William "Willie" Pope, a valued pitcher for the Homestead Grays and one of Pittsburgh's last links to part of its storied baseball past, died Thursday in the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in O'Hara. He was 91.
Mr. Pope, born in Birmingham, Ala., was the oldest of 11 siblings born to Jackson and Mary Pope. He also had one adopted sibling.
One of his brothers, Dave Pope, also played baseball and made it to the major leagues in the 1950s. Mr. Pope's younger brother, Charles, said William also was a heavyweight boxer with the Pittsburgh Golden Gloves during the early 1940s.
The 6-foot-4 Mr. Pope began his career as a pitcher with the Pittsburgh Crawfords in 1946 but was mostly known for playing with the Grays during the 1947 and 1948 seasons. During the 1947 season the right-hander notched a 6-7 record, but pitched a no-hitter against the New York Cubans.
In the 1948 season he was major contributor to the Grays team that won the last Negro National League Pennant and won the Negro Leagues World Series against the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League.
The Negro National League folded after the 1948 season, partly because Jackie Robinson's move to the major leagues caused a decline in interest for Negro Leagues teams.
"Black baseball was in dramatic transition at the time," said Rob Ruck, a University of Pittsburgh professor and Negro Leagues expert.
Although Mr. Pope never made it to the majors, he never lost his love for baseball. He played in the Canadian Leagues from 1949 to 1951, and then in the minors from 1953 to 1955.
After his playing days were over, Mr. Pope managed a baseball team in the Hill District and owned a restaurant on Centre Avenue. Mr. Pope also ran for the position of ward chairman and worked for the city of Pittsburgh for 25 years as a surveyor.
Much of Mr. Pope's life after sports was dedicated to bettering the city of Pittsburgh.
In 1988 Mr. Pope was invited to be honored by the Pittsburgh Pirates along with other remaining members from the Grays' last championship team.
Along with Clarence Bruce, a former Negro Leagues player with the Crawfords, and Al Gordon, the first black front office employee for the Pirates, Mr. Pope did his best to revive the history of Negro Leagues baseball in Pittsburgh.
"Mr. Pope's death marks the end of an era; virtually everybody who played for the Grays and Crawfords and then made his life in Pittsburgh is gone," Mr. Ruck said.
Mr. Pope is survived by his wife of 59 years, Ethelia Pope; nine siblings, Evelyn Pringle (Oscar) of Newark, N.J., Charles Pope (Delores) of Wilkins, Howard Pope (Ruth) of Pittsburgh, Calvin Pope of Pittsburgh, Doretha Beatty (Eugene) of Pittsburgh, Aretha Dooley of East Orange, N.J., Mary Thompkins of Pittsburgh, Robert Jones (Grace) of Bridgeville and Virginia Pope of Murrells Inlet, S.C.; and a sister-in-law, Naomi Davis of Detroit.
A memorial service will be held Saturday at the Kingdom Hall East End Congregation at 8890 Frankstown Road, Penn Hills.
Malik Smith: email@example.com .