As a standout player, manager and owner, Cumberland Willis Posey Jr. built the Homestead Grays into one of the most successful franchises in Negro League baseball history.
Born on June 20, 1890, Posey grew up in a wealthy African-American household in Homestead. His father, Cumberland "Cap" Posey Sr., was general manager for the Delta Coal Co., president of Diamond Coal and Coke, and president of the Pittsburgh Courier Publishing Co., which became one of the nation's most influential African-American newspapers.
At Homestead High School, Posey starred as a power-hitting right fielder on the baseball diamond, a fullback on the football field and a dominant guard on the basketball court. Posey attended Penn State University and then the University of Pittsburgh before landing at the Pittsburgh Catholic College of the Holy Ghost, now Duquesne University. He played basketball there and led his team in scoring for three years as "Charles Cumbert," a fake name used to gain eligibility as a "white" player. While Posey never graduated from college, he established a reputation as one of the region's top athletes.
In 1911, Posey joined the Homestead Grays baseball team, which was made up of steelworkers who played only on weekends. When he began managing the team in 1916, he quickly turned the Homestead Grays into one of the most popular teams in independent baseball. The Grays eventually booked enough games to play baseball year-round.
Posey purchased the Grays in 1919 and led them on a barnstorming tour throughout the eastern U.S. that lasted into the 1930s. He was also credited with discovering legendary catcher Josh Gibson in 1930. Gibson played two years with the Grays before switching to their cross-town rival, the Pittsburgh Crawfords. He returned to the Grays in 1937. In 1935, Posey realized the benefits of joining a financially stable league and entered his team into the Negro National League.
From 1937-45, with the help of future Hall of Famers such as Gibson, "Cool Papa" Bell, Judy Johnson and Buck Leonard, the Homestead Grays won an unprecedented nine consecutive league pennants and three Negro League World Series titles.
Posey died of cancer on March 28, 1946, a year prior to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball. In 2006, 60 years after his death, he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Visitors to the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum at the Heinz History Center can see a 1948 Homestead Grays uniform, a glove worn by legendary pitcher Satchel Paige and other items that showcase Pittsburgh's rich Negro League tradition. Information: www.heinzhistorycenter.org.