Throughout the long history of baseball in America, the Pirates organization and its employees have formed powerful partnerships for positive change in the black baseball world that stretched from the Pacific to the Caribbean.
Pittsburgh in the past was headquarters for the Negro National League and the only city in the country with two Black Professional Teams, the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords.
Pittsburgh fielded an array of the game's top stars -- Josh Gibson, Leroy "Satchel" Paige, Buck Leonard and others -- unrivaled in the city's rich sporting past.
The Pirates remain committed to educating and celebrating the legacy of the Negro Leagues with Pirates fans of all ages and backgrounds.
LONG LIVE THEIR LEGACY
In celebration of Black History Month and to honor Negro League Baseball, the Pirates presented their third annual Long Live Their Legacy series during the month of February.
In connection with the program, Pirates Community Outreach Coordinator Joel Gray made presentations at 25 different sites around the city -- including three universities, two inner-city libraries, Pittsburgh's Community Intensive Supervision Program, African-American Chamber of Commerce of Western PA, East End United Community Center, and several others. His efforts helped more than 3,000 people learn about the history of Negro League baseball, its ties to Pittsburgh, and the significant role it played in baseball history.
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PITTSBURGH'S NEGRO LEAGUE BASEBALL HISTORY
The color line in baseball was drawn in 1887 when African Americans were banned from playing on white teams in the International League. It was 33 years later before disenfranchised black baseball players had a league of their own. Andrew "Rube" Foster, a talented player and visionary who believed that only through organization could Black baseball reach its full potential, formed the Negro National League in 1920.
Created out of adversity, Negro Leagues baseball became the second largest Black business in the nation, second only to Black insurance companies.
Two of the most successful teams to play in the Negro Leagues, the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords, had their beginnings on the sandlots and playgrounds in the Pittsburgh area.
The Homestead Grays played as independents for much of their early history, with great success. Located first in a small steel town outside of Pittsburgh, the Grays dominated the Eastern baseball scene. They were led by future Hall of Famers Josh Gibson (catcher), "Cool" Papa Bell (outfield), Judy Johnson (third base), Buck Leonard (first base) and Cuban great Martin Dihigo (second base, pitcher, outfielder). Their ace pitcher was "Smokey" Joe Williams, who once struck out 27 batters in a 12-inning game. The Grays spent some of their most successful years, from 1934 through 1948, in the newly reorganized Negro National League. During this time, the Grays won nine consecutive Negro National League pennants, 1939-45, and a tenth in 1948. During World War II, the Grays played their home games at both Forbes Field (Pittsburgh) and Griffith Stadium (Washington, D.C.) when the white Major League clubs were on the road. The Grays traditionally outdrew their white counterparts, the cellar-dwelling Washington Senators.
The Pittsburgh Crawfords also spent their earliest years (1931-32) as independents. The Crawfords joined the newly reorganized Negro National League in 1933 and were immediately recognized as a leading team in the league. Originally, the team was composed of amateurs from the sandlots of the city's Hill district. The Crawfords won the 1935 and 1936 season pennants, and the 1935 club is regarded by many as the greatest Black baseball team of all time, with five future Hall of Famers: James "Cool Papa" Bell, Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson and the legendary Satchel Paige.
In Pittsburgh, the Crawfords and the Grays were a source of great pride that offered a cultural counterpoint to the limitations encountered by blacks in the workplace, in society and in politics.
When Jackie Robinson broke the Major League color barrier in 1947, Pittsburgh witnessed the transformation of both the game of baseball and people's perception of a segment of the population unjustly treated as second-class citizens and third-rate ballplayers.
The Pittsburgh Pirates signed their first Black player, Curt Roberts, on April 19, 1954, and on September 1, 1971, the team brought about one of the most significant milestones in the racial history of Major League Baseball when they fielded the first all-Black lineup.