Byron "Mex" Johnson

Byron "Mex" Johnson, a shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro leagues and Satchel Paige's traveling team, died at 94.

Johnson died Saturday, and daughter Jacquelyn Benton said Tuesday he had prostate cancer.

Johnson played for the Monarchs in 1937-38, when blacks were barred from the National and American leagues. He joined the traveling team of the legendary pitcher Satchel Paige in 1939 and stayed through 1940.

"He never complained about how hard it was being a black baseball player, and he was never bitter that he didn't get to play" in the majors, said baseball researcher Jay Sanford, who knew Johnson for 20 years.

"He was a competitor," said Buck O'Neil, 93, Johnson's close friend since they were teammates on the Monarchs. "He was going to outhit you, outfield you, anything he had to do to be the best," O'Neil told The Denver Post.

Johnson grew up in Little Rock, Ark., and was nicknamed "Mex" because he wore a sombrerolike hat as a child. He was drafted by the Army in 1941 and served in Europe until 1945. In 1958, the family moved to Denver, where he worked as a postal clerk and his wife taught school.

He later traveled with Sanford, giving speeches about black baseball. A biography of Johnson, "Legacy of a Monarch" by Jan Sumner, was published in April.

In addition to his daughter, Johnson is survived by two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled for Wednesday in Denver.

Published in Kansas City Star on Sept. 27, 2005