Cumberland Willis Posey, Jr.
Positions: of, manager, officer, owner; secretary (Negro National League, East-West League)
Teams: Homestead Grays (1911-1946), Detroit Wolves (1932)
Height: 5' 9'' Weight: 145
Born: June 20, 1880, Homestead, Pennsylvania
Died: March 28, 1946, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
National Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee (2006)
The man who could properly be called the father of the Homestead Grays, his association with the ballclub had roots reaching virtually to the team's inception, and his genius made the Grays a successful franchise. Beginning as a player, he rose through the ranks, progressing to manager, booking agent, business manager, and owner of the ballclub. A fair baseball player, he joined the Grays in their early years as a player, but gained his baseball fame after his playing days were ended, as their owner, as an officer of the Negro National League, and as the founder of the East-West League.
Born in Homestead, the son of Cumberland W. and Anna Stevens Posey, he was fortunate to have parents who served as good role models for his achievements. His father worked as a riverboat engineer on the Ohio River and later became general manager of the Delta Coal Company while also pursuing interests in banking and real estate. His mother was the first black graduate of Ohio State University also to hold a teaching position at that institution.
After starring as an all-around athlete at Homestead High School, he went to Pennsylvania State College in 1909-1910, the University of Pittsburgh in 1913, and Holy Ghost College (which later became Duquesne University) in 1915. He studied chemistry and pharmacy and was an outstanding basketball player. While at the latter school he was enrolled under a fictitious name, Charles W. Cumbert, led the basketball team in scoring, and was captain of the golf team.
He later played professional basketball with the Monticello Delaneys before organizing and starring with the famed Leondi teams which for years dominated the scene as national champions. His last year with the Leondi team was 1925, and two years later he formed a Grays' basketball team that defeated the New York Celtics. The seemingly ubiquitous Posey also coached the Homestead High cage team.
After having starred as a basketball player, baseball became his second sport. Posey was a railway mail clerk when the Homestead Grays were first organized in 1910 as a team of steelworkers playing as weekend diversion. He joined the Grays as an outfielder in 1911, when they were a true semi-pro team, playing only on Saturday and Sunday at Homestead Park. But as their ability and reputation increased, the club was in demand for games, and in 1912 Posey took charge and began booking enough games to permit the players to devote all their time to playing baseball.
Within the next decade the Homestead Grays were the biggest attraction in independent baseball and quickly broadened their scope of competition. As more teams appeared, they patterned their operations after Posey' s Grays. Posey's dynamic leadership kept the Grays near the top of the talent pool, and under his guidance they became a team of major league quality and a dominant dynasty in the Negro Leagues.
In the early years Posey split his time between playing and managing, and the Homestead Grays had been moneymakers from 1912 to 1929 under his guidance and leadership. As manager, Posey maintained pretty strict clubhouse rules, and while allowing players to play cards, he did not allow gambling. In 1929 he ended his career as an active player and became a bench manager until turning the team over to Vic Harris in 1937 and concentrating on the business end of the Grays.
In 1922, when the Grays first encountered difficulty by the raiding tactics of the Pittsburgh Keystones, Posey countered by bringing in Charlie Walker as a partner to establish the ballclub on sound financial foundations by putting the players on salary, and gaining permission to use Forbes Field for home games when the Pittsburgh Pirates were out of town. This broke the Keystones' challenge to the Grays' supremacy in Pittsburgh.
The following season, 1923, when the Eastern Colored League was organized, he remained independent and raided league ballclubs to improve his own team. By 1926 he had a powerful team that recorded a 140-13 ledger for the season, while winning 43 straight games at one point in the season. Clearly the Grays outclassed all opponents at that level of competition, but they also defeated a team of major leaguers behind the hurling of Lefty Grove, winning 3 of the 4 games played.
He continued to improve his team and entered the American Negro League in 1929, but when the league folded, he returned to independent play in 1930, picking up some more stars, including Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, and Judy Johnson. The team defeated the New York Lincoln Stars for the eastern championship and improved in 1931, with a record of 163-23, to claim a second consecutive championship. He who lives by the sword dies by the sword, and Posey, who had built a powerhouse by signing players from other teams, became the target for Gus Greenlee's similar raiding tactics. Posey lost Charleston, Gibson, and Johnson among other players to Greenlee's Pittsburgh Crawfords because he could not top Greenlee' s salaries.
As Posey did the first time he encountered financial difficulties, the Depression necessitated him seeking additional funds by taking in a co-owner, Rufus "Sonnyman" Jackson. Under the ballclub's new structure, Jackson was president, Posey was secretary, his brother Seward "See" Posey was booking agent and business manager, and Vic Harris was the field manager. Harris remained at the helm except for the 1943-1944 seasons, when "Candy Jim" Taylor was manager due to Harris's wartime employment.
Posey was an innovative owner, initiating night ball years before the major leagues explored the possibility of playing night games. He also served as the executive secretary of the Negro National League, and wrote a regular column, "Posey's Points," for the Pittsburgh Courier. Off the field he was reputed to be a ladies' man, with a woman in each city, but his activities apart from baseball failed to deter him from building a baseball dynasty.
The new money again rescued Posey, and he lured Josh Gibson back to form a dynamic power duo with Buck Leonard. Under his leadership, beginning in 1937, when the Grays had a record of 152-24 against all opposition, the Grays won nine consecutive Negro National League pennants. In 1940 Posey secured the use of Griffith Stadium for some home games.
Posey continued to corral top players, keeping the Grays the class of the league, but during the last year of the "long Gray line," his health began failing. After ailing for more than a year, and being confined to a bed for three weeks due to his illness, he died of lung cancer at Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh in the spring of 1946. In 2006 he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Source: James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.