By Keith D. King

On Tuesday February 21st, Johnny Ritchey was inducted into the Breitbard Hall of Fame. Ritchey, who was born and raised in San Diego passed away in 2003, was represented by family and friends spanning from Northern and Southern California, all the way to Colorado.

Ritchey began his journey at San Diego High, then went on to play baseball at American Legion Post 6, where he won a National Championship. In 1942 he became a student at San Diego State College, but eventually was drafted to the United States Army for World War II where he reached the rank of sergeant and was discharged with meritorious service.

In 1946 he began where he left all, an All-American at San Diego State College. The time away from the game seemed to have little impact on his skill-set on the field. That year he set a then record of 25 stolen bases, and also led his team with a .325 batting average.

In 1947 Ritchey began a career in the Negro Leagues as a member of the Chicago American Giants. There he again led his team in batting average as a rookie at .381, as Jackie Robinson was making history and breaking the Color Barrier in Major League Baseball. Ritchey made history soon after, becoming the first ever African American to play in the Pacific Coast League.

It was a dream for him to play for his hometown team, the San Diego Padres, and that was finally a reality.

“My father came up in a time where it was really hard for blacks to get fair treatment, and be given a real chance to succeed,” said his oldest daughter Johanaa Ritchey Battle. “He was able to stay strong and live his dream.”

Over the next nine years, Ritchey would have a career that saw him become a starting catcher for the Padres, lead the league in batting average, have success for teams in Portland, Sacramento, San Francisco, and even in Mexico and Venezuela.

“My father was just not a great baseball player, he was a great man,” Ritchey-Battle said. “While having a storied baseball career he was also able to be a great father to me and my siblings, a great husband, and a great overall man. I’m just so grateful for his efforts to be recognized. He loved San Diego, and his community.”

Today a Bronze Bust is on display in honor of Ritchey at Petco Park for his contributions. He trail blazed the way for the next generation of San Diego bred greats, his legacy will forever live on.

 

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