CHICAGO – Former Negro Leagues star Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe, believed to be the oldest living professional baseball player, died Thursday. He was 103.
Radcliffe, given his singular nickname by sports writer Damon Runyon (search) after catching Satchel Paige (search) in the first game of a doubleheader in the 1932 Negro League World Series and pitching a shutout in the second game, died from complications after a long bout with cancer, the Chicago White Sox said.
Radcliffe was frequently in the crowd at U.S. Cellular Field and occasionally visited the White Sox clubhouse. He made it a tradition in recent years to throw out the first ball on his July 7 birthday.
Two weeks ago, he was scheduled to travel to Alabama for a ceremony at 95-year-old Rickwood Field, where he played for the Birmingham Black Barons (search) in the mid-1940s, but fell ill and was hospitalized in Chicago.
"Double Duty shared such a love for baseball and a passion for life," White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. "We all loved to see him at the ballpark, listen to his stories and share in his laughter. He leaves such a great legacy after experiencing so much history and change during his long life. He will be missed by all of us with the White Sox."
In May, Radcliffe was among 14 Negro Leagues players honored in a pregame ceremony at RFK Stadium before the Chicago Cubs played Washington. Sitting in a golf cart behind the plate, Radcliffe made the ceremonial first pitch by handing the ball to Nationals coach Don Buford.
Radcliffe noted that the game had changed since he retired in the 1950s.
"It ain't like it used to be. There used to be some good pitchers. There aren't ballplayers like there used to be. It's a shame," he said.
A six-time All-Star — fittingly, three times as a pitcher and three times as a catcher — Radcliffe outlived his contemporaries in the Negro Leagues and players from his era in the majors. Strict records on the minor leagues from those days are not kept, but there are no players known to have been older than Radcliffe.
As he approached his 100th birthday, Radcliffe was living in a retirement center about a half-mile from Comiskey Park. His apartment was filled with bats, gloves, plaques, posters, and his easy chair sat next to a window facing a sandlot.
Radcliffe was raised in Mobile, Ala., and went on to play for more than 15 teams in the Negro Leagues from the late 1920s to the early 1950s. His brother, Alex, also played in the league.
Radcliffe roomed with Jackie Robinson with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1945, two years before Robinson broke baseball's color barrier in the majors, and also managed in the Negro Leagues.
At age 96, Radcliffe returned to the field, throwing one pitch for the Schaumburg Flyers in an independent Northern League game.