JAMES ‘COOL PAPA’ BELL
Position: Outfielder, 1922-1946
Height: 5' 11"
Weight: 150 lbs.
B/T: Switch, Left
Born: 1903 in Starkville, MS
Died: 1991 in St. Louis, MO
Hall of Fame Induction: 1974
James "Cool Papa" Bell had the sleek build of a high school point guard and ran the bases like a streaking cheetah. With daring speed, cunning game awareness, coupled with finesse at the bat, Cool Papa Bell epitomized the game of "tricky" baseball. He raised the once conservative game to an art form that lives in today's game. His Hall of Fame plaque reads in part "....Contemporaries rated him fastest man on the base paths."
His critics claimed he cheated, sometimes sneaking from first to third base without touching second. Bell once scored from first base on an infield bunt. Another time, he stole two bases on a single pitch. If you didn't see it, you didn't believe it. Quick as a wink, fast as a blink, describes the unbridled speed of Cool Papa Bell.
In 1922, the St. Louis Stars signed Bell for $90 a month as a left-handed pitcher with a wicked curve and a fade-away knuckler. After beating the Chicago American Giants' Jimmy Lyons in a match race, to claim the league's fastest man title, the Stars assigned Bell to patrol spacious centerfield. Two years later, the switch-hitting Bell became the starting centerfielder for the Stars. Bell stayed with the Stars until 1931, when the NNL disbanded under the aftermath of the Depression. In ten years with the Stars, he led them to league titles in 1928 and 1930.
In 1932, Bell joined the talent-rich Detroit Wolves of the East-West league that eventually collapsed in mid-season. When the Wolves folded, he joined the Kansas City Monarchs for the remainder of the season. He joined the Pittsburgh Crawfords in 1933 to play alongside other future Cooperstown players like Judy Johnson, Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston and Satchel Paige. Under manager Charleston they won the NNL championship in 1935. Bell stayed with the Crawfords until 1937, when dictator Rafael Trujillo raided Pittsburgh of its stars to stock his All-Star team in Santo Domingo (now the Dominican Republic).
The Trujillo club later played in the popular Denver Post Tournament, were Bell batted .450, with five extra base hits and 11 stolen bases in 13 games. This prompted the sports editor of the Denver Post to write: "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."
At the age of 39, Bell returned to the States in 1942 to played with old friend Jimmie Crutchfield and the Chicago American Giants. The following season Cum Posey lured Bell to join his power-packed Homestead Grays where he finished his active career. In 1948, Bell managed the Kansas City Monarchs' B-Team. He tutored future Major Leaguers like Ernie Banks and Elston Howard before hanging up his cleats forever.
Bell's speed was renowned. He transformed sacrifice bunts into hits, and singles into doubles and triples. He was once timed on a wet field blazing all the bases in a record 13.1 seconds, beating Evar Swanson's time by two-fifths of a second. The tan cheetah claimed in 1924 to have circled the bases in twelve seconds flat on a dry field, with a time of 3.1 from home to first.
Former teammate Satchel Paige summed up Bell's great career in his autobiography, Maybe I'll Pitch Forever saying: "If Cool Papa had known about colleges or if colleges had known about Cool Papa, Jesse Owens would have looked like he was walking."
Cool Papa Bell once sat out a few games so Monte Irvin could out-hit his batting average and get noticed by the big league scouts, and it worked!
Cool Papa Bell personally helped Jackie Robinson by doing everything he could to assist his transition into the major leagues. When Jackie finally made it, Bell said it was the greatest moment in his life!