In a recent column I said farewell to a legend and good friend, Mamie “Peanut” Johnson. My trainer is an avid reader and very up to date on sports history. While he was busy turning my body into a pretzel, and I kept waiting for somebody to come along and sprinkle some salt on me, he asked a question that caught me by surprise. He wanted to know: who was “Peanut” Johnson?
Since I had just discussed her in my farewell column to her, and because this guy is built like a coke machine on roller skates, I was quick to answer in detail. While searching my mind for interesting facts about Peanut, I remembered a story that should be shared.
In the early 1950s, the owner of the Indianapolis Clowns Negro League baseball team saw a young woman playing second base for the San Francisco Sea Lions. A query revealed that she was Marcenia Lyle “Toni” Stone. Her fluid motions and savvy of the game had him reaching for his wallet; he signed her to play for the Clowns and a barrier came down. Today’s readers might think she would be in jeopardy from the all-male surroundings. Not so—she was protected like the Crown Jewels. Messing with Toni would earn you with a knuckle sandwich, served by one or more of her teammates. Toni’s signing not only gave the team a quality second baseman, it put butts in the seats.
Being on a roll, an APB went out for more female talent. Enter Mamie Johnson. One look at this tiny 5-foot-3-inch girl bringing heat from the mound caused the Clowns’ manager to reach for his hanky to dabble at the drool coming from his mouth. A check and a train ticket sealed that deal.
Human nature comes with a trash-talking bug implanted in our genes. In her first appearance, Mamie met the bug in the guise of an opposing player. He stepped into the batter’s box and his mouth jumped into gear. “How do you expect to strike somebody out when you ain’t nothing but a peanut,” he asked. She struck him out and was known as “Peanut” for the rest of her life.
When Peanut left the Clowns in 1955 after two years in the sun, she retired with 33-8 record on the mound and a .270 lifetime batting average. She went on to become a nurse, a profession she practiced for 30 years.
Constance “Connie” Enola Morgan was the last of the trio. She replaced Toni Stone in 1955 at second base and was always proud to say she played in the same tracks as Hank Aaron, who had a stint with the Clowns before he went on to make history.
Not to give the impression that women of color were the only formidable players to compete against men, the Chattanooga Lookouts, a MLB Class AA minor league team had a White female pitcher named Virne Beatrice “Jackie” Mitchell. History shows that in an exhibition game against the mighty New York Yankees in April, 1931, the seventeen-year-old Mitchell pitched back-to-back strikeouts of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. “I am woman, hear me roar!”