McKeesport has made vast contributions to the world of professional sports | Sports | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

McKeesport has made vast contributions to the world of professional sports

Swin Cash is the crown jewel of McKeesport

McKeesport is one of those towns that got left behind. The once-sprawling metropolis of 50,000 people has dwindled to fewer than 20,000 residents. Driving through McKeesport causes people to wonder, “Is this place open?” or “Did the Purge just start and I missed it?” But McKeesport perseveres. Much like other towns suffering decades of decline, it has a rich history. And Tube City, as it was once known, has contributed to the sports world in significant way.

It starts with Swin Cash. Four WNBA all-star games, three WNBA titles, two collegiate national championships at the University of Connecticut, and she scored two Olympic gold medals 12 years apart. She’s McKeesport-tough as well, winning a world championship with the Detroit Shock despite a herniated disc. Cash left Motown after a feud with coach Bill Laimbeer, and in her defense, Laimbeer was on a Detroit Pistons team where Dennis Rodman was only the second biggest jerk on the roster. Laimbeer was No. 1. Swin is the crown jewel of McKeesport.

Super Bowl Champion Mike Logan went to McKeesport High before matriculating at West Virginia University. Also McKeesport-tough, Logan played four years as a Mountaineer despite breaking the same arm three times. Injuries hampered his NFL career; he played a full-season just once in his 10 years as a pro, six of those seasons with the Steelers. Logan will forever be loved for picking Kennywood over Disneyland. When the Steelers won Super Bowl XL, Logan said he did not want to go to Disney but asked if Kennywood was open. Not in February, but take that, Disney!

Former Penn State Nittany Lion Brandon Short helped the Giants win a Super Bowl over the Baltimore Ravens, and Bill Miller caught two touchdowns in Super Bowl II as an Oakland Raider. They are both from McKeesport, as is as a man who forever changed the game of football. Back in the old days, football stupidly placed the H-shaped goalposts right on the goal line. An already dangerous sport added another level of peril by giving the players two metal poles to run into. Jim Trimble changed the H shape to a Y, with just one post. The NFL wised up and adopted the new goalpost and placed it at the rear of the end zone. Trimble coached in the Canadian Football League after interviewing for head coach of the Green Bay Packers in 1959. But they went with some guy named Lombardi instead.

The last time the Pirates won it all, McKeesport-born Bill Robinson was a big part of the family. Robinson played for the Bucs for eight seasons, including the 1977 campaign, when he hit .304 with 26 homers and 104 runs batted in. Robinson collected two more World Series rings as a coach for the 1986 Mets and the 2003 Marlins. He cashed a big-league (or is it “bigly”?) check from 1967 to 1983. Other baseball players include Brian Holton, who helped the Dodgers win their last World Series, in 1988. And Rick Krivda won a gold medal in baseball in the 2000 Olympics, and won 11 games in the majors. In case you haven’t figured it out by now, McKeesport cranks out winners.

McKeesport has also contributed to the world of bullfighting, as you probably wouldn’t have guessed. Bette Ford was the first woman to fight on the Plaza de Toros Mexico, the world’s largest bullring; she was also an actress who appeared in a couple Clint Eastwood movies. McKeesport even slipped behind the wheel of NASCAR. Tommy Gale began racing at the age of 34; not a stellar career, but he finished in the top 10 of his races four times. He’s still the best NASCAR driver ever from there. Outside of sports, Presidents George Washington, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon have all traversed the McKeesport landscape. Bob Carroll Jr. found his way from McKeesport to the writing desk of I Love Lucy. Helen Richey graduated from McKeesport High in 1927 and went on to become the first female ever hired to pilot a commercial flight. Men were maybe a little bit misogynistic back then, so the all-male pilots union forced her out. 

Basketball, football, baseball, sit-coms and the airline industry have all been influenced by McKeesporters. This town is no one-trick pony, as it has produced a wide array of famous people from all walks of life. Sure, it might have seen better days, but it has earned some respect. McKeesport isn’t closed; it’s just under construction.