The Pittsburgh Crawfords (1931-1947)

Pittsburgh Crawfords
The 1932 Pittsburgh Crawfords
Public Domain Image

The Pittsburgh Crawfords were a professional Negro League baseball team based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh was the only city in the country to be home of two of the Negro Leagues teams, The Homestead Grays, and the Pittsburgh Crawfords. The Pittsburgh Crawfords started off as the Crawford Colored Giants, an interracial semi-pro baseball team made up of local youth. At first there were two separate teams but they were combined to form a stronger unit. Local businessman W.A. “Gus” Greenlee purchased the team in 1931, renamed them the Pittsburgh Crawfords after his famous Crawford Grill club, and set out to create one of the best teams in the Negro league.

Greenlee signed pitcher Satchel Paige to the team and then hired Oscar Charleston as player-manager. He then signed Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson, and Cool Papa Bell, all now listed in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and all considered by many to be among the best players in the Negro Leagues. Other notable players such as Jimmie Crutchfield, William Bell, Sam Bankhead, Jud Wilson, Rap Dixon, and Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe filled out the roster which allowed the team to quickly establish itself as one of the best black baseball teams in the United States. The team played in Pittsburgh’s new Greenlee Field, the first Black-built and Black-owned Major League Baseball field in the United States. The stadium could hold 7,500 people. Greenlee also founded a new Negro National League in 1933, and although the team had the best record of the season, they did not win the pennant in 1934. That honor went to the Philadelphia Stars.

Between 1932 and 1936, the Pittsburgh Crawfords were known as the “Yankees of the Negro League”. Satchell Paige left during the team’s second season, and was replaced by Leroy Matlock, a lefty. In 1935, the Crawfords won their first NNL pennant, and were awarded the pennant again in 1936 amid protests of the opposing team winning the series 2-0. The Crawfords played in the Dominican Republic in 1937 with dictator Raphael Trujillo’s team, and plunged to fifth place in a poorly played season. Paige, Gibson, and Bell all moved on to other teams, forcing Greenlee to sell the club, and moved the team to Toledo, becoming the Toledo Crawfords for the 1939 season.

The team moved again in 1940, becoming the Indianapolis Crawfords, before folding at the end of the season. Greenlee formed a new Pittsburgh Crawfords team in 1945, but the team only lasted for two seasons. The Pittsburgh Crawfords throwback jerseys have been worn in several MLB games since 2008 by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Crawford memorabilia can be seen in the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum at The History Center, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.