Theodore "Double Duty" Radcliffe

Mobile native Theodore Roosevelt “Double Duty” Radcliffe (1902-2005) was a professional baseball player whose career spanned 16 years in the Negro Leagues. He was an accomplished athlete who first played catcher and later pitcher during his career. Radcliffe played in 11 cities and also managed at least three ball clubs, including the Birmingham Black Barons in the 1950s. He is also credited with helping to integrate baseball by managing white players in the 1930s and later seeking out white players for his teams. Well after retirement his career became memorialized in biographies and garnered much media attention.

Radcliffe, known as Ted, was born in Mobile, Mobile County, on July 7, 1902, to James and Mary Radcliffe; he was one of ten children. Purportedly, he did not learn to play with a proper baseball but rather a ball of rags that were taped into the shape of an orb, but he quickly became a skilled baseball player. Radcliffe and his brother Alex played baseball with youths who would become successful Negro League players, most notably Bobby Robinson and Leroy “Satchel” Paige. Alex would also star in the Negro Leagues, playing third base.

The family moved to the South Side of Chicago in 1919 for better employment opportunities as part of the Great Migration, when many Blacks left Alabama and the South. Radcliffe remained a Chicago resident for the remainder of his life. In 1920, he signed his first baseball contract with the semipro Illinois Giants for roughly $100 a month. Radcliffe played semipro baseball until he was signed by the Negro National League St. Louis Stars in 1928, joining fellow Alabamian George “Mule” Suttles. Batting .260, the 26-year-old hit eight home runs and batted in 41 runs. The following year, Radcliffe’s batting average rose to .313. In 1930, Radcliffe and his team won the Negro National League championship.

Radcliffe was a stocky, well-built player and weighed more than 200 pounds, a good physique for a demanding position such as catcher. And Radcliffe excelled at the position because of his strong throwing arm and smart play. In 1929, Radcliffe began pitching because of his endurance and skill. He earned his nickname, “Double Duty” in 1932 after playing both pitcher and catcher for the Pittsburgh Crawfords during a double-header against the Monroe Monarchs in a postseason series. Radcliffe caught for Satchel Paige in the first game, and the Crawfords won the series.  

Radcliffe played two different stints with the Homestead Grays of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1931 and 1933. Many historians consider the 1931 squad, which included Josh Gibson, Jud Wilson, Smokey Joe Williams, and Oscar Charleston, as the greatest roster in the Negro Leagues. The team won the league title with a 30-17 record, but Radcliffe did not have a great season, batting .222. He did help the team when he joined, however, by bringing along his friend Satchel Paige, who anchored the Grays’ pitching staff.

In 1934, Radcliffe became a player-manager for the Jamestown Red Sox, an integrated baseball team in Jamestown, North Dakota. He became the first Black manager of non-Black players. He also played for the Chicago American Giants and participated in a baseball tour through Canada. The following year, Radcliffe led another North Dakotan team, the Bismarck Churchills, to a National Semipro Championship. By 1937, Radcliffe was in Memphis, Tennessee, coaching a baseball team while also pitching and catching for the team. In 1943, he played for and managed the Giants to the Negro American League Championship, losing to the Birmingham Black Barons in the series, three games to two. Despite his age, he won the Negro American League Most Valuable Player award, splitting time between Chicago and Birmingham, where he hit .275 and .333 respectively. He played in the East-West All-Star Game six times. In the 1943 season, he also joined the Birmingham Black Barons for one game and played with them for two more seasons, until joining the Kansas City Monarchs in 1945.

During his tenure with the Monarchs, he roomed with upcoming star Jackie Robinson, who became the first Black player in the major leagues in 1947 and led to the decline of the Negro Leagues. In the late 1940s, Radcliffe promoted and integrated two Midwestern semipro leagues, the Michigan-Indiana and Southern Minny (Minnesota) Leagues. Before the semipro leagues integrated, Radcliffe personally sought out white players and recruited five of them to play on all-Black teams. Although he played his last Negro League game in 1946, Radcliffe played for semipro teams into the 1950s. In 1952, Radcliffe batted .364 and still pitched in the Manitoba-Dakota League. During that decade, some sources say he also managed the Black Barons. In the 1960s, Radcliffe became a scout for the Cleveland Indians in Major League Baseball.

Radcliffe and his wife Alberta had five children. After retirement, the couple lived in poverty for years and were later supported by Major League Baseball’s Baseball Assistance Team charity organization, which provided them with financial help. In the 1990s, the first biography of Radcliffe was published, and he became a heralded celebrity of Negro League baseball. He also became active in community causes and won lifetime achievement and outstanding citizen awards from groups in Illinois. Radcliffe’s hands also served as an inspiration for a bronze statue that was exhibited at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. In 1997, Radcliffe was inducted into the Yesterday’s Negro League Baseball Players Wall of Fame in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Sports writers believe Radcliffe collected more than 4,000 hits and 400 home runs during a three-decade career in semipro and Negro League baseball while posting a career .271 batting average.

Two weeks after throwing a first pitch at Rickwood Field, in Birmingham, Jefferson County, Radcliffe died in Chicago on August 11, 2005, and was buried in Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago.

Further Reading

  • Lester, Larry, Sammy L. Miller, and Dick Clark. Black Baseball in Detroit. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Publishing, 2000.
  • ———.  Black Baseball’s National Showcase: The East-West All-Star Game, 1933-1953. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001.
  • McNary, Kyle P. Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe: 36 Years of Pitching & Catching in Baseball’s Negro Leagues. N.P., 1994.
  • Rogosin, Donn, and Monte Irvin. Invisible Men: Life in Baseball’s Negro Leagues. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2020.

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Theodore “Double Duty” Radcliffe

Theodore “Double Duty” Radcliffe