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The Official Site of the Wilmington Blue Rocks Wilmington Blue Rocks

For Frawley Stadium newcomers, the first thing that catches your eye as you arrive to the ballpark is not necessarily the stadium itself but the statue that towers in front of it. That statue is dedicated to a person who had a tremendous impact on the game of baseball both during and after his playing days, that man is William Julius "Judy" Johnson. From 1921 until 1937, Johnson would play for three different Negro League teams, he earned two All-Star selections, and would win the Negro League World Series with the Hilldale Club in 1925. After his playing days were over, Johnson would go onto scout for several Major League Baseball teams. In 1975, Johnson would be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the first Delawarean to receive that honor. The Wilmington Blue Rocks continue to remember the legacy of Johnson by hosting an annual “Judy Johnson Appreciation Night.” Now the Blue Rocks have launched this webpage for fans to learn about the life of William Julius “Judy” Johnson.

The Life & Legacy Of Judy Johnson

William Julius "Judy" Johnson was born in Snow Hill, MD in 1899. He, his mother, and his father, who was a sailor and a certified boxing coach, moved to Wilmington, Delaware when Judy was five years old. He began his career on the Semi-Pro circuit at $5 per game. His talent would quickly lead to a pay raise, and Johnson would join the legendary Hilldale Club of the Eastern Colored League in 1921. It was here where he received the nickname “Judy.” Johnson’s teammates gave him the nickname because they felt his game resembled that of Judy Gans, a Negro League outfielder who played from 1908 until 1917. That nickname would stick with Johnson for the rest of his life.

His Hilldale teams were widely heralded as some of the best teams on the east coast. They would win three straight pennants from 1923 until 1925. The 1924 Hilldale club would play in the first ever Negro League World Series. Their opponent would be the infamous Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro National League. The series would go on for 10 games with the Monarchs eventually winning the series five games to four, the third game of the series would end in a 6-6 tie. Johnson’s Hilldale club would return to the Negro League World Series again in 1925 and would get another shot at the Monarchs. This time fortune would favor the Hilldale club as they would win the series five games to one. Johnson had a tremendous impact in Game 3 of the series, a game that would go to extra innings. He would lead off the top of the 10th with a single. He would eventually be brought home to score the go-ahead run by his teammate Namon Washington.

The Chicago Defender and Pittsburgh Courier would name Johnson the Negro League’s Most Valuable Player after a phenomenal season in 1929, his final with the Hilldale Club. That season, Johnson had a batting average of .373 and an on-base percentage of .413. The following season, Johnson would become a player-manager for the Homestead Grays. It was with Homestead where Johnson would direct his attention, and eventually begin a mentorship, to future Hall of Famer Josh Gibson. During a nighttime exhibition game between the Grays and the Kansas City Monarchs, Johnson would call in Gibson from the stands. This occurred after Grays’ catcher Buck Ewing was injured by a pitch he lost sight of in the lights. Lighting in stadiums and playing games at night was a very new and unique concept in the 1930s.

It was a brief stint with the Grays for Johnson as he spent the early 1931 and 1932 seasons managing the Hilldale Daisies. However, Johnson still believed he could play at a high level, and late in the 1932 season, Johnson would join the Pittsburgh Crawfords, a team that was considered one of the greatest squads in baseball history. The 1932 Crawfords’ team featured five eventual Hall of Famers – Cool Papa Bell, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, and Johnson himself. During his stint with the Crawfords, Johnson maintained a batting average over .300 and was named the team captain for the 1935 season. The Crawfords won the first half championship of the 1935 season, but lost the second half to the Cuban Giants. The two squads faced off in a seven-game series to determine the winner of the pennant. The teams split the first three games to set-up a winner-take-all Game 7. With the Crawfords trailing 7-4 and down to their final out, Johnson hit an infield single to load the bases. Charleston followed Johnson, and hit a game-winning, and series-ending, grand slam to give the Crawfords the pennant.

The Crawfords had another successful season in 1936, finishing the second half of the season in first place. Despite Johnson still playing at a high level that season, the Crawfords made a shocking move and traded Johnson, as well as Josh Gibson, to the Homestead Grays in 1937. Johnson still believed he could play the game at a high level and took the trade personally. He played for a few games in 1937 before ultimately retiring.

