Updated: Apr 1, 2020
Was it heresy for Cumberland Posey to refer to Pittsburgh’s 1931 Homestead Grays as Worlds Champions? By lambasting New York’s powerful Lincoln Giants in 1930, the Homesteaders had taken procession of the title and no team appeared destined to lure it away. Heading into 1931’s summer campaign, Pittsburgh’s mighty Grays were determined to keep ownership of that illustrious designation. While converging on this legendary task, Cumberland Posey’s Grays met, and eventually conquered, every infertile obstruction on the field of play. That summer, a year when they were forced to tactically navigate through one American’s worst financial depressions, tempered in part by one of the wettest eastern summers in a generation, Posey’s Homestead Grays would top 143 games won (127 verified), and reign as perhaps the best team, not just of 1931, but of all baseball history.
Assembling this mighty Grays team was an exigent task. Booking games was equally as challenging. Seeking to guide his Homestead Grays through the economic bust of 1929, Posey formed alliances with amusement parks, American Legion Post, factories, coal mining communities and most every African-American opponent that could serve as a legitimate foe. Taking advantage of the Eastern Colored League’s collapse, coupled with the disappearance of the short-lived Negro American League while capitalizing on the financially strapped Negro National League, Posey’s wizardry tapped into a reservoir of unsigned talent. His revamped Grays of 1931, just as he had advertised, would be nearly impossible to defeat.
In spite of 1931’s hot and humid summer, Pittsburgh’s Homestead Grays never cooled. Maintaining a torrid pace, they scored in excess of 1,400 runs when American League teams average a poultry 794, and National League teams a mere 692. Except for one solitary series, Posey’s Grays captured every series of three or more games, and strung together two consecutive win streaks of seventeen games.
Though humbled in part by injuries to outfielder Vic Harris, shortstop “Jake” Stevens, infielder Bill Evans, and third baseman Jud Wilson, Pittsburgh’s Grays avoided being shutout until July 4, and at that, they were shutout only twice in all of 1931. If not for injuries, in a summer where over a dozen games were lost to rain, it’s any wonder how many more hits, how many additional runs these Grays might have obtained.
Lurching into town as quickly as they rolled out, Posey’s Grays whipped more than seventy different opponents in a territory that featured the crocodile cheers of seven states and nearly one-hundred different cities. Their ability to accumulate big time numbers in various offensive and defensive categories helped estranged 1931’s Grays from all others teams.
Sporting a stable of sluggers that included; Oscar Charleston, “Jud” Wilson, George Scales, Vic Harris, Ted Page and Josh Gibson, 1931Grays’ showed little lack at the plate. As a unit they amassed over 1,800 hits, more than 360 doubles, in excess of 100 triples and a surplus of 120-plus home runs.
Five different Grays’ players - Page, Gibson, Wilson, Charleston and Scales - chipped in with 200 hits. A total of seven men, a list that added Evans and Harris, obtained more than 100 hits. Page, Scales, Charleston, Gibson, Wilson and Harris, a total of six different Grays’ batters, ripped more than 30 doubles. Three men, Wilson, Charleston and Gibson surpassed 50 doubles - Charleston would top 60. All totaled six Grays’ base runners, Harris, Scales, Charleston, Wilson, Gibson and Page scored over 100 runs. Charleston, Wilson, Gibson, Scales and Page each exceeded 150 runs scored.
At-bat, it was the sheer home run power of Josh Gibson, though, that turned many would be loses into wins.
Throughout 1931, Gibson’s long ball exploits, yielded a mammoth batch of home runs. Though he was participating in his first full season of professional play, and not yet 20-years-old, Gibson romped at a merry clip. Hampered in part by a slow start, by June Gibson was banging the long-ball often.
Gibson’s mammoth clouts had included home runs off Cleveland’s Clifford Bell, Hilldale’s Martin Dihigo, Kansas City’s Charlie Beverly and Baltimore’s Hoseley “Scrip” Lee. Proving that his youthful presence was of little significance, Gibson was equally as devastating on racism – a fact that Pittsburgh’s Bill Doak and Detroit’s George Uhle would verify. Ultimately, Gibson’s 38 home runs, the most by any Grays’ slugger, elicited to Pittsburgh’s Homesteaders an advantage seldom surpassed.
Not to be outdone “Jud” Wilson, who finished a distant second for team home run honors, banged over 20. He, more than anyone else, legitimized the Grays’ unparalleled hitting when in the 130 games he appeared, surpassed 200 hits and 50 doubles. Wilson also led his Grays’ teammates in runs scored surpassing 180.
Second baseman George Scales, in addition to joining the Homesteader’s elite 200 hits club, also contributed 20-plus home runs. Among his season’s highlights was a July 8, game at Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania where he hit for the cycle, collecting a single, double, triple and home run in the same game.
Legendary first baseman manager Oscar Charleston, not to be outdone by any ordinary human being, pounded baseballs for over 200 lively hits, picking up nearly 60 doubles, and nearly 20 home runs. In addition to having led Pittsburgh’s Grays in verified stolen bases with 20, he surpassed 170 runs scored.
The 1931 Grays’ outfield was nearly superior to the infield. Right fielder Ted Page, playing in his first season at Pittsburgh, fulfilled every demand that was placed upon him, finishing with more-than 200 hits, and over 160 runs scored. In collecting 40-plus doubles, he became the fifth Grays’ batter to exceed 40 two-base hits. Centerfielder Vic Harris, although hampered by injuries, ended 1931 with more than 150 hits, 32 doubles and over 100 runs scored. In Harris’ absence Ambrose Reid rapped out nearly 100 hits and scored over 50 runs before jumping to Pittsburgh’s Crawfords in early July. Outfielders’ John L. Jones and Oscar Owens made sequential contributions after joining Pittsburgh late in the campaign.
At utility, few men could rival the offensive and defensive efforts of Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe, who had joined Posey’s Grays from St. Louis’ Stars. Bill Evans and George Britt were other utility players in Posey’s line-up. In Radcliffe and Britt, two pitchers that doubled as catchers, the Grays’ seldom faltered when Gibson took a day of rest. Evans was equally sufficient in the infield, outfield or at bat. The Grays’ first line of defense, though, resulted from their excellent pitchers.
Pitching as though they were totally dependent on that day’s immediate results, Homestead’s Grays featured a minimum of four twenty-game winners. “Lefty” Williams, 23-4, Willie Foster 20-3, “Smokey Joe” Williams 20-5, and George Britt, 21-4 were the Grays one through four starting pitchers. Penciled in as fifth and sixth starters were were Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe at 16-4, and Roy Williams at 14-4. Overall, Grays’ pitchers tossed 21 shutouts, while tossing an additional 28 games where they allowed just one run. In achieving these feats Grays’ pitchers surpassed a mind-boggling 781 opponents struck out.
If there was any weakness in Pittsburgh’s overall performance it failed to manifest itself in more than 64 games against rival African-American competitors. Facing Johnny Drew’s Hilldale, Wilkinson’s Kansas City Monarchs, St. Louis’ Stars, Cleveland’s Cubs, Pittsburgh’s Crawfords, the Cuban House of David, Dismukes’ Cincinnati’s Tigers and a host of others, Pittsburgh’s Grays captured 42 games.
As outlandish as it may appear, in 1931, Posey’s Homestead Grays were far more than a talented African-American baseball team. In claiming a regional championship, with legitimate claim to an African-American World’s Championship title, they became a team never to be forgotten. Thus Cumberland Posey is a heretic no more.