ZEBULON – The Carolina Mudcats will honor the legacy of local Negro Leagues teams by playing as the semi-pro Raleigh Grays, with specially designed game jerseys, during Negro Leagues Weekend on Saturday, August 26 and Sunday, August 27 at Five County Stadium.
Negro Leagues Weekend will feature the Mudcats playing the Columbia Fireflies in what will be the fifth and sixth games of a 12-game homestand at Five County Stadium. The Mudcats will wear the limited edition Raleigh Grays jerseys for both games of Negro Leagues Weekend. The Raleigh Grays-inspired game jerseys will be made available for purchase via online auction following the 2023 season. The net proceeds of the jersey auction will be donated to a local charity.
Saturday’s game on August 26 is additionally Souvenir Saturday featuring a Mudcats themed souvenir backpack for the first 1,000 fans with paid admission. Sunday’s game on August 27 is WakeMed Five County Family Sunday featuring $7.00 box seat tickets and post-game catch. Saturday’s game begins at 5:00 p.m. and Sunday’s game will begin at 1:00 p.m. Tickets are available now by visiting www.carolinamudcats.com, by calling (919) 269-2287, and by visiting the Five County Stadium front office in Zebulon.
The Raleigh Grays were a semi-pro Negro Leagues team that originally played in 1919 and 1920, and again in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Home games were played in Raleigh at Shaw Alumni Field and later Chavis Park beginning in 1939.
The 1939 Raleigh Grays in particular were a powerhouse as they won the vast majority of their games, including a 19-game winning streak that ran from early in the season through June 8, 1939. The streak ended on June 9, 1939 when the Raleigh Grays lost 12-8 to the Norfolk Black Tars of the Negro Eastern League.
Local opponents from the 1939 season included the Durham Black Sox, Charlotte Black Hornets, Rocky Mount Black Swans, Goldsboro Red Sox, Greensboro Red Wings, Winston-Salem Mohawk Giants, Central Prison Giants, Belleville Grays, Raleigh Tar Heels and Kinston Grays.
The 1939 Raleigh Grays also hosted several exhibition games versus Negro National League teams including the New York Black Yankees on June 26, 1939, and the defending national champion Homestead Grays on August 29, 1939.
The August 29, 1939 exhibition versus the Homestead Grays featured both Josh Gibson and Rocky Mount, N.C. native Buck Leonard playing in Raleigh against the Raleigh Grays. Gibson set the tone early in that game with a three-run home run in the first as the Homestead Grays earned a 16-2 victory versus the Raleigh Grays.
Notable 1939 Raleigh Grays players included Allan Brewer, Haggie Smith, Buck Alston, John Parker, Lonnie Floyd, Red Baskerville and pitchers Howard “Big Train” Cozart, Schoolboy Howard, and Leniel Hooker.
Cozart at one point won 10 straight starts and often reached double-digits in strikeouts in his outings. Born in Holly Springs, N.C., Cozart later signed with the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League in September of 1939. Hooker also went on to play for the Eagles and spent nine seasons in the Negro National League with Newark. From Sanford, N.C., Hooker was also a member of Newark’s 1946 championship team that also featured Hall of Famers Larry Doby and Monte Irvin.
Gibson and Leonard both entered the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972 and are considered two of the greatest players in the history of baseball. The Mudcats honored the legendary Buck Leonard during Negro Leagues Tribute Night last season.
The 1939 Raleigh Grays were managed by player-manager Joe Watkins. They were operated by business manager Pete Wilder.
Carolina’s Negro Leagues Weekend event is part of Minor League Baseball’s “The Nine” initiative. “The Nine” is a Black-community focused outreach platform specifically designed to honor and celebrate the historic impact numerous Black baseball pioneers made on the sport, provide new opportunities for youth baseball and softball participation, further diversify the business of baseball and embrace millions of passionate fans throughout Minor League Baseball’s 120 communities nationwide.
The Carolina Mudcats are the officially licensed Class-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, established in 1991, at Five County Stadium in Zebulon, N.C.