Johnson would not be out of baseball for long, as the Philadelphia Athletics would hire Johnson as a scout in 1951. He attempted to get the club to sign future home run king Hank Aaron, albeit unsuccessfully, as the Athletics balked on Aaron’s asking price. Future All-Star infielder Orestes “Minnie” Minoso was another player that Johnson attempted to get the Athletics to sign, but was unsuccessful. Before relocating to Kansas City in 1954, the Athletics assigned Johnson as an assistant coach to instruct black players Bob Trice and Vic Power during spring training. Because Johnson’s assignment was temporary, Buck O’Neil, is often credited with being the first black coach in Major League Baseball. Many believed Johnson could have been a coach in the majors, due to the way he developed and mentored younger players. Ultimately Johnson would never be given an opportunity to coach, but he still had a keen eye for recognizing talent.

Johnson continued to be a scout for several teams, the Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Los Angeles Dodgers, in the late 1950s and 1960s. He is given credit for signing two sluggers, who would have great careers – Dick Allen and Bill Bruton. As one of the Negro League’s oldest surviving stars, Johnson was offered a seat on the Committee on Negro Baseball Leagues in 1971. The committee’s job was to select Negro League players who had excellent careers and deserved induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In 1975, Johnson would have to step down from the committee to accept his own nomination into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Johnson was inducted with fellow Hall of Famers Earl Averill, Bucky Harris, Billy Herman, and Ralph Kiner. Johnson was the first athlete from the First State to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Johnson died on June 15th, 1989, in Wilmington at the age of 89.

Many consider Judy Johnson as the greatest third baseman to ever play in the Negro Leagues. Many players have spoken highly of the way Johnson played the game and of his ability to mentor younger players.

Judy Johnson's Career Stats

For years, the statistics from the various Negro League games has either been missing or filled with inaccuracies. This has been due to a gap in stat recording and documentation, as well as the fact that Negro League stats weren't integrated into Major League Baseball's stat books until recently. In June 2021, Baseball Reference, considered the gatekeeper of baseball statistics, announced the completion of a new project where the team at Sports Reference dug deep to compile the statistics of many former Negro League Players. The database is often updated as new stats and research come in. Stats and box scores from these games are often found through old newspaper clippings, stat sheets, and anyone who kept track of the game over the years.

For this webpage, we used stats compiled from Baseball Reference, and are up to date as of February 10, 2022. Please note that stats do not include Judy Johnson’s seasons with Hilldale in 1921 and 1922. It should also be noted that stats from Baseball Reference do not include the many barnstorm and exhibition games that Negro League teams played over the years.

The Wilmington Blue Rocks & Judy Johnson Night

Since the ballpark first opened back in 1993, the Wilmington Blue Rocks and the Delaware Stadium Corporation have taken tremendous steps to preserve the legacy of Judy Johnson. Of course it all starts with the decision to name the playing field after Judy Johnson himself. As the park was being built in the winter of 1992, the Delaware Stadium Corporation was deciding on a name for the new stadium. With Judy Johnson being the only member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame from Delaware at the time, the Delaware Stadium Corporation made the choice to name the ballpark, "Judy Johnson Field at Legends Stadium." The Wilmington Blue Rocks would play their first game at Judy Johnson Field at Legends Stadium on April 17, 1993.

The Blue Rocks "Judy Johnson Night" has also been a long-standing tradition at Frawley Stadium. It has become an annual celebration and tribute to not only Judy Johnson, but to the entirety of the Negro Leagues. The annual Judy Johnson Tribute Night has become a big event not only for the Blue Rocks, but the entire community of Wilmington. The Blue Rocks are also proud to work with the "Judy Johnson Memorial Foundation" each and every year to help honor the legacy of Johnson.

