Image: “Mighty Josh” by Kadir Nelson
On Saturdays, we like to take a break from covering the world of D.C. dining to highlight something from the world of art. Typically, that is something related to food, but on the week the Nationals won the National League Pennant, we turn to D.C. baseball history. As many have noted, the last time a D.C. team was in the World Series was 1933, when the Washington Senators faced the N.Y. Giants. The Giants won in five. That summation of history is incomplete, however. The last time a professional baseball team from Washington was in a world series was 1948, when the Washington Homestead Grays won the Negro League World Series. The Grays beat the Birmingham Black Barons four games to one.
The Grays were an odd team that started in Homestead, Pennsylvania, just outside Pittsburgh. They eventually moved to Forbes Field in Pittsburgh proper but then started splitting their home games between Forbes Field and Griffith Stadium in Washington. In the forties, more and more games were played in Washington, but they kept the connection to Pittsburgh and Homestead in its official name. The 1948 team included future Hall of Famer Buck Leonard. The tragedy is the person most identified with the Grays was missing in 1948, Josh Gibson. A catcher for the Grays, he died tragically young in 1947 at the age of 35. Gibson was a powerful hitter, he was often called the “Black Babe Ruth,” but that is papering over the fact that all baseball records from the era are distorted by the fact Gibson – along with other African-Americans – was unable to play with white players in direct competition. Along with Leonard, he was one of the first three Negro League players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973 (Satchel Paige was first in 1971). There is a statue of him at Nationals Park.
The painting above is from a book by Kadir Nelson called We Are The Ship: The story of Negro League Baseball. Here is the description of the painting from Nelson’s site:
“Josh Gibson (often called “the Black Babe Ruth”), stands tall, partially illuminated by the late afternoon sun in front of his home dugout, swinging three bats, taunting the pitcher, Satchel Paige, as he awaits his turn at bat. As Gibson steps out of the shadows, he watches Paige deliver a pitch to batter, Buck Leonard. Frank Duncan crouches behind home plate inside the sprawling grounds of Griffith Stadium in Washington DC, circa 1943.”
Having Rendon and Soto back-to-back is pretty good, but can you imagine Leonard and Gibson? Prints of the work are available for purchase from the site.
Nelson says of his art:
“I feel that art’s highest function is that of a mirror, reflecting the innermost beauty and divinity of the human spirit; and is most effective when it calls the viewer to remember one’s highest self. I choose subject matter that has emotional and spiritual resonance and focuses on the journey of the hero as it relates to the personal and collective stories of people.”
In the subsequent history of the game, the Negro League collapsed with the integration of the Major Leagues in 1947. Willie Mays was a 17-year in his first professional season with the Black Barons in ’48. He would later move to the Giants (the team that defeated the Senators in ’33), who themselves would move to San Francisco. The Senators moved to Minnesota in 1961. The replacement Senators in Washington last until 1971, when they moved to Texas to become the Rangers.
Finally, if you are coming to D.C. for the World Series and need restaurant recommendations, we can help with that! Our dining guide has over 200 recommended restaurants. You can sort dining establishments by cuisine, neighborhood, and/or rating. In both MAP or LIST format.