Many words were used to describe the late Negro Leagues pitcher Mamie “Peanut” Johnson during a Dec. 30 memorial service, but one in particular resonated: unafraid.
“You had to be a lot of things playing against men,” said Pedro Sierra, a former Negro Leagues player and Johnson’s teammate on the Indianapolis Clowns in the 1950s. “I thought a woman playing was a gimmick, but she could really play. She was like a sister to us. She is a part of history.”
Sierra joined more than 100 people to celebrate Johnson’s life at Way of the Cross Church of Christ in Capitol Heights, Maryland. Johnson, who resided in northeast D.C., received numerous cards, letters and a proclamation from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser to announce Saturday as “a day of remembrance.”
Family and friends at the funeral service cried tears of sadness, but also laughed when they told stories about Johnson. According to her goddaughter, Charlette Stapleton of Northeast, the 82-year-old who played three seasons (1953-55) in the Negro Leagues succumbed to diabetes.
“When my mother couldn’t do nothing with me, I had to go across the street to [Johnson’s] house, who took care of my butt,” said Stapleton, who sported a light blue Clowns’ Negro Leagues T-shirt. “She was the chief of the neighborhood. It takes a village to raise a child and she helped in that aspect.”
Johnson’s obituary lists plenty of personal and professional achievements before her Dec. 17 death:
• Baseball field named in her honor at the Rosedale Recreation Center in Northeast;
• A Little League named after her in the District;
• Two exhibits in Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York; and
• A scene portrayed in the 1992 film, “A League of Their Own.”
In November 2016, Johnson traveled to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, to unveil bronze busts of her and two other women who played on her team, Toni Stone and Connie Morgan, who both died before Johnson.
“The old [saying], ‘Give me my roses when I can smell them,’ makes that moment much more special because she was there to see it,” said Bob Kendrick, president of the museum. “It is profound that these women who may not have been able to pursue their dreams is significant. This is how important the Negro Leagues were to our society.”
Johnson, born Sept. 27, 1935, in Ridgeway, South Carolina, received her love of baseball from her uncle. As a teenager and relocated to D.C., they used rocks wrapped in twine to make baseballs and pie plates as bases.
She couldn’t play for an All-American Girls League with all white players, so she received a tryout while she played semi-pro baseball for all-male squads.
She tried out and made the Indianapolis Clowns, which helped launched the career of Hall of Famer Hank Aaron. Johnson even received pointers from Hall of Famer Leroy “Satchel” Paige on how to pitch a screwball and curveball.
Johnson received her nickname after an opposing player thought she resembled a peanut. She later struck him out.
Johnson left baseball in 1955 to care for her son, Charles Edward Johnson Jr., and received a nursing degree at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro. She worked in the health care profession for 30 years.
After retirement, Johnson still receive accolades for baseball from former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
Although most will remember Johnson’s baseball accomplishments, family and close friends know her as a mother, sister and “good cook.”
“She was just such a people person,” said Sandy Bowlding, who smiled and wiped tears from her eyes. “I’m her cousin, but she was like an aunt to me. She’s an iconic figure for what she has done, but she’s family to us. She will be missed.”