The Foundation's dedication of preserving the history of Judy Johnson, and the Negro Leagues, has been critical to the Blue Rocks and the surrounding Wilmington community. They have been key players in getting statues and landmarks dedicated to Judy Johnson around Frawley Stadium, and in the surrounding Wilmington community. The most notable landmark can be found directly in front of Frawley Stadium. On April 14, 1995, a bronze statue of Judy Johnson was unveiled. The statue features Johnson in the pose from his most famous photo on top of a marble slab with a plaque. Engraved in the plaque is a paragraph talking about Johnson's baseball career and a quote from Johnson when he was on the Crawfords in 1935. In attendance at the unveiling was Negro League legend and National Baseball Hall of Famer Buck O'Neil.

During the 2021 Judy Johnson Tribute Night held on August 28, it was announced pre-game that Delmarva Lane would be renamed to Judy Johnson Drive. Prior to the game a new street sign was installed to reflect the change. The road intersects with both Frawley Drive and Matt Minker Way, two other roads named after people who had a powerful impact on the Wilmington community.

The Judy Johnson Memorial Foundation's relationship with the Negro League community has helped bring a variety of unique fan-fare that you will only find at Judy Johnson Night. Something many fans have seen in the past as you go through the gates on Judy Johnson Night is the various booths along the concourse. In those booths you could find merchants selling unique Negro League memorabilia. Jerseys, jackets, hats, and so much more can be found along the concourse. The Foundation has been able to bring out an artist who, over the years, has painted beautiful canvases of former Negro League players.

But the Foundation has done more than just bring out merchants for Judy Johnson Night, it has also brought out former Negro League players to be honored on the field before the game. Those legends that have walked onto Judy Johnson Field include Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe, Stanley "Doc" Glenn, Leon Day, Mahlon Duckett, Pedro Sierra, Jimmy "Brady" Bland, and Mamie "Peanut" Johnson. The team has also honored legends like Josh Gibson, Buck O' Neil, Buck Leonard, Jackie Robinson, and of course Johnson himself.

The Blue Rocks organization also takes its own steps to make Judy Johnson Night successful. In the offseason, the team will concept and design a giveaway for fans who come to the game on that night. The Blue Rocks have come up with a variety of unique giveaways over the years that have included a Judy Johnson replica Hall of Fame plaque, a Pittsburgh Crawfords Judy Johnson bobblehead, and a Judy Johnson replica Bronze Statue.

The team has also donned specialty jerseys on the field during several Judy Johnson Tribute Nights. The most notable jerseys that were worn on the field by the Blue Rocks are the replica Kansas City Monarchs jerseys that the Monarchs wore in the 1940s. The jerseys had a cream colored base with red shoulder pads, two red strips down the middle of the jersey, and the Monarchs wordmark across the front. The Blue Rocks went even further with the Negro League jerseys and had the opposing team wear replica Homestead Grays jersey.

Specialty jerseys dedicated to Jackie Robinson have also been worn by the Blue Rocks on Judy Johnson Tribute Night. These jerseys were replicated around the Brooklyn Dodgers uniform that Jackie Robinson had worn when he was signed by the team in the late 1940s. The jersey features a "Blue Rocks" script logo that looks similar to the same one on the Dodgers uniforms. Every jersey has the number 42 on the back, the number that Jackie wore during his MLB playing days.


Articles & Resources About Judy Johnson

Judy Johnson National Baseball Hall Of Fame Page -

National Baseball Hall Of Fame "Judy Johnson Elected To The Hall Of Fame" -

National Baseball Hall Of Fame "Class of 1975 Found Induction Was Worth The Wait" -

Society For American Baseball Research Bio Project "Judy Johnson" -

Center For Negro Leagues Baseball Research "William 'Judy' Johnson" -

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum eMuseum Player Profile "William 'Judy' Johnson" -

Baseball Reference "William Julius 'Judy' Johnson Career Stats" - "William Julius 'Judy' Johnson Career Stats" -

Delaware Online "Delaware Backstory: Honoring Hall of Famer Judy Johnson" -

Philadelphia Inquirer "'If Judy (Johnson) were only white, he could name his own price'" -

'Judy Johnson' by Kathleen Billus -

Articles & Resources About Negro League Baseball

Center For Negro Leagues Baseball Research -

Center For Negro Leagues Baseball Research "Negro League World Series" PDF -

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum eMuseum -

The Undefeated "The first Negro World Series" -

The Society for American Baseball Research "The Research Collection" -

Seamheads Negro Leagues Database -