June 2001

Mamie “Peanut” Johnson

Female Baseball Legend

While practicing baseball with the “boys,” Mamie “Peanut” Johnson never imagined that one day she would become a female baseball legend. And that she did! She actually became the first and only female to pitch baseball in the Negro Major League. Mamie Johnson, the daughter of Gentry Harrison and Della Belton Havelow, was born on September 27, 1935, in Ridgeway, South Carolina. When she was only seven years old, she would play baseball every day. When she left South Carolina to pursue her college education in 1943, she refused to let anyone or anything interfere with her love of playing baseball. She practiced while pursuing her studies at New York University. At the time, amateur and professional baseball teams were segregated. When she was 17 years old, Ms. Johnson was rejected as a team member by the White Female Baseball League. This unfair treatment and prejudice became her victory. She proclaimed, “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.” In 1953, Bish Tyson, a former player with the Negro League, observed Ms. Johnson practicing on a field in Washington, D.C. He was overwhelmed by her athletic abilities. He maintained that she was a great player and suggested that she play professional baseball. He introduced her to Bunny Downs, Manager of the Indianapolis Clowns. After one tryout, Mamie Johnson made the team. What an outstanding achievement for a female athlete! While pitching her first game with the Clowns, a batter on the opposing team yelled to her, “What makes you think you can strike a batter out’ Why, you aren’t any larger than a peanut!” Mamie never said a word, but the batter soon found out what she could do! 1 – 2 – 3 – OUT! From that day, the 100 pound baseball player had the nickname, “Peanut.” Mamie “Peanut,” Johnson played professional baseball for three seasons, from 1953 to 1955, with the Indianapolis Clowns. During her tenure, she won 33 games and lost 8 games. Her batting average ranged from .262 to .284. Of this opportunity, she exclaimed, “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.” After her professional baseball career ended, Ms. Johnson was a licensed nurse for thirty years. Currently, she manages the Negro Baseball League’s Memorabilia Shop in Prince George’s County, Maryland. She also coaches all-star baseball teams and encourages students to pursue academic excellence. President and Mrs. Clinton have honored Ms. Johnson at the White House as a female baseball legend. She has also received the Mary McLeod Bethune Continuing the Legacy Award.