Las Vegas Sun

December 15, 2018

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Peanut’ was Crackerjack pitcher in Negro League

On the list

The 2002 African American Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame Inductees:

Mamie Johnson goes by the nickname "Peanut." But a better moniker for the former Negro League star might be "Trailblazer."

The 66-year-old Johnson, who will be among 12 inductees into the African American Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame on Sunday at the Castaways Hotel, was the only female to pitch in the Negro Leagues, accumulating a 33-8 record for the Indianapolis Clowns from 1953-55.

Among her teammates was an up-and-coming power-hitting outfielder who would make quite a name for himself in Major League Baseball.

"I played with Hank Aaron in 1954," Johnson said. "How good was he back then? He was the home run king! How good do you think he was?"

Johnson, discovered by ex-Negro League player Bish Tyson while playing semipro baseball around Washington, D.C., joined the Clowns at age 19. In her first game, an opposing batter yelled to the 5-foot-2, 100-pound Johnson: "What makes you think you can strike a batter out? Why, you aren't any larger than a peanut."

Johnson struck out the hitter and became known as "Peanut" from then on.

She credits much of her pitching success to a lesson from Hall of Famer Satchel Paige, who taught her to throw a curveball.

"The first thing you gotta do, little missy, is stop squeezing the ball so tight," Johnson says Paige told her. "He just showed me how to grip the ball to keep from throwing my arm away because I was so little."

Johnson obviously was a quick learner. She went 11-3 in 1953, 10-1 in 1954 and 12-4 in 1955. She also filled in at second base and her batting averages ranged from .262 to .284.

Johnson said she tried to become a member of the Women's Professional Baseball League -- the inspiration for the movie, 'A League of Their Own" -- when she was 17. But as an African American, she wasn't allowed.

However, two years later she made baseball history by becoming the only female to pitch in the Negro League.

"I'm glad they turned me down," Johnson said of the WPBL. "Otherwise, I would have just been another woman who played women's baseball."

After her Negro League career, the native of Ridgeway, S.C., became a nurse in Washington, D.C. A book about her career entitled, "A Strong Right Arm: The Story of Mamie 'Peanut' Johnson," geared to middle school-age children, is available on Amazon.com and might be turned into a movie.

Johnson was asked if one day a female will pitch in the major leagues.

"Women just don't get the recognition or the opportunities to do it," she said. "It's come from the chauvinistic attitudes in the game. I try not to dwell on it. Hopefully, one day a girl will get a chance to do it."

The Hall of Fame induction is Sunday at 6 p.m. at the Castaways and also includes Las Vegas resident Martha Watson, a three-time Olympic long jumper. It is open to the public, with tickets priced at $75.

Openings remain for a celebrity golf tournament on Monday morning at Stallion Mountain. For further information, contact Arif Khatib at 391-4634.

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