Negro League signs to line bridge

Plaques will honor Grays, Crawfords


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The lineups haven't been announced yet, but the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords, legendary baseball rivals in the Negro Leagues, will be matched up again next week.

A series of signs honoring the teams will be unveiled Thursday on the Homestead Grays Bridge at an event hosted by Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, Homestead Mayor Betty Esper, the Pirates and the Josh Gibson Foundation.

It will be 9-on-9, as nine signs commemorating the Grays will line the side of the bridge carrying traffic toward Homestead, and nine markers depicting the Crawfords will bedeck the Pittsburgh-bound side.

"The idea was to honor both of the teams and the Negro Leagues," said Mr. Onorato's spokesman, Kevin Evanto.

The display is the culmination of a decade-long dream of Ms. Esper, who began gathering support in 2001 for renaming what was formerly the Homestead High-Level Bridge to honor the Grays, the dominant Negro National League team of the 1930s and 1940s.

At the time she mentioned a goal of draping banners of Grays players along the bridge, which was renamed in 2002.

"Mayor Esper has been a driving force behind this," said county spokeswoman Megan Dardanell.

Rather than banners, the display will be metal signs, in the shape of elongated home plates, bearing photographs of the great players and owners of the teams. The signs were designed by Pittsburgh sports artist Dino Guarino, who has painted images of many of the region's great athletes, including Bill Mazeroski, Roberto Clemente, Mario Lemieux and Arnold Palmer.

"We think this is a great part of not only baseball but Pittsburgh folklore," Mr. Guarino said. "More and more people should be aware of it."

The photographs are black-and-white but the signs are accented in Prussian blue for the Grays and cranberry red for the Crawfords, he said. Each will have the team's logo on the back.

The metal signs will hold up better against the elements than vinyl banners, Mr. Evanto said.

The Homestead Grays were established in 1912 but the team's roots went back more than a decade before that. They competed in the Negro National League from 1935 to 1948 and won nine straight pennants from 1937 to 1945.

The Crawfords played independently in 1931 and 1932 and in the Negro National League from 1933 to 1938.

Although the names of the honorees haven't been revealed, it's a sure bet that catcher Josh Gibson, who played for both teams, will be among them. Mr. Gibson hit more than 800 home runs during a 16-year career and was inducted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 1972.

The Josh Gibson Foundation is celebrating the centennial of the great catcher's birth this year, and is headed by Mr. Gibson's great-grandson Sean.

"These guys have done a lot for baseball and are very seldom recognized," Mr. Gibson said. "That bridge gets a lot of traffic. People will have a chance to learn more about these two great teams."

Pittsburgh, he added, "has always been at the forefront of doing things like this."


Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at www.post-gazette.com/roundabout . Twitter: @pgtraffic.


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