Pittsburgh Crawfords

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Pittsburgh Crawfords
19311940
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Leagues
Name
  • Pittsburgh Crawfords (1931–1938)
  • Toledo Crawfords (1939)
  • Indianapolis Crawfords (1940)
Ballpark
Titles
League titles 1935 • 1936

The Pittsburgh Crawfords, popularly known as the Craws, were a professional Negro league baseball team based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Named after the Crawford Grill, a club in the Hill District of Pittsburgh owned by Gus Greenlee.[1] Greenlee bought the team in 1931.

History[edit]

Stepping into an organizational vacuum, as the major African American leagues of the 1920s, the Negro National League and the Eastern Colored League, had fallen apart by late that year, Greenlee signed many of the top African-American stars, most notably Satchel Paige. The next year, 1932, saw Greenlee hire Hall of Famer Oscar Charleston as playing manager, and add Hall of Famers Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson, and Cool Papa Bell, along with other notable players, such as William Bell, Rap Dixon, and Ted Radcliffe. Playing as an independent club, the Crawfords immediately established themselves as perhaps the best black team in the United States.

The Crawfords played in the new Greenlee Field, one of the few parks built and owned by a Negro league team.[2] Paige and Gibson often unwound at the Crawford Grill, one of black Pittsburgh's favorite night spots, where the likes of Lena Horne and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson entertained.

League play[edit]

In 1933, Greenlee founded a new Negro National League, with the Crawfords as charter members. The club narrowly lost the first-half title to the Chicago American Giants; both teams claimed the second-half title, and Greenlee as league president awarded it to his Crawfords. The matter of the overall pennant was apparently never decided. The next season, as Gibson led the league with 16 home runs and Paige won 20 games, the Crawfords were near the top of the overall standings, but won neither half. Records of all games against league opponents, not just those considered official league games, show the Crawfords with far and away the best record for 1934.

In 1935 Paige skipped most of the NNL season to play for a semipro team in North Dakota. Despite his absence, the Crawfords finally lived up to their promise, taking the first-half title with a 26–6 record, then defeating the New York Cubans in a close seven-game series for their only undisputed NNL pennant. In retrospect, many historians consider this edition of the Crawfords to be the greatest Negro league team of all time, featuring the four Hall of Famers, plus left-handed pitcher Leroy Matlock, who won 18 games without a defeat.

After a mediocre first half (16–15) in 1936, the Crawfords rallied to win the NNL's second half with a 20–9 record. Paige had returned, and contributed an 11–3 record. The playoff with the first-half winners, the Washington Elite Giants, apparently only lasted one game (the Elite Giants winning, 2 to 0) before it was called off for unknown reasons. Greenlee awarded the pennant to the Crawfords, over Washington's protests.

Player defections[edit]

In 1937, Paige led several Crawfords players, including Gibson and Bell, to the Dominican Republic to play for the dictator Rafael Trujillo's team. The Crawfords plunged to fifth place out of six teams with a 12–16 record. They partly recovered the next season, finishing third with a 24–16 record, but, with the exception of the 41-year-old Charleston, whose playing career was nearly over, the heart of the old Crawfords' team—Paige, Gibson, Bell—had all moved on to other teams.

Demise[edit]

The Craws might have survived these losses, but their attendance flatlined after the white members of the team's board forced Greenlee to shut out blacks from jobs at Greenlee Field (ushers, ticket-takers, etc.).[2] Greenlee sold the club, Greenlee Field was demolished and the Crawfords moved to Toledo, becoming the Toledo Crawfords, for the 1939 season. They moved to Indianapolis, becoming the Indianapolis Crawfords , for the 1940 season, before folding.

MLB throwback jerseys[edit]

On June 28, 2008, in Pittsburgh, the Tampa Bay Rays and Pittsburgh Pirates honored the Negro leagues by wearing uniforms of the Jacksonville Red Caps and the Crawfords, respectively, in an interleague game. The Pirates won the game, 4–3 in 13 innings.

On July 5, 2008 during the Pittsburgh Pirates game against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Pirates wore Pittsburgh Crawford uniforms while the Brewers wore the respective Negro league uniforms of the Milwaukee Bears.

On June 12, 2010, in Detroit, during an interleague game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Detroit Tigers, the Pirates wore Pittsburgh Crawford uniforms while the Tigers wore the respective Negro league uniforms of the Detroit Stars. They wore their respective uniforms again on May 19, 2012.

On August 21, 2010 during the Pittsburgh Pirates game against the New York Mets, the Pirates wore Pittsburgh Crawford uniforms while the Mets wore the respective Negro league uniforms of the New York Cubans.

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Hill Was Alive With the Sound of Music
  2. ^ a b Lowry, Phillip (2005). Green Cathedrals. New York City: Walker & Company. ISBN 0-8027-1562-1.