Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe, a standout Negro leagues baseball player known for his versatility, longevity and peerless storytelling, died Aug. 11 of cancer at his home in Chicago. At 103, he was believed to be the country's oldest living professional baseball player.
Mr. Radcliffe spent 36 years as a professional and semiprofessional ballplayer, including 22 years in the Negro leagues. He was a boyhood friend of Satchel Paige and probably caught more of the great pitcher's games than any other player.
Mr. Radcliffe's teammates included such black stars as Paige, Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson, James "Cool Papa" Bell and Oscar Charleston, whom he considered the best all-around player he ever saw. He played in exhibition games against such major league stars as Ty Cobb, Dizzy Dean, Jimmie Foxx, Bob Feller and Willie Mays.
He was Jackie Robinson's roommate on the Kansas City Monarchs in 1945, when Robinson signed to play with the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking baseball's color barrier. By then, Mr. Radcliffe was in his forties and his chance for a major league career had passed. He stayed in the fading Negro leagues as a player and manager until 1950, then played semiprofessional ball four more years, until he was 52.
Short and solid, at about 5 feet 9 inches tall and 210 pounds, Mr. Radcliffe was equally adept as a pitcher, hitter and strong-armed catcher. He received his nickname in 1932 when sportswriter Damon Runyon watched him catch the first game of a doubleheader, then pitch a shutout in the second game. From then on, he was known as "Double Duty" or simply "Duty."
Reliable statistics were not kept in the Negro leagues, but Mr. Radcliffe played for at least 42 teams during his career, including as many as seven in a season. Among others, he played with the New York Black Yankees, Birmingham Black Barons, Chicago American Giants, Pittsburgh Crawfords and Washington's Homestead Grays.
He is not a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but there is no doubt that he was an outstanding player, as well as one of the great characters of the game. On his chest protector, he had printed, "Thou Shalt Not Steal."
His biographer, Kyle P. McNary, estimated that Mr. Radcliffe had a lifetime average of .303, with 4,000 hits, 400 home runs and more than 400 victories as a pitcher -- numbers that seemed to rise every time Mr. Radcliffe retold his life story.
One story he never wavered on, however, was his insistence that Paige fibbed about his age. They were both from Mobile, Ala., and shared a birthday, July 7. Mr. Radcliffe was born in 1902, and Paige claimed to have been born in 1906.
"He was always two years older than me when we was kids," Mr. Radcliffe told Sports Illustrated in 2002. "He was always two years older than me when we was in school together."
He said that no pitcher threw harder or with better control than Paige.
"Nobody can be better than Satchel Paige," Mr. Radcliffe told The Washington Post's William Gildea in April. "Satchel Paige is the greatest pitcher who ever lived."
Mr. Radcliffe always was ready to recall his days in the Negro leagues.
"People ask me if we were as good as the white major league players," he told the Boston Globe in 1991. "My answer is to ask them. We kicked butt every time we played them."
Theodore Roosevelt Radcliffe also grew up with the fathers of future Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Billy Williams. In 1919, he and his brother -- Negro leagues player Alex Radcliffe -- moved to Chicago, where Mr. Radcliffe played semipro baseball before joining the Detroit Stars in 1928. In 22 seasons in the Negro leagues, he made six all-star teams, three as a catcher and three as a pitcher.
Traveling through the Midwest and South, he frequently faced discrimination, which he tried to overcome with stoicism and humor.
"No, I wasn't bitter," he said. "I felt, God's will be done. I was not going to go around with an evil mind just because something was wrong."
In recent years, he was a frequent visitor to White Sox games in Chicago, and on May 13, he threw out the first pitch for the Washington Nationals at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. He was married for 52 years to Alberta Radcliffe, until her death several years ago, though he remained an incorrigible ladies' man to the end.
He didn't begrudge modern players their inflated salaries, even though he believed they didn't play the game as well as he and his compatriots had.
"Shoot! Most I ever made was $750 a month," he once said. "And for that I had to pitch, catch, manage and drive the bus -- fix a flat tire if I had to."