William “Judy” Johnson

The CODE BREaker

“Baseball is like everything else. You got to study every angle to win.”

Judy Johnson, many old timers insist, was the best third baseman ever. He had good range and a tremendous arm, but his greatest asset was his mind. Johnson was baseball’s version of the decoding machine. After only an inning or two of watching an opposing manager’s hand signals, Johnson would decipher them and pass the information on to his teammates.

In his many years with the Homestead Grays, Johnson worked out a sly code of his own with catcher Josh Gibson. Judy would swipe the base-stealing signs coming in from the enemy dugout to their baserunner and would in turn whistle a coded message to Gibson, tipping him off to when and where the runner would be going. Countless players were thrown out before they got anywhere near their intended base.

Judgement Caller

In the field, Johnson’s reflexes were enhanced by his ability to judge, from the type of pitch, where and how hard the ball was likely to be hit. At the plate, he was a contact hitter with a .287 average in a 15- year career that spanned 1921 to 1936. His best mark was 416 in 1929. Johnson went to the play-offs six times and the Negro Leagues World Series in 1921, 1924, and 1925. In the 1924 Series, playing for Hilldale against K.C., he led both teams with an average of .364, including six doubles, a triple, and a homer. When the color line was finally broken, Johnson’s playing days were well behind. However, his impeccable game sense and awareness were eventually recognized by the Philadelphia Phillies, who employed Johnson as a talent scout until his retirement in 1974.

Delaware Legacy

The statue of Judy Johnson outside of Frawley Stadium, and  the baseball field within named after him, pay homage to the player’s childhood roots in Delaware.

Judy Johnson Statue

The stadium was built in 1997, and is the current home of the Wilmington Blue Rocks, a High A affiliate of the Washington Nationals.

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Featured Video

William Julius “Judy” Johnson reflects on his time as a star third baseman and later career as a major-league scout.

Judy Johnson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York August 18, 1975. He was selected Delaware”s “Athlete of the Year” in 1976. He had a great career in the old Negro Leagues. A .300 hitter, he helped Hilldale win three titles in a row in the 1920s and helped the Pittsburgh Crawfords to a championship in 1935.

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