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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Disappointment in Pittsburgh: How the Pirates Ditched Pittsburgh’s Negro Leagues Past

Article from Sport in American History. Also reposted at the New Pittsburgh Courier. Somehow the Pirates got away with destroying their permanent Negro leagues exhibit for the entire 2015 season with very little push-back from the Pittsburgh or baseball community. How does this happen?

This past spring, two statues depicting Negro leagues baseball legend Josh Gibson were on the move. In Washington D.C., the Nationals quietly relocated a Gibson statue along with two others to another section of their ballpark; in Pittsburgh, the Pirates tried to throw theirs away. Specifically, the Pirates gutted Legacy Square of its seven statues of Negro leagues ballplayers along with the associated interpretive panels. As Opening Day approached, the Pirates were set to destroy the statues after having already destroyed the large Legacy Square baseball bats. Purely by coincidence, Sean Gibson–great-grandson of Josh Gibson and Executive Director of the non-profit Josh Gibson Foundation–was offered a chance to rescue the statue of his great-grandfather. With insufficient storage or transportation, Gibson initially balked at the offer, instead suggesting the statues be redistributed throughout PNC Park, but once he realized the urgency of the situation, Gibson informed the Pirates that he would take the Josh Gibson statue–as well as the six others.

Legacy Square is technically still part of PNC Park of course, but it now looks very different, very empty, and very sad. Gone are the statues and the oversized bats, only to be replaced by simple banners depicting both Negro league and present-day Pittsburgh ballplayers. Further, speaking from personal experience, these banners are very easy to overlook. Legacy Square was originally designed to be a place to exclusively interpret and educate fans on Pittsburgh’s black baseball past, and that is quite simply no longer true.

What’s most shocking about the Pirates decision to purge local African-American history from PNC Park is that since the 1970s the Pirates have been leaders in embracing diversity within Major League Baseball (MLB). The Pirates were a bit slow to field a black ballplayer (1954, seven years after Jackie Robinson), but in 1971 the Pirates fielded the first all-minority starting lineup. So how does a franchise clearly aware of its past in a city with incredibly rich Negro league history simply remove the permanent exhibits of Legacy Square? Now that the Pirates season is officially over, perhaps the spotlight can be turned to these questions.

joshtothemaxx Posted: October 31, 2015 at 04:40 PM | 11 comment(s)
  Beats: museum, negro leagues, pirates, pittsburgh pirates



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