Theodore Roosevelt "Double Duty" Radcliffe (July 7, 1902–August 11, 2005) was at his death thought to be the oldest living professional baseball player (it was later discovered that Silas Simmons was born seven years earlier in 1895), one of only a handful of major league (considering the Negro Leagues major) players who lived past their 100th birthdays, and a former star in the Negro Leagues. Playing for more than 30 teams, Radcliffe had more than 4,000 hits and 400 home runs, won about 500 games and had 4,000 strike-outs. He played as a pitcher and a catcher, became a manager, and in his old age became a popular ambassador for the game.
Damon Runyon coined the nickname "Double Duty" because Radcliffe played as a catcher and as a pitcher in the successive games of a 1932 Negro League World Series doubleheader between the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Monroe Monarchs. In the first of the two games at Yankee Stadium Radcliffe caught the pitcher Satchel Paige for a shutout and then pitched a shutout in the second game. Runyon wrote that Radcliffe "was worth the price of two admissions." Radcliffe considered his year with the 1932 Pittsburgh Crawfords to be one of the highlights of his career. The Crawfords beat the Monarchs 5-1 in the best-of-nine series.
Radcliffe pitched three and caught three of the six East-West All-Star games in which he played. He also pitched in two and caught in six other All-Star games. He hit .376 (11-for-29) in nine exhibition games against major leaguers. Based in part on this, he would sometimes claim to be the greatest baseball player of all time. Despite this claim, he is not a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
As teenagers, in 1919, Ted and Alex hitchhiked north to Chicago to join an older brother. The rest of the family soon followed to live on the South Side of Chicago. A year later Ted Radcliffe signed on with the semi-pro Illinois Giants at $50 for every 15 games and 50¢ a day meal money. This worked out at about $100 a month. He travelled with the Giants for a few seasons before joining Gilkerson's Union Giants, another semi-pro team with whom he played until he joined the Detroit Stars in 1928 and entered the Negro National League.
Radcliffe was known as a glib, fast-talking player. Ty Cobb reported that as a catcher in an exhibition game he wore a chest protector that said "thou shalt not steal." He could call a clever game as a catcher and his banter from the pitching mound distracted some hitters. His biographer, Kyle P. McNary, estimates that Radcliffe had a .303 batting average, 4,000 hits and 400 homers in 36 years in the game (See Baseball statistics).
Standing 5 ft 9 in and weighing 210 pounds (95 kg) Radcliffe had a strong throwing arm, good catching reflexes and great cunning. Even with these strengths, he also mastered many illegal pitches including the emery ball, the cut ball and the spitter. Statistics for the Negro League baseball are incomplete but those available for 8 of his 23 seasons show him hitting .273.
With the Detroit Stars he was the regular catcher for the first half of the season, but when the pitching staff grew tired he began pitching and led the team to championship. His career best hitting average was .316 for the 1929 Detroit Stars.
Radcliffe believed the Homestead Grays 1931 team to be the greatest team of all time. The side included Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, Jud Wilson, and Smokey Joe Williams. Gibson and Charleston joined him in the 1932 Pittsburg Crawfords. Radcliffe and his close friend Satchel Paige were easily persuaded to change sides by offers of higher earnings and both moved frequently. They also formed several Negro League all-star teams to play exhibition games against white major league stars. By the end of his career Radcliffe had played for 30 different teams and in one season alone he played in 5 teams.
Radcliffe was player-manager of the integrated Jamestown Red Sox of North Dakota from May to October 1934. This made him the first black man to manage white professional players. He also played for the Chicago American Giants in that season. Post-season he managed a white semi-pro North Dakota team that toured Canada playing a major league all-star team gathered by Jimmie Foxx. Radcliffe's team had won two games out of three when Foxx was hit on the head by a Chet Brewer pitch, and the tour cancelled.
In the next season Radcliffe had trouble securing his release from the Brooklyn Eagles of the Negro Leagues, but on June 21 he joined the integrated Bismarck Churchills. Along withSatchel Paige, Moose Johnson, and others, Radcliffe helped to lead the club to the first National Semipro Championship. This North Dakota team was owned by Neil Churchill, a car dealer who funded an integrated team more than a decade before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in the Major League. Other Negro Leaguers on the team included Chet Brewer, Hilton Smith, Barney Morris and Quincy Trouppe.
