Inside Pitch

Oct. 5, 1954: Future Hall of Famer Oscar Charleston dies


October 3, 2011

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – He was not allowed to play with Hall of Famers Ty Cobb or Tris Speaker, but Oscar Charleston was said to be as good if not better.

Writers said he was like Cobb on the bases and Speaker in the outfield. With his speed and threatening presence on the base paths, Charleston was given the nickname the "Black Ty Cobb."

Oscar Charleston was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976. (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

Oscar Charleston died 57 years ago this week. Just 57 years old when he died, Charleston would not live to see himself or any of his teammates or players inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. But the honor they so richly deserved would one day be theirs.

Charleston was both a player and manager in the Negro leagues, sometimes holding the two positions simultaneously. His career as a player and manager combined to span 40 years and 13 teams. He remained a manager until his hospitalization and subsequent passing on Oct. 5, 1954. He led his Indianapolis Clowns to a Negro league pennant just one month before his death.

Charleston's professional baseball career began with the Indianapolis ABCs of the Negro National League in 1915. He played center field for the ABCs using is natural speed and agility to successfully patrol the outfield. In addition to his exceptional defense, Charleston was a constant threat at the plate.

"Charleston could hit that ball a mile," Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean said. "He didn't have a weakness. When he came up, we just threw it and hoped like hell he wouldn't get a hold of one and send it out of the park."

Though statistics for the Negro leagues are incomplete, over 21 seasons, Charleston is credited as a .348 hitter with a .576 slugging percentage, 128 home runs, and 514 runs batted in.

In 1921, Charleston accumulated a .434 batting average and led the Negro National League in doubles, triples, home runs, and stolen bases.

Charleston became the player-manager of the Pittsburgh Crawfords in 1932. Widely considered one of the best teams in Negro league history, Charleston's Crawfords team featured Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Judy Johnson, Cool Papa Bell, and Smokey Joe Williams – all future Hall of Famers.

In 1971, the National Baseball Hall of Fame created a special Committee on Negro Baseball Leagues to induct Negro league players into the Hall of Fame. Five years later, Charleston became the seventh Negro League Player inducted into the Hall of Fame, joining his former teammates Gibson, Paige, Bell, and Johnson and fellow Negro leagues Stars Buck Leonard and Monte Irvin.

"Some people said he was the greatest Negro player," Hall of Famer Cool Papa Bell once said of Charleston. "But [Hall of Fame Manager] John McGraw said he was the greatest player he'd ever seen."

Nicole Pappas was the public relations intern in the Class of 2011 Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program

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