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All Time Lists: 20 Greatest Players of the Negro Leagues

Negro Legues

Although the following list could certainly be disputed, the following players are the most notable stars of the era of the Negro Leagues.

I have intentionally omitted a few superstars like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Larry Doby, Don Newcombe and Ernie Banks, who played briefly during the decline of the post-WWII Negro Leagues because their legacies were mostly to the history of the integrated Major League.

1943 Homestead Grays
(Source: Wright and Riley) 

“Cool Papa” Bell, Center Field

James Thomas “Cool Papa” Bell (1903-1991) was widely recognized as the best outfielder in the Negro Leagues and the fastest man in all of baseball. Longtime teammate Satchel Paige said that Bell could turn off the light switch in the bedroom and be in the bed before it got dark.

Born in Starkville, Mississippi, he moved to St. Louis for a better education, and was signed to the St. Louis Stars in 1922. His teammates considered him calm and mature, giving him the nickname he was known for. He played for St. Louis for ten seasons, then for the Pittsburgh Crawford in 1933 and later the Homestead Grays.

After he grew older, he played baseball in the Dominican Republic and Mexico, for 29 summers and 21 winters. He was still hitting an amazing .300 at age 48. Although records are incomplete, his recorded lifetime average was ,338. He once stole over 175 bases in a 200 game season. Bell recounted once that “one day I got five hits and stole five bases, but none of that was recorded because they didn’t bring the scorebook to the game that day. 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.” Bell was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974.

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