Krauss: City of divided champions, Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays

From Margaret J. Krauss at on April 9, 2015:

The baseball season that opened on Monday is radically different from 80 years ago, when the nation’s pastime was segregated and the best team in baseball could be found in Pittsburgh, on the Hill.

In the decades following the Civil War, baseball became the national obsession. Blacks and whites played together until the 1890s, when racism drew a color line through the sport, said Rob Ruck, a professor of sport history at the University of Pittsburgh.

“African-Americans, when denied the opportunity to play in the major leagues, create their own sporting world on the other side of the racial boundary,” he said.  

In the midst of a hostile society, African-Americans created their own cultural institutions, the Negro National League and Negro American League among them, said Ruck.

“In the 1930s with Cool Papa Bell flying around the base pass, Josh Gibson hitting home runs further than anybody had ever seen hit before, and Satchel Paige telling his fielders to sit down while he walked the bases loaded and struck them out, Pittsburgh became the crossroads of black baseball,” he said.

It was one of only a few cities with two Negro League teams, the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Homestead Grays. The Grays were originally skilled steel workers from Homestead; the Crawfords were a sandlot team from the Hill that Gus Greenlee, owner of the Crawford Grille, turned into a professional team, said Ruck.

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Originally published: April 10, 2015. Last Updated: April 10, 2015.