William Julius Johnson was born October 26, 1900 in Snow Hill, Maryland, although he spent much of his childhood moving around due to his father's work as a sailor. As a child, he frequently played baseball and football with other children in Wilmington, Delaware. Despite his abilities in football and baseball, his father wished to train William as a boxer. Despite his father's wishes, Johnson remained devoted to baseball, his sport of choice, becoming a semi-professional athlete by playing with the Chester Stars in Pennsylvania.
Due to the nature of professional sports of the period, Johnson often had to take on outside work, which brought him to New Jersey during the First World War to work the docks of Bacharach as a stevedore, which allowed him to play for the Bacharach Giants, eventually enabling him to have tryouts for the Hilldale Giants and Madison Stars, whom he later signed for. By 1922, he was a professional playing with the Hilldale Giants as a shortstop, then third baseman for $135 a month.
Johnson proved to be a supreme asset for Hilldale teams, wit batting averages of .391, .369, .392 from 1923 to 1925. In 1924, he played during the first Negro League World Series against the Kansas City Monarchs, and the Giants would win three Pennants while Johnson played for them. In his final season for Hilldale (1929), he posted a batting average of .390. After the 1929 season, he became a player-manager for the Homestead Grays, where he was responsible for turning them into a powerhouse and signing a young Josh Gibson. He proved unable to stay away from Hilldale, and returned a year later as a player manager until the franchise dissolved, whereupon he joined the Pittsburgh Crawfords, before being traded back to the Grays and retiring in 1937.
In his retirement, he worked returned to Wilmington and worked as a supervisor for the Continental Can Company, opened a general store before returning to baseball. He worked as a scout for the Philadelphia Athletics, Philadelphia Phillies, Dodgers, and Milwaukee Braves. He ultimately worked as a training coach for the Athletics. His outstanding record as a player enabled him to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1975, and he served the body as a member of the Hall of Fame's Committee on Negro Baseball Leagues from 1971 to 1974.
He married Anita Irons in 1923, and they had one daughter, Loretta. He retired to Wilmington, Delaware, where he died on June 15, 1989.
“Judy Johnson was the smartest third baseman I ever came across. A scientific ballplayer, did everything with grace and poise.” - Ted Page
“Judy could do all that is required to make up a sterling third baseman and do it better than the rest of the field. [He] …hit the ball hard to all corners of the lot. Slight of build, this Hilldale luminary was a fielding gem, whose breathtaking plays on bunts and hard smashes are treasured among many fans memoirs.” – Lloyd Thompson
"Johnson was the best hitter among the four top third basemen in the Negro Leagues, but no one would drive in as many clutch runs as he would. He was dependable, quiet, not flashy at all, but could handle anything that came up. No matter how much the pressure, no matter how important the play or the hit, Judy could do it when it counted. "
- Cool Papa Bell
"Baseball is like everything else. You got to study every angle to win." - Judy Johnson
"John Henry Lloyd is the man I gave the credit to for polishing my skills. He taught me how to play third base and how to protect myself. John taught me more baseball than anyone else." - Judy Johnson
Unveiling of Monument to Baseball Legend and Native Son Judy Johnson Set for Saturday at Snow Hill Branch Library
Saturday, April 27, 2019, at 2 p.m., all are invited to join Worcester County Historical Society (WCHS) and Worcester County Library representatives, as they unveil a new monument on the front lawn of the Snow Hill Branch Library to honor baseball legend and Snow Hill native William “Judy” Johnson.
Born on October 20, 1900 in Snow Hill, Maryland, Johnson later moved to Delaware. He played in the Negro Leagues (1923-1937), including three pennants in a row. He later served as a Major League baseball scout and coach for teams that included the Athletics, the Phillies, and the Dodgers. He is recognized as one of the greatest third basemen of all time, an outstanding fielder and clutch hitter, and the first African American coach in the majors.
The Worcester County Historical Society, a nonprofit dedicated to discovering, preserving, and disseminating the rich natural and cultural history of the county and state, went to work in 2018 on plans to memorialize the birthplace of Johnson.
“Johnson is an inspiration to anyone who has been told, ‘You can’t do this,’ and he’s a great human being, so we really wanted to do something to honor him,” WCHS President Newton Weaver said, explaining that the WCHS’s unanimous support along with public and private donors were instrumental in making this project a reality. “This project got legs, and we were going to make sure it happened.”
Weaver and fellow WCHS members recognize that the presence of the monument on the front lawn of the Snow Hill Branch Library will inspire residents and visitors alike to pause and take a closer look at local history. Once inside the library, patrons will also have opportunities to learn more about Johnson’s life and career. Thanks to partnerships with the Julia A. Purnell Museum and Chris Harrington, chair of Fine Arts at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, historic information and artifacts about Johnson are part of a rotating local history collection housed at the Worcester County Library. The library is dedicated to preservation and educating the public about local history.
“We are honored to have the Judy Johnson monument next to the library,” Worcester County Library Director Jennifer Ranck said. “By all accounts, he was a modest man, but he made tremendous contributions to baseball and to the players he coached. Part of the library’s charge is to preserve local history. We treasure the stories of those who came before us, as they influence and shape the ongoing story of our community.”
The Commissioners, WCHS, and County Library members encourage residents and visitors alike to attend the unveiling this weekend. Following the unveiling, light refreshments will be available in the library. Discover the world of resources and programs available through the Worcester County Library by visiting www.worcesterlibrary.org.
For his contributions to baseball, Johnson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1975. Learn more about the WCHS and how you can partner with them to preserve local history by visiting www.historicalworcster.org.