Radcliffe managed the Memphis Red Sox in 1937 as well as catching and pitching for them. He stayed there for 1938 and in 1943, aged 41, he rejoined the Chicago American Giants. Despite his age Duty won the Negro American League MVP award that season and a year later he struck a home run into the upper deck of Comiskey Park for the highlight of that season’s East-West All-Star game.
In 1945 Radcliffe played for the Kansas City Monarchs and roomed with Jackie Robinson. He integrated two semipro leagues, the Southern Minny (Minnesota) and the Michigan-Indiana League in 1948, by signing black and white players. Two years later in 1950 Radcliffe managed the Chicago American Giants of the Negro American League. The team’s owner, Dr. J.B. Martin, was concerned about black players joining Major League teams so he instructed Radcliffe to sign white players. Radcliffe recruited at least five young white players (Lou Chirban, Lou Clarizio, Al Dubetts, Frank Dyall and Stanley Miarka).
As player-manager of the Elmwood Giants in the Manitoba-Dakota League in 1951 he batted .459 with a 3-0 pitching record, and in 1952 at the age of 50 he batted .364 with a 1-0 pitching mark. A 1952 Pittsburgh Courier poll of Negro League experts named Double Duty the 5th greatest catcher in Negro League history and the 17th greatest pitcher. He retired two years later as a player-manager in Winnipeg, Canada. His peak earnings had been $850 a month in a period when the top rate for a Major League player was the $10,000 paid monthly to Hank Greenberg in 1947.
In the 1960s he was employed as a baseball scout including a time with the Cleveland Indians.
In 1997 Radcliffe was inducted into the "Yesterday's Negro League Baseball Players Wall of Fame" at County Stadium in Milwaukee. And in 1999, aged 96, he became the oldest player to appear in a professional game when he threw a single pitch for the Schaumburg Flyers of the Northern League. After his 100th birthday Double Duty celebrated each year by throwing a ceremonial first pitch for the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. On July 27, 2005, he threw the first pitch at Rickwood Field, Birmingham, Alabama. Two weeks later Radcliffe died in Chicago on August 11, 2005 due to complications from cancer.
Despite two strokes and other health problems related to his age, Radcliffe continued to be active in his community in old age. He received the state of Illinois Historical Committee's Lifetime Achievement Award and was honored by Mayor Richard Daley as being an outstanding citizen of Chicago. He has been the guest of three U.S. Presidents at the White House. A WGN documentary about Radcliffe's life, narrated by Morgan Freeman, won an Emmy Award. The Illinois Department of Aging inducted him into their Hall of Fame in 2002.
Kyle McNary met Radcliffe in 1992 when he was trying to learn more about black baseball in his home town of Bismarck, North Dakota. Radcliffe subsequently suggested that McNary should write his biography and the result was self-published by McNary in 1994. Radcliffe would travel widely to ballgames and became known for his lively good humor and gentle clowning.
Throughout his career Double Duty had to endure segregation. In every city except Saint Paul, Minnesota he and his colleagues had to stay in segregated hotels, eat in segregated restaurants and had trouble getting cabs at night. He also faced racist hostility from players and has claimed that, among others, "Ty Cobb didn't like colored people". Radcliffe recalled stopping the team car to buy gas in Waycross, Georgia. When the players tried to drink water from the car wash hose, the owner of the gas station told them, "Put that hose down—that's for white folks to drink." Radcliffe told a Boston Globe interviewer: "After that, I refused to buy gas from him. About four miles down the road, the gas ran out and we had to push the car five miles."
Radcliffe’s stories were entertaining but not always reliable. His claim to have seen Fidel Castro with a cigar at a winter game in Cuba and his observation that the man "couldn’t play" seems unlikely given that Castro would have been just 14 at the time.
Raelee Frazier cast Ted Radcliffe’s twisted broken hands in bronze as part of the 2003 Hitters Hands series of baseball sculptures that toured the United States in Shades of Greatness, an exhibition sponsored by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
In 2005 an 8”x10” monochrome photograph or a baseball autographed by Ted Radcliffe cost about $300 before his death.