Cool Papa Bell

Position: Outfielder
St. Louis Stars, Detroit Wolves, Kansas City Monarchs, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Chicago American Giants, Homestead Grays, 1922-1946

Cool Papa Bell was a switch-hitter with the speed to beat out ground balls and to score from second on fly-outs. He also owned the power to hit the long ball right-handed. He was widely recognized as the best outfielder in the Negro Leagues and the fastest man in all of baseball. Longtime teammate Satchel Paige said Bell could turn out the light and be in bed before the room got dark.

Cool Papa Bell's legendary speed remained intact until the end of his career.
Cool Papa Bell's legendary speed
remained intact until the
end of his career.

James Thomas Bell (1903-1991) at age 17 moved from Starkville, Mississippi, to St. Louis, where his mother felt he would get a better education. The St. Louis Stars signed him in 1922 as a right-handed knuckleball pitcher. He got his nickname due to two parts of his personality -- "cool" because of his calmness, and "papa" because of his maturity. Even though he was later switched to the outfield, he was still a “Cool Papa.”

Bell was popular in St. Louis, and he remained with the Stars for 10 seasons. He gained his fame with the great Pittsburgh Crawfords team and, later, with the Homestead Grays. He joined the Crawfords in 1933, a team that also raided other ballclubs (including the Steel City rival Grays) for the services of future Hall of Famers Satchel Paige, Oscar Charleston, Judy Johnson, and Josh Gibson.

Other very good players -- such as Sam Bankhead, Sam Streeter, Rap Dixon, Cy Perkins, Leroy Matlock, and Vic Harris -- played for the Crawfords at some time from ’33 to ’36. It might have been the greatest concentration of talent in baseball at the time.

Cool Papa joined other Negro League stars and went south, playing in both the Dominican Republic and in Mexico. Bell was in such demand that he played for 29 summers and 21 winters. He was still hitting .300, though he couldn’t field, when he was 48 years old. In his day they would at times play three games in three towns in a day, play 200 games in a season, and travel everywhere by bus.

Bell’s lifetime average, by available records, was .338, and he hit .395 in exhibition games against major-leaguers. He once stole over 175 bases in a 200-game season, but as he remembered, “one day I got five hits and stole five bases, but none of that was written down because they didn’t bring the scorebook to the game that day.” Bell was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1974.

Monte Irvin said, “The only comparison I can give is -- suppose Willie Mays had never had a chance to play big league? Then I were to come to you and try to tell you about Willie Mays. Now this is the way it is with Cool Papa Bell.”

Here are Cool Papa Bell's major league totals:


1,335 203 68 56

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