MELISSA BLOCK, host:
A moment now to remember a lesser-known baseball legend. His name officially was Theodore Roosevelt Radcliffe, but nobody called him that.
(Soundbite of "Only A Game")
Mr. THEODORE ROOSEVELT "DOUBLE DUTY" RADCLIFFE: Double Duty, they call me. I'm the oldest living baseball player.
BLOCK: Double Duty Radcliffe played for the Negro Leagues from 1919 to 1954. He died yesterday in Chicago at the age of 103. And he was, indeed, the oldest living pro baseball player, with plenty of stories to tell. Kyle McNary got to hear those stories when he wrote Double Duty Radcliffe's biography.
And, Mr. McNary, let me have you tell the story of how Double Duty got that nickname.
Mr. KYLE P. McNARY (Author, "Ted `Double Duty' Radcliffe: 36 Years of Pitching & Catching in Baseball's Negro Leagues"): Well, in 1932, it was called the Negro League World Series. It actually was kind of a precursor to the Negro League World Series. But he played for a team called the Pittsburgh Crawfords, and they were in Yankee Stadium against the Chicago American Giants. And the first game, Double Duty caught, and Satchel Page pitched and beat the Chicago American Giants. And in the second game, Double Duty took off the pads and went to the mound and threw a shutout to win the second game. And in the stands that day was the famed playwright and sportswriter Damon Runyon. So the next day he wrote in, I think it was, the New York American that Double Duty was worth the price of two admissions, because he could play two positions. He performed double duty. And from that day forward, he was Double Duty. And actually, his real close friends just called him Duty.
BLOCK: Well, this wasn't just this one game where he pitched and catched. He did this all the time, equally well, it seems.
Mr. McNARY: Absolutely. I've probably documented about a hundred games where he did it. And he was an All-Star three times as a pitcher and three times as a catcher.
BLOCK: I've read this about Double Duty Radcliffe, that when he was catching, he had a chest protector that had a slogan written on it, `Thou shalt not steal.'
Mr. McNARY: Yeah, he did. Besides his playing, he would talk while he pitched, when he caught, while he batted. As a catcher, he would talk to the batters, get their mind off of what they were doing, talk about their girlfriends, talk about different things. And when he was pitching, he'd stand on the mound, and he'd say, `What do you want? What pitch do you want to miss?' you know, and he'd throw it. And he also was known--I should say this about his pitching, 'cause he would admit this. He loved the fact that he was good at this. He was probably the best cheater out there. He liked to scratch the ball or spit on it. And he was the master of the emery ball and the spit ball.
BLOCK: Let's listen to some tape of Double Duty talking. This is from 1997. It was recorded in the stands at Comiskey Park. And he's talking about playing against the irascible Ty Cobb. Double Duty would have been catching this game. Ty Cobb would have been in the batter's box. Let's hear how he described it.
(Soundbite of "Only A Game")
Mr. RADCLIFFE: Ty Cobb, he was a racist. I threw him out three times (unintelligible) he quit. He said, `Ain't no nigger's going to throw me out,' but I said, `Ah, I'm throwing you out,' so he left.
BLOCK: I bet you heard those stories from Double Duty Radcliffe.
Mr. McNARY: Oh, yeah. He played against Shoeless Joe Jackson, Babe Didrikson, the great female Olympian, Fidel Castro. He played against anybody who ever thought of playing baseball during those years.
The other neat thing, to be a catcher when Double Duty was a catcher was a real art form. You couldn't catch with one hand. You had to have two hands, because the glove was more of a cushion against the sting of the ball than it was to catch. And the first time I met Double Duty and shook his hand, I thought that he had arthritis, because his right hand, all of the fingers were kind of gnarled, and it looked like he had really bad arthritis. But really, what it was was all the foul tips that had come off his glove when he caught Satchel Paige and broke his fingers, and he'd tape them together and just keep playing. And one of the little tricks he learned was to take a piece of steak, put it between some cellophane, stick it in his glove and cushion the blow. And by the end of the game, it would be hamburger, literally.
BLOCK: Do you think there should be a place for Double Duty Radcliffe in the Baseball Hall of Fame?
Mr. McNARY: Absolutely. You take him as a player, as a manager, he's a Hall-of-Famer, absolutely.
BLOCK: Kyle McNary, thanks very much.
Mr. McNARY: Thank you.
BLOCK: Kyle McNary is author of "Ted `Double Duty' Radcliffe: 36 Years of Pitching & Catching in Baseball's Negro Leagues." Double Duty Radcliffe died yesterday in Chicago at the age of 103. The recordings of Double Duty came from the NPR Program "Only A Game."
MICHELE NORRIS (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.