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Gus Greenlee was born in Marion, North Carolina in 1893 and migrated to the Hill District of Pittsburgh in 1916. After working several menial jobs, he established a bootlegging business that he operated from his taxi. He later made his reputation as a numbers runner and racketeer, as well as the owner of the Crawford Grill nightclub and the Pittsburgh Crawfords baseball team.
In 1933 Greenlee organized the annual East-West Classic, an all-star baseball game in Chicago between Negro League stars, which became the centerpiece of the baseball season. That same year he was the primary founder of the second Negro National League, which he served as president for five seasons.
For a while the Crawfords were the best-financed team in black baseball. Revenue generated from his gambling and bootlegging operations allowed Greenlee to sign black baseball's biggest names. The 1935 squad may be the best ever to play in the Negro Leagues, as it fielded five Baseball Hall of Fame players. Money also enabled Greenlee to build his own ballpark. When he bought the Pittsburgh Crawfords in 1930, he was insulted that his players were not allowed to use the dressing rooms at white-owned or -controlled venues like Forbes Field, Ammon Field, and others. In 1932 he opened Greenlee Field, the first black-owned and black-built baseball park in America.
Following the 1938 season, Greenlee left baseball. He sold the baseball team and razed the ballpark, partly because he had lost the best players and partly because he owed money on a heavily played number.(Riley) In 1945, he made a comeback in alliance with Branch Rickey, related to Rickey's projected integration of the major leagues. They established the United States League in competition with established Negro leagues and operated for two seasons. Greenlee left baseball permanently after 1946 but continued to operate the Crawford Grill until its 1951 destruction by fire.(Riley)
Greenlee was known as a philanthropist who helped fellow blacks in his community with scholarships for schooling and with grants to buy homes.
- Bankes, James (2001). The Pittsburgh Crawfords. Jefferson: McFarland & Company. ISBN 0-7864-0992-4.
- Riley, James A. (1994). "Greenlee, William Augustus (Gus, Big Red)". The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues. New York: Carroll & Graf. pp. 338–39. ISBN 0-7867-0959-6.
- (Riley.) William "Gus" Greenlee, Personal profiles at Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. – identical to Riley (confirmed 2010-12-12)
- Thompson, Nathan (2003). Kings: The True Story of Chicago's Policy Kings and Numbers Racketeers An Informal History. Bronzeville Press. ISBN 0-9724875-0-6 (2003) — see also POLICYKINGS.COM