Name: Mamie “Peanut” Johnson
Born: Sept. 27, 1935
Background/significance: Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, 78, was a professional baseball player and the only woman ever to pitch in the Negro League.
Johnson was born in Ridgeway, and it was there that she developed her great love of the game of baseball.
When she was 19 years old, she joined the Indianapolis Clowns, a team in the Negro League. During Johnson’s three years on the Clowns, from 1953 to 1955, she had a win-loss record of 33-8. She was a teammate of Hank Aaron and credits Satchel Paige with teaching her how to throw a curveball. Her nickname came from her height, at only 5’3”.
The Negro League, which developed out of earlier African-American leagues, was a professional baseball league founded in 1933. While the earliest baseball leagues in the late 19th century were not segregated, increasing discrimination against black players forced African-Americans to develop their own professional leagues in the 20th century.
Johnson played in the men’s Negro League (along with two other women) because she was rejected by the All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League, which allowed only white players. She said later that this painful discrimination actually allowed her to be in her unique spot in history.
“If I had played with white girls, I would have been just another player, but now I am somebody who has done something that no other woman has done,” she explained in an interview. “Just to know that you were among some of the best male ball players that ever picked up the bat made all of my baseball moments great moments.”
In 2008, Major League Baseball held a Negro League draft, in which current major league teams drafted great baseball players of the past who had been wrongly forbidden from playing in the racially segregated American and National leagues.
Johnson was drafted by the Washington Nationals. While the draft was symbolic and Johnson never donned a Nationals uniform, you could make the argument that not only was she the only woman pitcher in the Negro Leagues, she was the first and only woman pitcher in Major League Baseball.
Johnson worked as a registered nurse for 30 years and is now retired, living in the Washington, DC, area.
South Carolina connection: Johnson was born and grew up in Ridgeway, where she learned how to play baseball on her grandmother’s farm. She and her uncle, who was close to her in age, made bats out of tree limbs and used pie plates for bases. Balls were made from rocks covered with tape. She developed her fastball by throwing rocks at crows sitting on fences.