Homestead Grays (1912-1950)

Homestead Grays, 1913
Homestead Grays, 1913
Public domain image

Homestead Grays was one of the most successful of the professional Negro League baseball teams. They won ten Negro National League Titles (1937-1945, 1948) and three Negro League World Series Titles (1943-1944, 1948), where they played the champion of the Negro American League. The team was based in Homestead, Pennsylvania, but played their home games at both Forbes Field in Pittsburgh and at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C.

In 1900, a group of black men from Pittsburgh formed the Blue Ribbon Industrial League Team, where they played pick-up games against some of the best sandlot teams in the Pittsburgh area. The Blue Ribbon Industrial League Team was active for 10 years but when the managers retired, the players renamed the team the Murdock Grays. They continued to play sandlot teams as the Murdock Grays for a season, but in 1912, Pittsburgh businessman Posey Cumberland transformed them into the Homestead Grays.

The Grays participated in four different Negro Leagues throughout their professional baseball career: Independent (1912-1928, 1930-1931), the American Negro League (1929), the East-West Negro League (1932), and the Negro National League (1935-1948). The Grays were active from 1912 until they disbanded in 1950.

Much of the success of the Homestead Grays is attributed to the power hitting from longtime catcher Josh Gibson and first baseman Buck Leonard who were nicknamed the “thunder twins.” The Grays also had “Smokey” Joe Williams, an ace pitcher who once struck out 26 batters in a 12 inning game. Other star players included many future baseball Hall of Famers such as “Cool” Papa Bell (outfield), Judy Johnson (third base), and Martin Dihigo (utility).

The Grays continued to play for two seasons after the Negro National League broke up in 1948 but finally disbanded in 1950.