Charleston, Oscar

Oscar Charleston
Born: 1896 Died: 1954

Teams: Indianapolis ABC's, New York Lincoln Stars, Chicago American Giants, St. Louis Giants, Harrisburg Giants, Hilldale, Homestead Grays, Pittsburgh Crawfords , Toledo Crawfords, Indianapolis Crawfords, Philadelphia Stars, Brooklyn Brown Dodgers, Indianapolis Clowns
Career Summary: Charleston was an All-Star in the Negro Leagues in 1933-35. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the special committee on Negro Leagues in 1976.

Oscar Charleston was a true superstar of the Negro Leagues. He was a cross between the hitting ability of Ty Cobb and, at 6-foot, 190 pounds, the body of Babe Ruth.

For a player of his size with his tremendous power, Charleston was also a skilled base runner and a threat to steal bases. Writers dubbed Charleston as “The Black Ty Cobb.” Those who played with him insist that Charleston was far superior defensively than Cobb and possessed far more power than the Georgia Peach.

With his tremendous speed, Charleston could play shallow centerfield and still have the ability to run down long drives. Many compared his style of defense to that of Tris Speaker.

“Charleston could hit that ball a mile,” 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.”

Charleston had a legendary temper and became famous for his many fights with other players, umpires, owners and scouts. According to legend, Charletson ripped the hood off a Klansman and dared him to speak.

His career as a player and manager spanned 40 years. Available statistics show Charleston batted .353 in his career. He played in 53 exhibition games against white major league players and hit .318 with 11 home runs.

As a manager, he was tough and demanding and very protective of his rookie players.

A look at the career of Oscar Charleston by year:

1896 - Oscar Charleston was born in Indianapolis.

1910 - Charleston joined the army when he was 14 or 15. Stationed in the Philippines, Charleston got a chance to play baseball and run track. (Records show he ran the 220-yard dash in 23 seconds.)

1915 - Charleston returned to his hometown and joined the ABC’s as a player. He had grown up as a bat boy for the team and now had the opportunity to star with the team. With his speed, Charleston was able to cover much of the outfield. During his rookie season, Charleston and another ABC’s player got into a fight with an umpire and Charleston was held on $1,000 bond. Charleston was suspended by the team owner.

He wrote a letter to the public to apologize. “The fact is that I could not overcome my temper as often times ball players can not…. I consider the incident highly unwise.”

1916 - Charleston was a part of the ABC’s team that beat the Chicago American Giants to capture the Black World Series.

1920 - The Negro National Leagues are formed and Charleston returns to the ABC’s. Chicago American Giants owner Rube Foster returned Charleston to his first team as a way of balancing the power in the league.

1921 - Charleston led the league in hitting (.426), triples (10), home runs (14) and stolen bases (28), collecting 79 hits in 50 games.

1922 - He becomes player-manager for the Harrisburg Giants of the Eastern Colored League. He continues to serve as player-manager through the 1925 season.

1925 - Charleston led the Eastern Colored League with a .445 batting average and helps the Giants to a second-place finish.

1928-1931 - In two-year stays with Hilldale and Homestead, Charleston hits .347.

1930 - Charleston became a member of the legendary Homestead Grays. There he teamed with such Negro League stars as Smokey Joe Williams, Judy Johnson and Josh Gibson. The Grays won a 10-game championship series with the Lincoln Giants. The Giants featured Chino Smith.

1932 - Financier Gus Greenlee raids the Grays and moves Charleston and other stars to his Pittsburgh Crawfords. Charleston becomes the manager. The independent team finished the season 99-36 record and Charleston hit .363, second on the team to Josh Gibson.

1933-35 - Charleston appeared in three East-West All-Star Games.

1935 - Charleston managed the Crawfords to a Negro National League championship over the New York Cubans.

1941-50 - Charleston managed the Philadelphia Stars.

1945 - Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey formed the United States league as a way to evaluate black players for possible integration into Major League Baseball. Charleston signed on as a scout.

1954 - Charleston managed the Indianapolis Clowns to a league championship in his last season in professional baseball. In October of that year, Charleston suffered a stroke and fell down a flight of stairs. He died a few days later.

1976 -- Charleston was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Committee on Negro Baseball Leagues.

Sources: The Negro Leagues Book, CBS Sportsline, Blackball Stars, Baseball Hall of Fame