John Ritchey, catcher
Padres: 1948-49 John Ritchey led the Negro American League with a .369 batting average in 1947. The following year, he signed with his hometown Padres, hit a solid .323 and broke “The Color Barrier” in the Pacific Coast League. As a youth, he played for Post 6 which won National American Legion Championships in both 1938 and 1941. Ritchey was also the top hitter on very good San Diego State baseball teams before and after World War II.
[John Ritchey, interviews by Bill Swank, 16 and 27 January 1995, transcript notes.]
My earliest memories are of playing baseball, because there wasn’t anything else to do. Most of my friends were White. Peanuts [Henry Savin] was a Mexican kid. The others were Nelson Manuel, Billy Williams, William Indalecio, Tom and Luis Ortiz. We played sandlot ball and the San Diego Police sponsored the league. We got around in cars. Nelson was easy going and one time he got a job selling ice cream. It only lasted for one day, because he ate too much of the ice cream he was supposed to sell. He didn’t get to eat much at home. They were good times playing with my friends.
With Post 6, I was taking batting practice in Albemarle [North Carolina] and I hit a couple of line drives over the fence. They wouldn’t let me play for the National Championship game!
When I was playing in the Negro Leagues, I was in awe of these players. They were that good. And the Southerners were fun to listen to because I hadn’t heard them talk before. They felt the same about Californians. They were funny and good ballplayers. It was a thrill for me to play with such good players. Buck Leonard and Josh Gibson were my heroes when I was a boy. They were the best!
It was a thrill to play for the Padres. The fans cheered and my feeling was it was because I was a San Diego boy making good. It had nothing to do with race. A lot of friends and family members were in the stands at Lane Field. It felt good just to get a turn at bat, but I grounded out to the first baseman. [In his first eleven plate appearances, Johnny would collect seven hits. -Ed.]
(Rip) Collins [San Diego manager] treated me OK and Les Cook [Trainer] was always good to me. I knew him at San Diego State. Charlie Smith [Aztec baseball coach] felt bad when the scouts came and they signed my teammates, but not me. He said it wasn’t fair.
One time I was coming home and the catcher tried to spike me in the leg as I came sliding under him. And [Billy] Shuster [Los Angeles Angels] was a terrible guy! Brush back pitches were part of the game. They didn’t throw at me more than they did at the White players, but some pitchers did. There was an Angel who threw four balls at my head. I took first. My teammates said nothing and there was no retaliation. Another time, against the Angels, I got a double. The pitcher came to second base. He was spitting and yelling all kinds of bad language right in my face. Then he left the game. Nobody said or did anything and I was lonely. I had to room alone, but I was never refused accommodations while playing in the PCL.
In 1951, I was Player of the Year for Vancouver. [Western International League, .343 batting average -Ed.] We were happy there. The fans were good and there was acceptance. And it was very comfortable to play in South America. I always played my best when I was happy and all I ever wanted to do was just play baseball.