Pittsburgh History: Pittsburgh Crawfords & Homestead Grays


Mike Funyak

Uniform on display at the Senator John Heinz History Center

Without a doubt, baseball historians will tell you that the city of Pittsburgh has a rich history with the Pirates.  What you might not know is that Pittsburgh had two other baseball teams along with the Pirates at one point in time.

Historians will tell you that aside from the Pirates, the Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays also have a rich history.

The Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays were part of baseball’s Negro League and not Major League Baseball.  The teams played at Forbes Field, the same ballpark the Pirates called home.

Griffith Stadium in Washington DC was also a ballpark the Grays called home. The Pittsburgh Crawfords played at Gus Greenlee Field in Pittsburgh’s Hill District to.

The owner of the Crawfords, Gus Greenlee, generated enough revenue during the teams early years that enabled him to build his own ballpark.

These two Negro League teams were two of the most successful teams in Negro League history.   They didn’t just have some of the best players in the league but also in baseball history.

Many of the players from the Homestead Grays have been inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  Those players include Cool Papa Bell, Ray Brown, Oscar Charleston, Martin, Dihigo, Bill Foster, Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson, Buck Leonard, Cum Posey, Willie Wells, Smokey Joe Williams, and Jud Wilson.

Pittsburgh native Josh Gibson is notorious throughout baseball and was one of the greatest baseball players and power hitters of all time.  There are many stories of him hitting home runs out of ballparks.  During his baseball career, Gibson hit close to 800 home runs, unofficially, more than Babe Ruth.

The Homestead Grays had a total of nine consecutive championships and three Negro League World Series titles.

The other famous Negro League team in Pittsburgh was the Pittsburgh Crawfords.  Some of the finest lineups in baseball history played for the Crawfords.  Those players who played for the Crawfords were usually selected for the league’sannual All-Star Game. The Crawfords were known for their All-Star players and for being one of the best-financed teams in the Negro Leagues.

Owner Gus Greenlee was a gambler, but a smart businessman.  The ballpark he built for his team was one of the only Negro League owned parks in the country.

Like the Grays, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, and Judy Johnson also played for the Crawfords.  One player that played for the Crawfords but not for the Grays was legendary pitcher Satchel Paige.  Paige was the greatest pitcher in the Negro Leagues, and later broke into Major League Baseball in 1948.  Satchel Paige, like many others from the Negro League teams, was inducted into the National
Baseball Hall of Fame.  In 1971, Paige was the first Negro League “Super Star” to be elected into the Hall.

In 2006, the Pittsburgh Pirates unveiled to the public an area inside their current ballpark, PNC Park, a tribute to Negro League baseball.  The exhibit is dedicated to pay honor, preserve the history of the league and also pay homage to the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords and their legendary players.  The exhibit also features life size statues of former Negro League greats.

The teams and players are part of Pittsburgh and American history that will be talked about for years to come.

For more information, visit negroleaguebaseball.com and nlbm.com