28 Jun

looking (way) back

Eighty years ago, they ruled the Earth. Well, in 1935, the Pittsburgh Crawfords ruled a segregated part of the Earth. The ’35 Crawfords are widely regarded as the greatest Negro Leagues team of all-time, and — wait for it — a pair of Mississippians were part of the club. Owned by the legendary – and deep-pocketed — Gus Greenlee, the Crawfords trotted out five future Hall of Famers, including Starkville native Cool Papa Bell. The lightning-quick Bell, one of just two Mississippi natives enshrined in Cooperstown, was the leadoff batter in a lineup that also featured Josh Gibson, player-manager Oscar Charleston, Judy Johnson and Sam Bankhead. The brilliant Satchel Paige pitched for that Crawfords team for a time, though their ace was Leroy Matlock, who, according to one source, went 18-0 that season. The team went 26-6 in the first half of the Negro National League season, 39-15 overall and beat the second-half champion New York Cubans in the league championship series. A lesser known star on that Pittsburgh team was Bill “Lefty” Harvey, a Clarksdale native who pitched and occasionally played first base and pinch hit. Harvey famously beat Bob Feller in a head-to-head matchup in a California winter league game in 1939 and also hit three home runs in a game at Yankee Stadium, according to the Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues. Good as he was, Harvey was just a bit player on the ’35 Crawfords team that validated its greatness by winning a thrilling seven-game championship series over the Cubans. The Crawfords, down 3-2 in games and three runs in the ninth, rallied to win Game 6 on the road, then got homers from Gibson and Charleston to take the pennant in Game 7 at home at Greenlee Field. When the conversation turns to greatest teams, remember the Crawfords.

Mike Christensen

Mike Christensen

A long-time sports fan and 30-year newspaper veteran muses on all things baseball in Mississippi. Contact: mwchristens@gmail.com
Mike Christensen

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