Theodore Roosevelt Radcliffe, better known by his friends and millions of baseball fans as "Double Duty", passed away in Chicago yesterday, August 11th. A full account of the man and his career is available here.
In reflecting on "Double Duty's" life and career a couple of things come first to mind. The word "legend" is used very loosely today in reference to people in all walks of life whose accomplishments are even marginally above those of their peers. "Legend", I think, should be reserved for those few special people whose accomplishments stand well above the crowd and are truly extraordinary -- in short, legendary. By this standard Ted Radcliffe was a true American legend.
An alumnus of more than 30 professional Negro League teams over a span of three decades as both a player and manager, pitcher and catcher, Radcliffe's career was, indeed, extraordinary. Even more extraordinary was his longevity that allowed him at the age of 96 to become the oldest player ever to participate in a professional baseball game.
Secondly, and of more significance than even his accomplishments on the baseball field, Ted Radcliffe was extraordinary as a human being. "Double Duty" loved children, and he had a special talent for imparting something special and valuable to the children who had an opportunity to meet and hear him. A consumate storyteller, "Double Duty" rarely passed up an opportunity to entertain a child with stories from his colorful life and career, and the stories he told all had a clear and convincing point -- we all have it within us to be extraordinary if we are willing to invest the hope, dreams and work that an extraordinary life requires.
A dozen years ago in a hotel lobby in Chicago I watched "Double Duty" work his magic on 12-year-old boy from Tennessee. After spending the better part of an hour entertaining the boy with both true stories and tall tales, "Double Duty" asked the boy to come closer so that he could "tell him something really important." The young boy moved closer to Radcliffe and accepted the invitation to sit on the arm of the chair. Though I cannot quote his words exactly, "Double Duty" took the boy by the hand and confidingly imparted his "important" message in words very close to these:
"I am a very old man, and you are a very young boy. Someday, though, you will be old like me, and you will be sitting around telling stories about your life. If you want your stories to be good ones that the kids will want to listen to, then you've got to make your life a good one first."
Goodbye, Ted. You'll be missed.