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.
If there were questions about whether Bob Boyd could handle major league pitching, he answered them in his first career at-bat. The Potts Camp native delivered a game-tying pinch single for the Chicago White Sox on Sept. 8, 1951, at old Comiskey Park. He would go on to bat .293 over parts of nine big league seasons. In recognition of Black History Month, let us sing the praises of “The Rope,” one of the first black Mississippians to make the majors. Boyd, who earned his nickname for his knack for hitting line drives, starred in the Negro Leagues before getting his shot in MLB. He batted .362 over a four-year span with the Memphis Red Sox in the late 1940s and played in two East-West All-Star Games, according to the Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Leagues. He was the first black player signed by the White Sox in 1950, three years after Jackie Robinson’s debut. A left-handed hitting first baseman, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Boyd didn’t have a lot of power, but he could put the ball in play. He hit .342 (and stole 41 bases) in the Pacific Coast League in 1951 and .320 in that high-caliber league in 1952. He was 31 when he got his first call to The Show and 37 before he became a regular, batting .318 for the 1957 Baltimore Orioles. He hung around the majors until 1961 and played in the minors into his mid-40s. Boyd died in Kansas in 2004.