Homestead Grays
(1900 – c.1950)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
HomesteadGrays CapLogo.svg
Cap insignia
League affiliation(s)
Name(s)
  • Homestead Grays
  • Washington Homestead Grays
  • Washington Grays
Ballpark(s)
Titles
League titles1931 • 1937 • 1938
1940 • 1941 • 1942 • 1943
1944 • 1945 • 1948
Negro World Series titles1943 • 1944 • 1948

The Homestead Grays (also known as Washington Grays or Washington Homestead Grays) were a professional baseball team that played in the Negro leagues in the United States.

The team was formed in 1912 by Cumberland Posey, and remained in continuous operation for 38 seasons. The team was originally based in Homestead, Pennsylvania, adjacent to Pittsburgh. By the 1920s, with increasing popularity in the Pittsburgh region, the team retained the name "Homestead" but crossed the Monongahela River to play all home games in Pittsburgh, at the Pittsburgh Pirates' home Forbes Field and the Pittsburgh Crawfords' home Greenlee Field.

From 1940 until 1942, the Grays played half of their home games in Washington, D.C., while remaining in Pittsburgh for all other home stands.[1] As attendance at their games in the nation's capital grew, by 1943, the Grays were playing more than two-thirds of their home games in Washington.[1]

Franchise history

The Grays grew out of an earlier industrial team. In 1900, a group of African-American players had joined together to form the Germantown Blue Ribbons, an industrial league team. For ten years, the Blue Ribbons fielded a team every season and played some of the best sandlot teams in the area. In 1910, the managers of the team retired. The players reorganized the team and named themselves the Murdock Grays. In 1912, they became the Homestead Grays, the name they retained for the remainder of the franchise's history.

1913 Homestead Grays. Cumberland Posey Jr is third from left middle row
1913 Homestead Grays. Cumberland Posey Jr is third from left middle row
1931 Homestead Grays. Cumberland Posey Jr is standing at far left
1931 Homestead Grays. Cumberland Posey Jr is standing at far left

American/East-West League

The Grays did join the American Negro League in 1929, but that league lasted only one season. Cumberland Posey was their inaugural manager in organized league play. The Grays went 32-29 (with three ties) for a fourth place finish. The team operated independently again until 1932, when Posey organized the ill-fated East-West League; that league also collapsed before completing its first and only season. Jud Wilson and Posey combined to lead the 1932 team to a 24-16 record (with one tie) before the Grays joined the Negro National League in 1933

Period of dominance in the National League

Posey managed the next two seasons, leading them to a 3rd and 7th place finish, respectively. Outfielder Vic Harris (a long-time player for the Grays) became player-manager in 1936. With the near-collapse of the Pittsburgh Crawfords, Josh Gibson returned to the Grays in 1937, combining with slugger Buck Leonard to power the Grays. From 1937 to 1948, the Grays went on an unprecedented run of success in Negro league baseball. They finished first place in the league in ten of twelve seasons while competing in organized playoff baseball in six of those seasons (which they won three).

Their one challenge for the Negro National League came in 1939, which matched the top four teams (of a six team league) in a postseason tournament that required three victories. They beat the Philadelphia Stars in five games to reach the Championship Series against the Baltimore Elite Giants. They lost to Baltimore in five games.[2] The Grays rolled through the next two seasons with ease; in 1942, they competed in the re-born Negro World Series, which they lost in four games to the Kansas City Monarchs. For the 1943 and 1944 seasons, Candy Jim Taylor served as the manager for the Grays. They won the pennant each time to advance to the Series, which they won each time. Harris returned to manage the Grays for 1945, where he continued for four seasons. They went to the Series twice and won the 1948 Negro World Series, the final one to be played before the demise of quality in the leagues.

During their tenure in organized league baseball, the Grays went 629–377, which included a season each in the ANL and EWL and fifteen years spent with the Negro National League (where they went 573-332). They finished first place in the league ten times while reaching the Negro World Series (second incarnation) five times, which resulted in three championships. The Grays had just one losing season in their time in the National League (1935, when they finished 26-36), which was also one of only three times they ever finished in the bottom half of a league.[3]

Pittsburgh Steelers founder and owner Art Rooney related in a 1981 interview that he "from time to time" had "helped financially support the Negro League team, the Homestead Grays, and . . . was a better baseball fan than football fan."[4]

Post-Negro league play

Following the collapse of the Negro National League after the 1948 season, the Grays struggled to continue as an independent club, and ultimately disbanded in May 1951.[5]

Home fields

From the late 1930s through the 1940s, the Grays played their home games at Pittsburgh's Forbes Field, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. However, during this same period the club adopted the Washington, D.C. area as its "home away from home" and scheduled many of its "home" games at D.C.'s Griffith Stadium, the home park of the Washington Senators. During these games, they were alternatively known as the Washington Grays or Washington Homestead Grays.

