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George "Chappie" Johnson

George Johnson
Nicknames: Chappie, Rat

Career: 1896-1919
Positions: c, 1b, manager
Teams: Page Fence Giants (1896-1898), Chicago Columbia Giants (1899-1900), Chicago Union Giants (1901-1902), Cuban X-Giants (1903), Algona, Iowa, Brownies (1903-1904), Philadelphia Giants (1904, 1906), Renville, Minnesota (1905), St. Paul Gophers (1907-1909), Leland Giants (1909), Chicago Giants (1910), St. Louis Giants (1911-1912), Brooklyn Royal Giants (1912), Mohawk Giants (1913-1914), Dayton Chappies (1917), Custer's Baseball Club of Columbus, Atlantic City Bacharach Giants (1919), Philadelphia Royal Stars, Norfolk Stars (1919-1921), Pennsylvania Red Caps of New York, Chappie Johnson's Stars (1925-1927)
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Height: 5' 9''  Weight: 160
Born: 1876, Bellaire, Ohio
Died: August 17, 1949, Clemson, South Carolina

A skilled handler of pitchers, Chappie Johnson was one of the best catchers in black baseball during the first two decades of the century. A smooth receiver, he was a member of the well-known Leland Giants' team of 1909 and the Mohawk Giants of 1914. During his twenty-three-year career he also played first base and was an outstanding manager in his latter years.

As a youngster Johnson attended elementary and high school in Bellaire, Ohio, and also learned his diamond skills then. In 1896, at age twenty, he signed to play with the Page Fence Giants, and during his first two seasons played left field and first base, respectively, before being offered the catching position for his third season. In 1899 the Page Fence Giants' franchise was facing dissolution, and a new team, the Columbia Giants, was organizing in Chicago. Johnson joined Charlie Grant and "Home Run" Johnson on the team and was the starting first baseman and alternate receiver for the next two seasons as the team immediately became a midwestern power. As Johnson assumed more of the catching responsibilities, he and Lefty Wilson, one of the top black pitchers of the era, were regarded as one of the greatest batteries in baseball.

In 1901 the Columbia Giants consolidated with the Union Giants to form the Chicago Union Giants. After the 1902 season he left the Union Giants and became associated with the Algona, Iowa, Brownies, who gained immediate fame in 1903 and 1904. Johnson left Algona during the latter season to join the Philadelphia Giants, batting .352 in the championship playoffs against the Cuban X-Giants. In 1905 he again paired with Wilson when they joined the Renville, Minnesota, team, where they formed a famous black battery that gave Renville the state championship.

The next season, Johnson traveled back East to catch for the Philadelphia Giants, whose star pitcher was Rube Foster. During the winter he traveled to Cuba to play with the Fe ballclub and was credited with being the reason for the team doing so well, as he led the team in fielding and was described as a "heady" player. This recognition of his baseball acumen led to his return to the Midwest to take charge of the St. Paul Colored Gophers in 1907.

His ability to work with young players led to a well-deserved reputation as a teacher and a coach that crossed racial boundaries. While at his new post, Johnson was also engaged by the management of the white St. Paul team of the American Association to take the team to Little Rock, Arkansas, for spring training, and he was in charge of them until the season opened. He remained in this capacity through 1912. This was not a new experience for Johnson, who had been in demand as a trainer and coach during the spring training months for several years, and he had worked in this capacity under some of the leading managers of the era, including his service as the head trainer for the National League's Boston team during spring training in 1900 at Palm Beach, Florida.

After leading the St. Paul Gophers to victory over the Leland Giants in a series to determine the western championship, he was signed by owner Frank Leland for his team. During the ensuing winter (1909-1910) he played first base with the Leland Giants in the Florida Hotel League in Palm Beach, and entertained the crowd with his "humorous catching." Off the field he displayed a jovial, pleasant personality, wore tailored suits, and was regarded as one of the ''swellest" dressers. After returning North for the 1910 season, owner Leland and manager Rube Foster went their separate ways, each with their own team, and Johnson cast his lot with Leland's Chicago Giants. Still an innovative defensive player, he was the only player in the league to wear shinguards that season. But he was a light hitter, usually batting in the lower part of the order, and managed only a .186 average for the season.

In 1911 he signed with the St. Louis Giants, where he caught the Taylor brothers, Ben (who later became a great first baseman but was still pitching at that time) and "Steel Arm" Johnny. Although increasing his reputation as a skillful handler of pitchers, he was still hitting at the bottom of the batting order. The next year, still in St. Louis, he was catching Dizzy Dismukes before leaving during the season to join the Brooklyn Royal Giants, where he caught Frank Wickware, a premier pitcher of the era.

As the years passed and his playing skills faded, he began leaning more toward managing. In 1917 he was co-owner and manager of the Dayton Chappies. Johnson was quiet, calm, and dignified, and always showed class and maintained a gentlemanly demeanor, even in his protests with umpires. He insisted on being addressed as "Mr. Johnson." Off the field he was a sharp, stylish dresser who wore spats, carried a walking cane, and had a valet who carried his bags to the ballpark.

Most of his later years were spent with lesser teams, but incomplete statistics for the 1919 season show a .214 batting average with the Bacharachs. Although his active career as a player ended in 1921, when he was a playing manager with the Norfolk Stars, he continued as a manager through the 1939 season. While with Norfolk, he developed Nip Winters and Scrip Lee, and in later years at Saratoga he polished Dick Seay and Ted Page.

Source: James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.