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Pittsburgh Crawfords
19301938
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
[[Image:|100px]]
Team Logo
[[Image:{{{Caplogo}}}|100px]]
Cap Insignia
Leagues
Ballpark

Greenlee Field

Titles
League titles 1935, 1936

The Pittsburgh Crawfords 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] the Crawfords were originally a youth semipro team sponsored by the Crawford Bath House and Recreation Center. The Crawfords were acquired in 1931 by Gus Greenlee, a numbers operator. 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 specifically for the Negro Leagues and owned by the team's owner. Greenlee also operated one of black Pittsburgh's favorite nighttime gathering spots, the Crawford Grill, where the likes of Lena Horne and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson entertained and players like Paige and Gibson unwound.

In 1933, Greenlee founded a new Negro National League, and enrolled 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.

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. Greenlee sold the club, Greenlee Field was demolished, and the Crawfords moved to Toledo for the 1939 season.

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.

References

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