Papa Had Wheels

Stories of his speed on the base paths are the stuff of baseball legend. Perhaps most famously the story described by Satchel Paige that he was “so fast he could turn out the light and jump in bed before the room got dark.”

Or that he scored from first on a sacrifice bunt. Or that he was recorded as rounding the bases in 12 seconds. How pitchers feared walking him because he could often steal second and third, easily scoring on the next play.

He finished his career with a .341 average, hitting .391 in exhibitions against MLB players.

Named to the Major League Baseball All-Century team, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974. He ranked 66th on The Sporting News’ list of Baseball’s Greatest Players; one of five who played all or most of his career in the Negro leagues.

One of his teammates, Ted Page said that he was “an even better man off the field than he was on it. He was honest. He was kind. He was a clean liver. In fact, in all of the years I’ve known him, I’ve never seen him smoke, take a drink or even say one cuss word.”

One of his quotes, to me, describes the essence of being a baseball player and even a fan.

Because of baseball I smelled the rose of life. I wanted to travel, and to have nice clothes. Baseball allowed me to do all those things, and most important, during my time with the Crawfords, it allowed me to become a member of the brotherhood of friendship which will last forever.

In honor of this February’s African-American history month, we tip our caps to one of the all-time greats –  Hall of Fame center fielder in the Negro leagues from 1922 to 1950 – Mr.  James Thomas “Cool Papa” Bell.