CHICAGO -- Here he comes now, hunched over his walker, all dressed up in a dark pin-striped suit and gray fedora, making his way with some difficulty out of the sunlight of a late Sunday afternoon and into the Negro League Cafe. Many of the patrons recognize him as a baseball legend. He is guided to the VIP banquette along the back wall, where he can relax and tell stories about when he played the game, and at the same time observe all the patrons in the restaurant. He is delighted by the coincidence that a women's group of maybe 65 have gathered in the room for dinner, boasting of a still-keen eye for the ladies. He is 102 years old.
Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe gives off a rumbling laugh as he takes a seat, raising his smiling face on a tilt and ordering chicken. The writer Damon Runyon dubbed him "Double Duty" after seeing him catch a shutout by Satchel Paige and then pitch a shutout himself in the second game of a Negro leagues doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. He played baseball as a catcher and a pitcher for 36 years, until 1954. He was the only man to hit a home run off Paige and strike out Josh Gibson.
Ted Radcliffe, a Chicago White Sox fan who attended Opening Day, once tried to rekindle people's love for baseball after the shady scandal of 1919.
(Dudley M. Brooks -- The Washington Post)
"Double Duty" still has the squat build of a catcher, about 5 feet 10, 200 pounds. He also managed for 22 years.
Family and friends call him Duty.
"Duty, do you want the greens and the macaroni?" asks his grandniece, Debra Richards.
"No, just the chicken. Just the chicken."
Duty is the oldest living professional baseball player of a Washington-based team, having played off and on for the Homestead Grays. He is older than the oldest living former Washington Senator, Cuban pitcher Connie Marrero, 94. (Marrero's birth date is April 25, 1911, although sometimes given as May 1, 1917.)
In fact, Radcliffe, the oldest living Negro leagues player, is older than any living former major leaguer, topping the 100-year-old Ray Cunningham, an infielder who played briefly with the St. Louis Cardinals in the early 1930s. Al Spearman, who played in the Negro leagues and is 78, has this to say: "Duty was before my time."
Radcliffe was with the Grays in 1946, when they divided their home schedule between Pittsburgh and Washington's Griffith Stadium. He remembers Griffith Stadium's distant fences -- and the Negro leagues power hitters clearing those fences.
"It wasn't hard for us," he says. "If you got the right pitch, the ball jumped in a hurry."
He's pleased that baseball is back in Washington, and curious about the team that was moved from Montreal.
"Who's the manager?"
"Frank Robinson," he is told.