As Black History Month comes to an end, let’s give a tip of the cap to the memory of Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, the South Carolina native who was an athletic trailblazer in a class by herself.
A talented high school athlete, Ms. Johnson attempted to break the color barrier in the women’s professional baseball league in the early 1950s but was rejected under league bylaws that prohibited its integration. She continued to pursue her dream of playing baseball among the semi-pro men’s teams in Washington, D.C., until she got a break in the summer of 1952.
A scout suggested that she try out for the Indianapolis Clowns, a Negro League team that had counted teenage Hank Aaron among its members, when the team played in Washington. Ms. Johnson was just 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighed only 120 pounds, but she had a live fastball and could hit. Signed by the team, she became the first and only woman to pitch in a professional baseball league that approximated the major leagues.
She pitched for Indianapolis from 1953 through 1955, riding the team bus from city to city with infielders Toni Stone and Connie Morgan. Signed as a novelty to bolster attendance in a league that was losing its best players to the integration of the major leagues, she nevertheless notched a remarkable career record of 33-8. Barnstorming in the off-season, she mastered the curveball under the tutelage of pitching legend Satchel Paige.
Ms. Johnson was born in the Fairfield County village of Ridgeway. “That’s where I learned to play ball,” she told The Post and Courier in an interview in 1999. “We played every day it wasn’t raining. That’s all we had to do for amusement.”
Sticks were used for bats, and the ball was usually a stone wrapped in twine and tape.
Ms. Johnson, who died Dec. 19 at 82, was one of three women to play in the Negro Leagues. “We were ballplayers,” she said. “A lot of people didn’t want to believe it.”
Her career was testament to a talent and a quiet determination that wouldn’t be denied.