The Homestead Grays

Photo of the 1913 Homestead Grays. Cumberland Posey is the third man from the left, on the second row. At this time he was the team's captain and the team manager.

The Early Years
In 1900 a young group of men, who loved baseball, joined together to form the "Blue Ribbons" industrial league team. Unknowingly, these young men had founded a team which would grow to be a Negro National League franchise and set unprecedented records. For ten years the Blue Ribbons remained mediocre, but they managed to field a team every year and play some of the best sandlot teams in the area.

In 1910, the managers of the team retired. The players reorganized the team and named themselves the Murdock Grays. In 1912, they became the Homestead Grays. Drawing some of the largest crowds in the area, the team managed to win and have fun while doing so. Operating under a cooperative plan, by sharing the costs and proceeds of the games, the team persuaded players from other teams to come and join them. Because of a dispute over playing games on Sunday, team management once again stepped aside. At this time, Cumberland Posey, one of the team's stronger players, stepped in as the team's manager and soon thereafter was elected captain.
The Developmental Years
With Cumberland "Cum" Posey's ingenuity, the team reached new levels of success. Realizing other teams could try to entice his players away from the team, Posey instituted the practice of paying players regular wages. Owning and controlling the team by this time, Posey built a team that set unprecedented records, largely trough recruiting and taking other teams players. The Negro National League and other leagues could not entice the Grays to join their leagues, nor could they get them to sign a non-raiding contract, which would require Cum Posey to agree to not persuade other teams' players to join the Grays. In order to raise the team's level of competition, the Homestead Grays joined the American Negro League in 1929. During this season the team played average baseball against the Negro National League teams. In 1930, the American Negro League folded, as had its predecessor the Eastern Colored League. Therefore, the Homestead Grays were once again an independent team during the 1930 season. Throughout this season, their play was phenomenal, and their record against the Negro National League teams rose to 28-8. In the 1931 season, Posey sought to help other teams support themselves by giving them advice on arranging their schedules. While Posey was handing out advice, the depression was affecting the various teams. In order to ensure his personal livelihood, and the continued success of the Homestead Grays, Posey helped form the East-West baseball league.

Before the first pitch of the 1932 season, Cum Posey saw the state of black baseball as quite bleak. Owners of teams were disorganized and games were not being played. Posey wanted clubs to be managed by their owners in a "safe and sane manner," and he did not believe this was happening. As a result of shaky owners and league instability, Posey decided to leave the American Negro League and jump-start his own league, the East-West league. But the teams were largely from cities devastated by the depression, and the league did not last through the summer. Despite the Grays' 29-19 record, Posey abandoned the league to return to his native Pittsburgh, looking again to recruit the finest talent and regain the money he had lost.
The Team Reconstructed
Posey returned to Pittsburgh, but, as baseball historian Rob Ruck states, ". . .he had not reckoned on a new diner at the table, someone who was trying to help himself to the main course. The man with the appetite was Gus Greenlee, whom Posey had denied a franchise to the East-West league" (Ruck 136). The prominence of both the emerging Greenlee and the established Posey set the stage for a battle over players and popularity throughout the 1930s. Greenlee would entice such players as Josh Gibson, Ted Page and Oscar Charleston from the Grays to construct his 1935 and 1936 Crawford teams.

With Gus Greenlee financing his Crawfords with a lottery game called the numbers, Cum Posey needed somewhere to turn for money. He convinced Homestead's own version of Gus Greenlee, Rufus "Sonnyman" Jackson, to buy into the team. Jackson paid for the team. Jackson, like Greenlee, primarily made his money in the numbers, a lottery game and owned a restaurant/nightclub. Though the Grays were still run by Posey, Jackson gradually took an active part in the teams affairs. Despite new ownership, the scores posted by the Grays from 1933-1936 were simply average.

Raided by Dominican Republic dictator, Rafael Trujillo, the Crawfords began to disintegrate. With stars such as Satchel Paige and Cool Papa Bell at the helm, 12 Crawford players migrated to Santa Domingo. Greenlee's championship squad was decimated, a blow from which he never recovered.
The Championship Years

Unlike Gus Greenlee, Cumberland Posey would benefit of the ballplayers flight to Latin America. Many of the players returned to Pittsburgh the following spring, and he was able to sign Josh Gibson to a lucrative deal. Gibson, paired with Walter F. "Buck" Leonard, formed a twosome often hailed as "the Ruth and Gehrig of black baseball (Ruck p.172)." The Grays' 1936 team began a dynasty that would have a nine-year pennant run from 1937-45.

Leonard joined the Grays in 1934 after being introduced to Posey by Smokey Joe Williams, a star pitcher at the time. As the cornerstone of the team, Leonard was easy going, dependable and quiet. His nature earned him the position of captain, which he filled until the Grays folded in 1950.
The Grays were also led by left fielder Vic Harris, pitcher Sam Bankhead, Euthumm Napier, Jerry Benjamin, Roy Partlow, and Cool Papa Bell. The team became phenomenal-winning nine titles in eleven years. "The Grays became such a balanced squad that when Josh Gibson went south to Mexico for the 1940 and 1941 seasons, they won without him" (Ruck, p.172).

Despite their level of play on the diamond, the Grays could not make a profit, and considered leaving Pittsburgh. During the summer of 1939, co-owner Jackson informed the press that the team might rent Griffith Stadium, in Washington D.C. But fans were angry and created enough commotion to have the Grays play in Homestead during the week. On Saturdays, the team played in Forbes Field, and on Sundays they traveled to Washington D.C. When playing in Washington, the Grays drew a crowd that the local team, the Washington Senators, never could- they were the team the community wanted to see.

World War II brought Americans financial success, and better attendance at baseball games. At long last, the Homestead Grays generated enough revenue to benefit from their championship team. On the flip side, the team was also negatively affected by the war, with players such as Vic Harris, now player-manager, being drafted.

In July 1943, a Mexican Consul would come to Pittsburgh to try to lure players to Mexico. When the Consul asked Sonnyman Jackson where his players could be found, he bought his ticket to a forceful ejection from Forbes Field. Jackson was arrested but he was not going to let anyone get hold of his players.

The Decline
The year 1945 signaled the beginning of the end for the Homestead Grays. On October 29, 1945 it was announced that Jackie Robinson had signed a contract to play baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers. With many of the Negro Leagues' lucrative players integrating the majors, crowds declined. The Grays struggled during the 1945 and 1946 season. With the deaths of Cumberland Posey in 1946 and of Josh Gibson in 1948, the future of the Homestead Grays, and the Negro Leagues organization as a whole, looked bleak. The Grays would play well enough to make it to the Series, but it was not the same. For the black community, the publicity and excitement of black baseball was now second to the baseball being played in the majors. Jackie Robinson was turning heads, and Satchel Paige would soon move to the majors as well. Due to financial difficulties the team collapsed in 1950.

1944 Washington Homestead Grays:

Front L to Right: Jelly Jackson, Ray Battle, Edward Robinson, Sam Bankhead, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Dave Hoskins, Jerry Benjamin, and Cool Papa Bell