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The Homestead Grays Come To Petrolia

By Jeffrey Calta

The Homestead Grays were a black baseball team that started operation in 1912 and lasted until 1950. They were originally a recreational team formed from black employees at the Homestead Steel mill in Pittsburgh. They soon became one of the premier ball clubs in the Negro National Association of Baseball Clubs and had legendary players such as Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Buck Leonard, and Smokey Joe Williams. They played a regular schedule with other clubs of the NNABC which included the Pittsburgh Crawfords, Columbus (Ohio) Bluebirds, Detroit Stars, Chicago American Giants, Nashville Elite Giants, and the Baltimore BlackSox. The Grays were also a popular barnstorming team that played games all over Pennsylvania and Ohio against white and black teams.

The Grays came to Petrolia on June 20, 1933, to play an exhibition game against the Butler County All-Stars. The All-Stars team was selected from the many Butler County amateur teams that were in existence at that time. J.J. Dunlevy, Jr. was the manager of this team.

The game was a much-anticipated event. The exhibition was a headline of the Butler Eagle Sports page on June 14, 1933 and from June 19 -June 21, 1933 with considerable press coverage before and after the event. The Eagle reported that the Petrolia Fireman’s Band played their first concert before the game to entertain the spectators. The Petrolia Refiners baseball team constructed a new grandstand at the Petrolia field that could hold a thousand spectators. The Daugherty Refinery helped by providing financial assistance with the construction.

The Grays won the game with a score of 7-2 in front of a packed grandstand. The box score in the Eagle was titled “Too Much Salmon!” as the Grays pitcher Salmon (no first name mentioned) limited the All-Stars to six hits while the Grays got 16 hits. The All-Stars had chances in the fifth and eighth inning to close the gap. They left the bases loaded without scoring in the fifth inning. In the eighth inning their second baseman (Andrews, no first name given) hit a ground ball hard down the left field line that was headed for the woods for a home run but was interfered with by a young fan. All-Stars coach J.J. Dunlevy protested the interference but the protest was not upheld. Andrews was awarded a triple and did not score.

Contrary to popular legend, Josh Gibson was not present at the game. He was playing for the Pittsburgh Crawfords in 1933 and not a member of the Grays until 1936.

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