PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Feb. 13 is the 100th anniversary of the Negro League Baseball.
The teams in the Negro League played a key role in baseball’s history, especially some of the teams based here in Pittsburgh.
Now the city is celebrating the anniversary and its historical significance.
It wasn’t until February 13, 1920, that the self-sustaining Negro League Baseball hit the fields.
“The organization was better. The funding was better. The investment was better. And it lasted longer,” says Samuel Black, director of African American programs at the Heinz History Center.
Black says during the first part of the 20th century, America’s past-time was a segregated sport.
“Until Jackie Robinson in 1947, the game drew the color line,” Black told KDKA money editor Jon Delano on Thursday.
“So there are a lot of Negro League players who clearly had the talent to play major league baseball.”
Among those players were many from Pittsburgh whose teams pre-date the creation of the Negro League.
“The Homestead Grays goes back a little earlier than 1910. Matter of fact, a bunch of steelworkers playing for the Homestead Steel Works.”
And later with the Pittsburgh Crawfords, this city had two black teams.
“Pittsburgh had really a long history, and I don’t know if it’s luck or something in the water, whatever, but two of the better baseball teams around.”
The 1936 Pittsburgh Crawfords had “Hall of Famers” Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and “Cool Papa” Bell, and many think that if this team had been allowed to play the all-white Pittsburgh Pirates, the Crawfords would have won.
But it was not to be.
Major League Baseball prohibited white players from playing blacks, even in off-season games.
“That was a great opportunity,” says Black.
“Unfortunately, Major League Baseball did not take advantage of it — to actually integrate baseball at least twenty years before Jackie Robinson.”
To honor the centennial of Negro League Baseball, the Pirates and Heinz History Center have a series of events through February.