.
In 1952 she met and married Charles Johnson, and the couple had one son. By 1953, Johnson was working in an ice cream shop and playing baseball on the weekends. Mamie played with a few local minor league teams such as the Alexandria All-Stars and St. Cyprians before signing with the Indianapolis Clowns and becoming the first woman pitcher/second baseman in the Negro Baseball Leagues when she was called upon to replace their young second baseman, a player by the name of Henry Aaron, who had gotten an opportunity to play with Major League Baseball’s Milwaukee Braves.
Johnson would pitch for six, seven, or nine innings, striking out her fair share of players even though she was a mere 5 ft 3 inches and was mocked by a rival player for being no bigger than a peanut. The nickname stuck with her throughout her playing career.
Johnson hit between .252 and .284 in each season she played. When she was not pitching, she played second base. Johnson won thirty-three games and lost only eight games during her career where she earned about $400 to $700 a month. The legendary pitcher, Satchel Paige, would help Johnson perfect her curveball before their opposing teams went on to play each other. The situation was depicted in a scene from the 1992 movie, A League of Their Own.
Johnson retired from baseball in 1955 and would go on to have a second career as a Licensed Practical Nurse. She worked at Sibley Hospital in Washington DC for forty years before retiring in 1995. A fabulous athlete, Mamie Johnson passed away on December 18, 2017, in Washington, D.C. at the age of eighty two having never received the accolades she very richly deserved.
Photo by Steshka Willems: https://www.pexels.com/photo/white-baseball-ball-on-brown-leather-baseball-mitt-1661950/