Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe: 36 Years of Pitching & Catching in Baseball's Negro Leagues
A Book Review by James Floto
Double Duty Radcliffe's 36 year pro baseball career commenced with the semi-pro, strictly segregated Illinois Giants in 1920 and concluded with fully integrated, semipro tournaments in Canada in the mid-'50s. In between, be played with some of the greatest Negro League assemblages, including the Homestead Grays, Pittsburgh Crawfords, and Kansas City Monarchs.
Born in Mobile, in 1902 he grew up playing ragball (for lack of cash, they would tape up a rag) with Satchel Paige. Ted and his brother Alec (who figures prominently in the story) hitchhiked north in their teens, and in 1920 Radcliffe signed on with the Illinois Giants. He played there until he landed his first job in the Negro National League in 1928, with the Detroit Stars.
By 1932, Radcliffe was playing for the legendary Crawfords, a club that had future Hall of Famers Paige, Josh Gibson, and Oscar Charleston, as well as stars like Radcliffe and Jimmy Crutchfield. Damon Runyon, the famed New York journalist, attended a Crawford's double header, one in which Radcliffe caught the first game and pitched the second one. Thus, Runyon dubbed him Double Duty, "a player worth the price of two admissions".
Duty put on such a show that he may have been worth the admissions, for he kept fans and players loose with his humor and spirit. Still, he was all business when it came time to come up with the clutch hit or block some so-and-so sliding into the plate with his spikes high. His gnarled old fingers are splayed from being smashed and broken, yet he had to play, for there was always another hungry ballplayer eager to take his place.
Kyle McNary, author and publisher of this volume, became interested in the Negro Leagues early in the '90s and read everything he could get his hands on. One article discussed Satchel's season with a top semipro club in Bismark, ND, in 1935, a team that included Quincy Trouppe, Hilton Smith - and Radcliffe, who was (and is) still alive. McNary got Radcliffe's address, wrote a letter and (to his amazement) Duty not only responded, but also suggested that they do a book on his life.
It is a joy to read. Kyle weaves the lively narrative, with Duty's spicy comments interspersed. As McNary says, with obvious reverence, "He loved to tell old baseball stories, but he wasn't living in the past. He was obviously well-read, with a great understanding of most subjects."
Radcliffe played with and against virtually all the outstanding Negro Leaguers, and knew the great black entertainers of the day. Many black singers, like Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway owned black clubs, and in the hermetic world of black American life in those days, the ballplayers and entertainers hung out at the same clubs and stayed at the same hotels. In a career that took him all over the U.S., as well as Canada, and Latin America, Duty says his best friend was promoter Abe Saperstein, of Globetrotter fame, who arranged baseball games and was one of the few promoters, black or white, who could always be trusted.
It's a roller coaster of a book, with Duty's called shot homer, his career as manager (he was hard, but fair), love of travel, readiness to leave when the money looked better, his love of the ladies, his longevity (he didn't drink), his love of the game and life.
Like all raconteurs, Double Duty is not beyond embroidering a story and occasionally, young McNary is taken in, as when Radcliffe claims he saw Castro at the ball park, cigar in hand, when he played Cuban winter ball in 1940. Castro "got communist and started rampaging...We had to get out of there in '41 when the Communists were coming in." They actually came in during 1959, Castro took to the hills in '56-and was 14 years old in 1940. So, while the book suffers here and there from lack of scholarship (including some horrendous mathematical errors when McNary pointlessly tries to extrapolate Radcliffe's stats over an entire major league season), the story is well told. Discount part of what Double Duty says as exaggeration and you still have a hell of a book.
Radcliffe is an amazing character, who entertained, was an All Star pitcher and catcher, manager of championship teams, a scout, and a legend who likely belongs in the Hall of Fame, a few plaques down from another star of the 1930's who could pitch (but not catch) and tell tall tales into the night, the equally loveable Dizzy Dean.
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