John Ritchey

From BR Bullpen

John Franklin Ritchey
(Johnny Baseball, Hoss)

BR Register page

Biographical Information[edit]

John Ritchey was the first black player to appear in the Pacific Coast League in 32 years and won batting titles in both the Negro Leagues and minor leagues but never made it to the majors.

He grew up and learned baseball in his hometown of San Diego, CA. He played in many youth leagues in the area and was known as "Johnny Baseball" because of his passion and enthusiasm for the game. At age 15, he and another black ballplayer, Nelson Manuel, starred on a San Diego American Legion team that traveled to Spartanburg, South Carolina for the American Legion World Series, only to find out that blacks could not participate in the finals. The following season, Post 6 once again made the American Legion World Series, this time in North Carolina. He had the winning hit in the semifinals. They were assured they would be allowed to play only to find out when they arrived that not only could they play, they weren't even allowed to watch. [1]

After high school, John attended San Diego State College, studying prelaw. He joined the Army for World War II, serving 27 months in an engineering outfit and seeing service at Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge as well as in the South Pacific. [2] Returning from the war, he would star for the Aztecs. 

In 1947, Ritchey played for the Chicago American Giants of the Negro American League, hitting .381 to lead the circuit, .008 over Artie Wilson. [3]

The following season, "Johnny Baseball", a swift-footed catcher who would often bat lead-off, joined the San Diego Padres thus become the first man to break the color barrier in the Pacific Coast League. He was the first black PCL player since Jimmy Claxton in 1916. Ritchey would be joined later that year by Booker McDaniels, Wilson and Alonzo Perry. [4]

He hit .323/.405/.442 for San Diego in 1948, splitting catching with Len Rice and Hank Camelli. He did not qualify for the 1948 PCL batting title but was 10th in average among players with 200+ at-bats and was the only one in the top 20 who would never get a look at the majors. [5] That winter, he hit .360/?/.532 with 30 runs in 30 games for the Venezuelan League's Navegantes del Magallanes to tie Luis Oliveros for the league lead in runs. He led with 14 doubles (by 5), tied Parnell Woods for 4th in RBI (18), was 5th in average and 3rd in slugging (after Jim Pendleton and Dalmiro Finol). [6]

Ritchey's second summer in the PCL was not as good; he slumped offensively to .257/.341/.321, though he fielded .995 while splitting catching with Dee Moore. He hit .333 and slugged .414 in 1949-1950 for Magallanes, finishing 4th in average. [7] In other winters, he would play in Mexico and Puerto Rico. [8] Moving to the Portland Beavers in 1950, he batted .270/.389/.361 and fielded .985 as the backup to Jim Gladd.

In 1951, he played only one game for Portland (0 for 3) but dazzled for the Vancouver Capilanos, hitting .346/.492/.472 with 91 runs, 20 steals, 86 RBI and 126 walks to 34 whiffs in 137 games. He led the Western International League in average, tied Don Preis for 7th in steals, led in walks (two ahead of Ken Richardson), led in OBP (.017 ahead of Richardson), was 5th in slugging (between Richardson and Mike Baxes) and was second in OPS (20 behind Richardson).

He hit .343/.504/.447 for Vancouver in '52, with 27 stolen bases, 144 walks (30 strikeouts), 8 triples and 96 runs in 137 games. He nearly repeated as WIL batting champion, finishing second, 19 points behind Walt Pocekay. He was 5th in swipes, second in walks (though 16 behind Cecil Garriott) and again led in OBP. [9] That kind of work got him a return ticket to the PCL with the Sacramento Solons. He hit .291/.389/.399 in 1953, with 73 walks and 8 triples though he had one of his worst defensive seasons (20 E, .964 FLD%). He tied Jim Marshall and Piper Davis for 5th in the 1953 PCL in three-baggers and was 10th in walks (between Gene Baker and Aaron Robinson). Among players with 400+ plate appearances, he ranked 8th in OBP (between Pete Milne and Ray Orteig).

Ritchey rebounded defensively for the 1954 Solons (.986) but his offense fell back (.272/.379/.307). Among the team's starters, only Joe Brovia had a better OBP, though. The San Diego native produced at a .285/.388/.379 clip for the San Francisco Seals in 1955. Among players with 400+ plate appearances, he was 9th in OBP (between Baxes and Buddy Peterson) and was the only one in the top ten who never played a game in the majors. His 61 walks were one shy of making the league's top ten.

He spent a final season in the Eastern League, with the Syracuse Chiefs (10 for 54, 2 2B), before retiring. He had hit .300 in 987 minor league games. After baseball, he worked in sales for the Continental Baking Company. [10]

In many respects, you could argue that Ritchey’s ordeal was much tougher than Jackie Robinson's because it was done outside of the glare of the public spotlight. On the other hand, he broke into the PCL at the same time as three other players and after Robinson had won national acclaim the year prior.

Related Sites[edit]

Sources[edit]

  1. San Diego Union Tribune article, The Golden Game: Baseball in California by Kevin Nelson
  2. The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues by James Riley, pg. 666
  3. The Complete Book of Baseball's Negro Leagues by John Holway, pg. 446
  4. Not Another Baseball Blog
  5. B-R register
  6. Pelotabinaria
  7. Pelotabinaria
  8. The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, pg. 666
  9. 1953 Baseball Guide, pg. 244-245
  10. The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, pg. 666