The Senator John Heinz History Center and the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum are inviting baseball fans to step up to the plate and attend the new exhibit, "The Story of Negro League Baseball: We Are the Ship," opening Friday, June 29.
The exhibition will focus on the life and tribulations of past players in the Negro League through a series of 50 oil paintings and sketches by artist Kadir Nelson, who spent seven years interviewing former players, examining photographs, and researching baseball in order to portray an accurate picture of the athletes' lives in the Negro League.
Anne Madarasz, Director of the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum at the Heinz History Center, said the city played a special role in the development of the Negro League. "Pittsburgh really was the crossroads of black baseball. It's the only place in the country to have two teams — the Crawfords and the Grays. Seven of the first eleven Negro League players to go into the Pro Baseball Hall of Fame were Crawfords or Grays players," Madarasz said.
Paintings of iconic baseball players such as Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, and Jackie Robinson will be featured as part of the exhibit. Madarasz added the Sports Museum will also be unveiling a new life-like figure of Josh Gibson, who played for both the Crawfords and the Grays.
"Our real motivation was to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Josh Gibson's birth, which was in December of 1911," said Madarasz. "The Josh Gibson Foundation had planned kind of a year-long celebration in remembrance of his life and this seemed like the perfect time to do an exhibition."
Other artifacts in the collection include Gibson's signed employee identification card from his brief career at the Westinghouse Air Brake Company in 1930, a Homestead Grays uniform that belonged to Gibson's backup catcher, Euthumn Napier, and a glove that belonged to Satchel Paige, a Hall of Famer who was a standout player for the Pittsburgh Crawfords in the 1930s.
Madarasz said the exhibit will be open to the public until August 26. "It's a traveling exhibit. It's nearing the end of its run. It's been to, I think, 13 other cities, so the Kadir Nelson art will go away, but the nice thing is that there are objects that will transition to the Sports Museum," Madarasz said.