Baseball Hall of Fame inductees

These Homestead Grays alumni have been inducted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

Homestead Grays Hall of Famers
No. Inductee Position Tenure Inducted
4 Cool Papa Bell OF 1932, 1943–1946 1974
Ray Brown P 1937–1945
1947–1948
2006
Oscar Charleston OF 1930–1931 1976
Martín Dihigo P 1927–1928 1977
Bill Foster P 1931 1996
20 Josh Gibson C 1930–1931
1937–1946
1972
Judy Johnson 3B 1930, 1937 1975
32 Buck Leonard 1B 1934–1950 1972
Cumberland Posey Founder-Owner 1912–1946 2006
Willie Wells SS 1932 1997
Smokey Joe Williams P 1925–1932 1999
Jud Wilson 3B 1929–1931
1941–1946
2006

Playoffs/Championships

Independent

Season Manager Record East Coast Championship Series
Opponent Series
1937 Cumberland Posey 45–15–1 New York Lincoln Giants 6–4

Negro National League

Season Manager Record Negro National League
Playoffs
Negro National League
Championship Series
Negro World Series
Opponent Series Opponent Series Opponent Series
1937 Vic Harris 45–18–1 Nonexistenta Clinched pennantb Nonexistentc
1938 Vic Harris 41–13
1939 Vic Harris 36–19–1 Philadelphia Stars 3–2 Baltimore Elite Giants 1–3–1
1940 Vic Harris 34–19 Nonexistenta Clinched pennantb
1941 Vic Harris 51–22–2 New York Cubans 3–1
1942 Vic Harris 47–19–3 Clinched pennantb Kansas City Monarchs 0–4
1943 Candy Jim Taylor 53–14–1 Birmingham Black Barons 4–3–1
1944 Candy Jim Taylor 47–24–3 Birmingham Black Barons 4–1
1945 Vic Harris 37–19–2 Cleveland Buckeyes 0–4
1948 Vic Harris 44–23–1 Baltimore Elite Giants 2–1–1 Birmingham Black Barons 4–1
Total NNL pennants 9 World Series titles 3

Legacy

On July 11, 2002, the Homestead High-Level Bridge which connects Pittsburgh to Homestead over the Monongahela River at Homestead was renamed the Homestead Grays Bridge in honor of the team.[6]

Washington Nationals

When the Montreal Expos moved to Washington, "Grays" was one of the three finalists (along with "Senators" and the eventual winner "Nationals") for the relocated team's new name, reflecting Washington's baseball history.[7]

The Nationals′ home field, Nationals Park, includes numerous references to the Grays:

MLB throwback jerseys

The Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals have worn Homestead Grays throwback uniforms in official Major League Baseball games several different times:

Pirates
Nationals
Both

References

  1. ^ a b Snyder, Brad (2003). Beyond the Shadow of the Senators: The Untold Story of the Homestead Grays and the Integration of Baseball, p. 155. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-007-1431-97-2.
  2. ^ "1939 NN2 Championship Series - Baltimore Elite Giants over Homestead Grays (3-1-1) | Baseball-Reference.com".
  3. ^ "Homestead Grays Team History & Encyclopedia | Baseball-Reference.com".
  4. ^ Donovan, Dan (August 28, 1988). "Works of Art". Pittsburgh Press. p. D3.
  5. ^ "Grays out of baseball". Youngstown Vindicator. Ohio. INS. May 23, 1951. p. 29.
  6. ^ Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Homestead Span Honors Baseball Team", July 12, 2002
  7. ^ USA Today, "In Washington, it'll be 'Let's go Nats'", November 22, 2004. Accessed April 17, 2008.
  8. ^ MLB.com, "Brewers Honor Negro Leagues", June 2, 2006
  9. ^ MLB.com, "Nats, Mets Recognize Negro Leagues", August 11, 2006
  10. ^ Washington Post, Nationals vs. Brewers: Jordan Zimmermann throws a gem in his first MLB game in home state.