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Posted: December 20, 2017

Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, 82

First female to play in the Negro Leagues, Johnson died Tuesday in South Carolina

Born in 1935 in South Carolina, Johnson had a passion for the mound since she was 7.

By Ernie Suggs and Raisa Habersham

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 sealed Johnson’s place in baseball history when she became the first woman to ever play in the Negro Leagues

“She was a true pioneer,” said Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. “Her story is a tremendous tool of hope and inspiration for every girl and it speaks to the inclusive nature of the Negro League before the country gave women an opportunity.” 

On Tuesday, Mamie "Peanut" Johnson, died in Columbia, S.C. She was 82. 

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 for the league immortalized in the movie, “A League of Their Own.” 

Instead, the 18-year-old went to the one place where she knew at least black ball players were welcome – the Negro Leagues. She would play for the Indianapolis Clowns (whose other most notable player was Hank Aaron)

Johnson was one of only three women known to have played in the Negro Leagues, along with Toni Stone and Connie Morgan. 

Between 1953 and 1955 Johnson posted a 33-8 record on the mound and batted .270. 

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 her baseball career, Johnson attended New York University, before getting a nursing degree from North Carolina A&T State University. She practiced nursing for 30 years. 

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

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

A version of this story ran on Feb. 24, 2017 as part of AJC Sepia’s Black History Month series. Go to myAJC.com/black-history-month 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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