On May 17, 1903 one of the greatest baseball players to never get a shot in the majors was born.
James “Cool Papa” Bell was forced to take part in the Negro League rather than participate in Major League Baseball because of segregation. The center fielder started his 30 year career with the St. Louis Stars in 1922. He is recognized as one of baseball’s fastest runners.
Bell played with St. Louis until the end of the 1931. In 1932 he played with the Detroit Wolves and the Kansas City Monarchs. The Pittsburgh Crawfords took him in ’33, the year of the first Negro League All-Star game, where the eastern teams took on the western teams. He managed to steel 175 bases in ’33 as well.
Bell took a break from the Negro League in ’38 to play for teams in the Mexican League until 1941. He played with the Chicago American Giants for a year, and went to the Detroit Senators in ’43. His carrier ended with the Washington Homestead Grays in 1946.
Bell’s last season was one year short of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. He was the fifth Negro League player to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was a major influence for players like Robinson as well as Ernie Banks, and even though his name is not used as regularly when talking about baseball, he is still one of the greatest and should be recognized.
A Denver Post sports editor wrote “All these years I’ve been looking for a player who could steal first base. I’ve found my man; his name is Cool Papa Bell.”
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