INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Decades before a girl in the Little League Baseball World Series made people ask if a woman might someday pitch in the pros, Mamie “Peanut” Johnson had already done it - as a pitcher in the Negro Leagues for the Indianapolis Clowns.
Johnson pitched for the barnstorming Clowns from 1953 to 1955, playing alongside Henry Aaron and picking up a few pointers from a pretty good pitcher from another team - Satchel Paige.
Today, Mamie Johnson-Goodman is 78 and a retired nurse who lives 10 blocks from the Capitol dome in Washington, D.C. She is also one of the biggest fans of 13-year-old Mo’Ne Davis, who last week became the first girl to be the winning pitcher in a Little League World Series game, and the first black girl to play in the series ever.
“I just have all the admiration in the world for her,” Johnson-Goodman told The Indianapolis Star (http://bit.ly/1tnWQ8a ).
Davis picked up the loss Wednesday night when her Taney Dragons from South Philly fell to Las Vegas. Davis’ team lost again Thursday night and was eliminated.
But Johnson-Goodman said of Davis: “She’s good.”
Perhaps she was missing her good luck charm.
Johnson-Goodman made the four-hour trip from Washington to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, for Davis’ historic win. She met briefly with Davis outside the stadium, an honor that the young pitcher described to the Philadelphia Inquirer as “amazing.”
But Johnson-Goodman went back home to D.C. before the second game. She was nervous and couldn’t even bring herself to turn on the TV. She said she wasn’t sure whether she would tune in Thursday night when Davis’ Taney Dragons plays a team from Chicago.
“Maybe, I’m kind of superstitious,” she said.
Johnson-Goodman was one of three women to play in the Negro Leagues, but the only pitcher. She came along as the league was in decline, its best players having moved into the majors. Teams like the Clowns were looking for gate attractions, such as women ballplayers. But, as Negro League historian Ray Doswell told the Star in 2002, “The women did earn their way onto the team.”
Johnson-Goodman calls those three years some of the best of her life. “My memory was playing ball with some of the best ballplayers that ever was and being around some gentlemen and getting all the respect in the world,” she said. “It was like having 28 brothers.”
And what of the big question on people’s minds: Can Davis or some other young woman pitch in the Big Leagues? Johnson-Goodman said the young star has much to learn about being a pitcher. She says her coaches need to do more to teach her the fundamentals of the game. But she thinks Davis could be the one.
“She seems to have a determined way about her,” she said. “You have to be determined to do what you want to do.”