Okay, so it is about sports this week. Well, at least in part. The Pittsburgh Pirates are going to be in the playoffs for the first time since the Heartbreak of 1992 (if you have a heart, don’t ask a native Pittsburgher to talk about it—just take my word for it. If you need to know, google “Pittsburgh Pirates heartbreak 1992” and Wikipedia will tell you all about it). Their rise to playoff status this year is the fulfillment of my mother’s hopes over the past few years, so I will be rooting hard for them, even if they do have to play Atlanta—*sigh*.
Baseball has deep roots in Pittsburgh. Negro League baseball provided job opportunities for some men in The Great Migration. The hero of my story, A Champion’s Heart, joins the famous Pittsburgh Crawfords after being told he cannot box any longer for health and safety reasons. This team, and another Pittsburgh-area team, the Homestead Grays, dominated the national baseball scene for Negro players. During the 1930’s and 1940’s World War II, these two teams between them, won over a dozen league championships. Champ joins the team right in between the back to back Crawfords’ 1935 and 1936 winning seasons—exciting times for them. World War II and Jackie Robinson’s integration into to the Brooklyn Dodgers changed that opportunity.
When I last visited PNC Park in Pittsburgh two years ago, I was pleased to notice the various ways in which the Pirates organization paid tribute to the players and organizations of the Negro League teams that originated there. There are parts of the park named for Negro League players, and name plates of other players all around the park. I’ve been to Turner Field in Atlanta, and I did not see any similar kind of homage to the Atlanta Black Crackers. Sadly enough, the only homage I’ve ever seen to the Atlanta’s Negro League team were bits of history fashioned into the tabletops at the Whole Foods—now located in the same spot as their former ball park.
The Pirates organization has had problems with racism before, but when they built their beautiful new park, it is good to know that they built in an appreciation for a historical time when an African American man could not play ball for their organization. History must be acknowledged so that the same kinds of approaches and tactics do not happen again. And since they did such a good job of it, I can say with full-throated enthusiasm:
Beat ‘em Bucs!