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South Neighborhoods
Homestead span honors baseball team

Friday, July 12, 2002

By Allison Schlesinger, The Associated Press

The Homestead Grays, a Negro League baseball team that brought pride and national attention to their hometown for nearly four decades, now have a bridge named in their honor.

County Executive Jim Roddey introduces former Homestead Grays bat boy Elijah Daniel Miller of West Mifflin at a ceremony yesterday to rename the Homestead Hi-Level Bridge as the Homestead Grays Bridge. Miller, who is 95, served as back-up batboy for the Negro League team from 1926 to 1940. At right is Homestead Councilwoman Charyl Chapman, whose father, John Henry Chapman, played for the Grays. (Martha Rial, Post-Gazette)

Some believe dedicating the 3,000-foot-long span that leads into Homestead is an overdue tribute to a team that included Hall of Famers such as Josh Gibson, considered the "Babe Ruth of the Negro League," and pitcher Joe "Smokey" Williams.

When Allegheny County and Homestead borough officials signed legislation yesterday to change the name of the Homestead Hi-Level Bridge to the Homestead Grays Bridge, Elijah Daniel Miller couldn't contain his excitement. The 95-year-old Homestead resident was the Grays' backup bat boy in 1926.

"My name is Elija Daniel Miller. They call me 'Lucky' and I'm lucky to be here," he said at the signing, surrounded by Homestead Mayor Betty Esper and Allegheny County Chief Executive Jim Roddey.

Miller waited a long time to see the baseball team get the recognition it's been getting lately, and said it's unfortunate that most of the team's stars aren't alive to see it.

There are only about a half-dozen Negro League baseball players left living in Western Pennsylvania, said Alexander Gordon, the executive director of the Roberto Clemente Foundation, which provides baseball, softball and educational opportunities for disadvantaged teenagers.

The Negro League had its beginning in the 1920s, as blacks were banned from the major leagues. The Negro National League, made up of the teams in the east, was disbanded by 1950. The Negro American League, comprised of western teams, folded around 1960, Nelson said.

But the Grays can trace their beginnings to 1912, when a group of steelworkers played as an independent team.

The Grays dominated the Negro National League soon after entering it. In about 30 seasons, the team won 10 pennants and three of the league's World Series.

"If you were to compare the Grays to a contemporary, they could be compared to the (New York) Yankees," Gordon said.

Cumberland Posey, a former Grays player, became the team's manager in 1916, owned the team by the early 1920s and led the Grays to nine Negro National League Championships, said Dr. Evan Baker, Posey's great nephew and the president of the Homestead Borough Council.

"It's important that the league and its contributions aren't forgotten," said Baker. "It's great that more people are interested in the history of the sport."

The bridge, which spans the Monongahela, will be renovated by 2005, when it will get a new coat of paint, wider lanes and a rebuilt ramp. Esper hopes the borough and the county will eventually decorate the bridge with banners featuring Grays players.

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