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Mamie “Peanut” Johnson: Pitching pioneer

Black History Month

A strikeout was all Mamie Johnson needed to shut up Hank Bayliss’ taunts.

The Kansas City Monarchs’ third baseman mocked the pitching great’s stature, referring to her as “Peanut” — a name unbefitting the size of Johnson’s spirit.

And it was with that strikeout, the first of many, that Johnson got the greatest joy from defeating her opponents.

Born in 1935 in South Carolina, Johnson had a passion for the mound since she was 7. She attempted to try out for the All-American Girls League in 1953. But one sight of her and she wasn’t even allowed into the all-white tryouts.

Luck and history, however, were on Johnson’s side.

Johnson would go on to become the first female pitcher to play in the Negro Leagues with the Indianapolis Clowns (whose other most notable player was Hank Aaron).

Johnson played with the team from 1953 to 1955, and had a 33-8 win-loss record with at least a .270 batting average.

Johnson detailed her struggles to become a professional ballplayer in the book “Strong Right Arm,” written by Michelle Y. Green. Among other things, the book reveals how Johnson and her teammates had to sleep on the bus or stay with family because hotels refused to host them.

Following a fruitful baseball career, Johnson went on to graduate from New York University and practice nursing for 30 years.

In 2008, Johnson and other living members of the Negro League were honored by Major League Baseball.

Celebrate Black History Month

Throughout February, we’ll spotlight a different African-American pioneer in the daily Living section on Monday through Thursday and Saturday, and in the Metro section on Fridays and Sundays. Go to for more subscriber exclusives on people, places and organizations that have changed the world, and to see videos on the African-American pioneer featured here each day.

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