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Yesterday marked our seventh annual Negro Leagues Tribute at Miller Park.
As part of the Negro Leagues Tribute, the Brewers wore reproductions of uniforms worn by the Milwaukee Bears, the city’s 1923 representative in the Negro National League. The team played just one season before disbanding but featured some of the game’s most influential men, including Hall-of-Fame player/manager John Preston “Pete” Hill. The Washington Nationals also joined in the celebration by wearing the uniforms of the Homestead Grays, which played in the Negro Leagues from 1912-1950.
As part of our tribute, we also honored two former Negro Leagues players, Porter Reed and Mamie “Peanut” Johnson in a pregame ceremony.
Porter Reed is 90 years old and played as an outfielder with four different teams from 1946-1953–the Detroit Wolves, the Ligon All-Stars, the Omaha Rockets and the Houston Eagles. Porter was known for his speed and strong arm. Prior to his career in the Negro Leagues, he served in the United States Army from 1942-46 and played baseball on the military teams while stationed overseas in Saipan.
“When I was a young man, there wasn’t much to do, but play sports. In the summertime, we played baseball and in the fall, we played football,” Porter told me.
His neighborhood in Muskogee, Oklahoma, though, really influenced his career.
There was a baseball diamond about 60 yards from his house Porter also noted that two men in the neighborhood played for the Kansas City Monarchs, which inspired him to want to play in the Negro Leagues.
Porter told me he doesn’t have one favorite memory of his time, but he enjoyed playing all over the United States, against all of the different Negro Leagues teams. Porter played with and against players like Satchel Paige (more on him in a minute), Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella.
It was an honor to speak to Porter, but personally, as a female, I was very excited to have the opportunity to meet and speak with Mamie “Peanut” Johnson. After facing rejection as a team member of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League due to race, Mamie turned a negative into a positive by becoming just one of three women to play in the Negro Leagues alongside the men (the other two were Connie Morgan and Toni Stone). Mamie was a right-handed pitcher and utility player for the Indianapolis Clowns from 1953-55.
“Where I came from in South Carolina, we had had nothing else to do when I was a child. Baseball was all we knew and we made our own baseballs with a stone, some twine and masking tape and that was our baseball. I learned how to play it pretty good when I was about 7 or 8 years old. The more I played, the better I got. The better I got, the more I wanted to play. And it just stuck with me. Baseball was just my thing and I enjoyed it and it was in mind as I got older that that was what I was going to do,” Mamie said.
Mamie moved to New Jersey and then to Washington, D.C. In Washington, D.C., she played sandlot ball with the men.
“One day a gentleman that was an old Negro League ballplayer asked me if I wanted to play pro baseball and I said, ‘Hell yeah! I’m ready. This has been on my mind for years. ‘ I was just at the right place at the right time. He sent me to meet the Clowns.”
Mamie said she went for a tryout that day… and the next day she was on the bus to Spring Training.
Mamie, who compiled a 33-8 record, earned her nickname “Peanut” when Kansas City Monarchs third baseman Hank Baylis taunted her because of her small size.
I had read that Mamie received some advice on her curveball from the legendary pitcher Satchel Paige. When I asked her about this, she confirmed it, telling me:
“I met him and it was such a pleasure. I didn’t realize who he really was, that he was one of the greatest pitchers that ever lived, you know? I didn’t realize it because we were just playing ball and then-hey! It meant so much to me to know that he was that kind, to help me.”
When Mamie was asked if she struck out anyone with that level of notoriety, she said, “‘I struck out a whole lot of fellas” and named Henry “Hank” Aaron, also a former Indianapolis Clown, among them, as well as the Negro Leagues All-Star catcher, Art “Junior” Hamilton (who was honored at Miller Park in 2007).
During her career, Mamie was part of the Clowns’ championship team in 1954. Of winning, “It felt beautiful!” she said.
“”To be able to say you were an equal to some of the best ballplayers that ever picked up the bat….I am proud to say I did it and I did it well!” Mamie exclaimed.
“When you have something that’s in you that you want to do and you get the opportunity to do that, It’s a tremendous feeling and this is how I started playing Negro League Baseball and it was so, so wonderful, I enjoyed it,” she said.
Following her baseball career, Mamie returned to school and became a nurse for over 30 years.
The ceremonies for both Porter and Mamie will continue today, beginning at 1:45 p.m. when they will be inducted into the Yesterday’s Negro League Hall of Fame at the Mother Kathryn Daniels Center located at 3500 W. Mother Daniels Way on the grounds of Milwaukee’s Holy Redeemer Church (COGIC). The event is open to the public.
In addition, the game-worn Milwaukee Bears uniforms from last night’s game will be available for auction on brewers.com starting at noon CT on Wednesday, August 1. The auction will end at 5 p.m. CT on Wednesday, August 15. The proceeds from the auction will go to Brewers Community Foundation to benefit the Yesterday’s Negro League Baseball Players Foundation and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.