Positions: Outfielder; First baseman; Manager
Teams: Indianapolis ABCs; Harrisburg Giants; Detroit Stars; Chicago American Giants; St. Louis Giants; Harrisburg Giants; Homestead Grays; Pittsburgh Crawfords; Toledo Crawfords; Philadelphia Stars; Brooklyn Brown Dodgers, 1915-1954

Oscar Charleston put punch in the lineups of no less than a dozen teams in his 35-year career. He was a barrel-chested man of great strength, a long-hitter who could hit for average and run like the wind.

Only Josh Gibson, whose memory is fresher, challenges Oscar’s reputation as a slugger, and only Cool Papa Bell is mentioned with him when the best center fielders of the Negro Leagues are named.

Oscar Charleston became the manager of the Philadelphia Stars.  He began as a center fielder.
Oscar Charleston became the manager
of the Philadelphia Stars. He began
as a center fielder.

Born in Indianapolis, Oscar McKinley Charleston (1896-1954) began his career in organized baseball in 1912 at age 15 in the Philippines as a member of the Army. He also ran track proficiently. Two years later, he was the only African American in the Manila League. Discharged in 1915, Charleston signed on with the Indianapolis ABCs.

John B. Holway wrote “there were three things Oscar Charleston excelled at on the field: hitting, fielding, and fighting. He loved all three, and it’s a toss-up which he was best at.” Each of the three is documented. Charleston’s lifetime average is .357. Newt Allen said “He hit so hard, he’d knock gloves off you.”

Charleston’s 11 homers against major-league pitchers in exhibition games ties for the highest total recorded, and he hit them for distance, too. In the field, Oscar was just as impressive, with an arm more accurate than strong and the speed to run down drives in any part of the park easily. Right fielder Dave Malarcher, who played alongside Charleston, said: “He could play all the outfield. I just caught foul balls. I stayed on the lines.” Charleston’s spectacular catches are legendary.

Infielders got out of Oscar’s way as he sped around the bases. They knew he would use all his considerable strength and speed against them, and that he had a mean streak. Off the field he was just as formidable.

Cool Papa Bell said that Charleston ripped the hood off a “mouthy” Klansman in Florida in 1935; the Klansman elected to drop the matter. Charleston also resembled white baseball’s biggest star, Babe Ruth, in his attraction to and for women and the good life. Like the Babe, Oscar is remembered as a genial, good-natured fellow, though few were blind to his faults.

Charleston stayed on past his prime as a player-manager, mainly with the great Pittsburgh Crawfords. He switched to first base after a chronic weight problem got the best of him. During World War II, Oscar played for the Philadelphia quartermaster’s team, where he worked. Charleston was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1976.

Here are Oscar Charleston's negro league statistics*:

BA G AB H 2B 3B HR SB
.357 821 2,992 1,069 184 63 151 153

*Note: Charleston’s career statistics are incomplete.

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