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"Double Duty" Radcliffe Dies at 103

By Benjy Lipsman in News on Aug 11, 2005 7:35PM

2005_08_radcliff_obit.jpgChicagoist remembers being at a Sox game a couple years ago and seeing an old guy in a wheel chair entertaining a crowd while flirting with women a third his age. When we asked an usher who that was, we were told he was former Negro Leagues star Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe -- who died today at 103. Born in Mobile, Alabama, Radcliffe lived in Chicago much of his life. He spent his later years living in a retirement home near U.S. Cellular Field and regularly attended games at the park. In recent years it had become tradition for him to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at White Sox games on his July 7th birthday.

"Double Duty shared such a love for baseball and a passion for life," White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. "We all loved to see him at the ballpark, listen to his stories and share in his laughter. He leaves such a great legacy after experiencing so much history and change during his long life. He will be missed by all of us with the White Sox."

While Radcliffe forged a relationship with the Sox later in life, his professional career was spent entirely in the Negro Leagues, where he played for 15 teams from 1928 until 1950. A six-time All Star, he was selected three times each as a pitcher and cather. This versitility lead to his "Double Duty" nickname, which came from sports writer Damon Runyon during the 1932 Negro League World Series after Radcliffe caught for Satchel Paige in the first game of a double header before pitching a shutout in the second game.

In addition to teaming up with Hall of Famer Paige, "Duty" also played and roomed with Jackie Robinson -- who famously broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947. Radcliffe, however never played in the Majors. In fact, in an attempt to stem the flow of black players to the Majors, Radcliffe --manager of the Chicago Giants at the time -- began signing white players into the Negro League.

Living 103 years, Radcliff saw a lot of change in the game he loved -- some good, some not so good. At a recent ceremony honoring Negro League players, he noted "It ain't like it used to be. There used to be some good pitchers. There aren't ballplayers like there used to be. It's a shame." It's also a shame for the game to lose another piece to its past, a character whose passion for the game as well as a sense of humor. During an exhibition game against Major League players, Radcliffe threw out Ty Cobb as he attempted to steal second base. Only afterward, did Cobb notice that Radcliffe's chest protector said "Thou Shalt Not Steal."