Womack: The rise and fall of Gus Greenlee

From SABR member Graham Womack at The National Pastime Museum on January 17, 2017:

On the evening of July 19, 1938, the stockholders of Greenlee Field met to consider an offer. The first black-owned ballpark in Negro League history was six years old, a Hill District marquee, and home to one of baseball’s greatest teams, the Pittsburgh Crawfords. The city’s Housing Authority, which wanted the land for a low-income residential project, was offering $50,000. Construction of the 8,000-seat park had cost at least twice that. But the city had condemnation power.

Crawfords owner Gus Greenlee had enjoyed a meteoric rise, helping introduce the numbers racket to Pittsburgh in 1926 and buying the semipro Crawfords four years later. Greenlee turned the team into an immediate powerhouse, helping develop Satchel Paige and raiding other rosters for legends like Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson, Cool Papa Bell, Oscar Charleston, and Smokey Joe Williams.

Greenlee’s good fortune extended to his other, more illicit endeavors. Frequently arrested though never convicted, Greenlee once walked into a police station saying, “I hear you boys been looking for me.” In another instance, shortly after Greenlee posted $2,500 bail at court on his latest charge of running an illegal lottery, the judge entreated him to return to answer more questions. The judge suggested two dates, with Greenlee responding he’d be in New York and London with a boxer he managed, John Henry Lewis. Finally, the judge told Greenlee, “Well, when I want you, I’ll call you up or you call me in the next few days.”

Read the full article here: http://www.thenationalpastimemuseum.com/article/rise-and-fall-gus-greenlee

Originally published: January 17, 2017. Last Updated: January 17, 2017.