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Thread: Oscar Charleston General Thread

  1. #41
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    (1) Buck O'Neill said Willie Mays was the greatest major leaguer he ever saw, but Charleston was better. According to O'Neill, "Charlie was a tremendous hitter who could also bunt, steal a hundred bases a year and cover center field as well as anyone before him or since... he was like Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Tris Speaker rolled into one."

    (2) Bernie Borgan, a longtime scout for the Cardinals, said Charles-ton was the greatest player he ever saw, including Ruth and Cobb.

    (3) Great Cuban Pitcher Juanelo Mirabal said Charleston "would try to beat you any way he could. Just like Ty Cobb, rip your pants or your legs, just to beat you out of a game. To me, I don't know which one was best. Both of them were great."

    (4) Dave Malarcher said Charleston "could play the whole outfield by himself."

    (5) Satchell Paige said Charleston "used to play right in back of second base. He would outrun the ball. You had to see him to believe him."

    (6) Hollis (Sleepy) Thurston, who barnstormed against Charleston, said he hit a HR every night.

    (7) Jimmy Crutchfield said that if he had to pick the best player he ever saw, it would be Charleston or Josh Gibson.

    (8) John Johnson of the Kansas City Call said Charleston ran so fast he made Cobb "look like a runner with a handicap."

    (9) Bill James, who in my opinion is easily the foremost living baseball historian, says Charleston was "a barrel chested man with thin legs, like Ruth. He was intense, focused, bright, and did everything exceptionally well." James adds that "Charleston, in a sense, put Mays and Mantle together. He combined the grace, athleticism, and all-around skills of Mays with the upper body strength of Mantle, plus he was a left-handed hitter. His hands were so strong that when he was playing first base late in his career, pitchers would use him to rub down new baseballs, as he could rub a baseball so hard that he would open up the seams. He played shallow, like Speaker, and ran down everything hit over his head. He was an intense player--more intense than any of these [greats] except Cobb, and his intensity was less destructive than Cobb's. Buck O'Neill said Charleston had a stop sign on his chest. It's impossible to compare him to the others without head to head numbers; it's impossible to imagine that he was much better than they were. But he was a hell of a package."

    "It's not like one person saw Oscar Charleston play and said that he was the greatest player ever. LOTS of people said he was the greatest player they ever saw. John McGraw, who knew something about baseball, reportedly said that, at least according to the Sporting News.... His statistical record, such as it is, would not discourage you from believing that this was true. I don't think I'm a soft touch or easily persuaded; I believe I'm fairly skeptical. I just don't see any reason not to believe that this man was as good as anybody who ever played the game."
    ''A sport without black people ain't a sport. That's just a game!... That's like me saying, 'Ooh, I got the highest SAT score in the whole world, but no Asians took the test.' What kind of crap is that? 'I just won the marathon. No Kenyans could run, though!'''
    Chris Rock

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    Ok, I am one step closer to tracking down the John McGraw quote Oscar Charleston. I found this from a 2012 book called Negro Leagues Baseball, page 41, by Roger Burns.

    Burns cover.jpg...Negro Leagues Baseball.jpg



    The quote is sourced to "Schulian 2005, Z2". There is a 2005 book called Twilight of the Long-ball Gods: Dispatches from the Disappearing Heart of Baseball by John Schulian but there was no McGraw quote about Charleston that I could find. I'll keep looking.

    Schulian cover.jpg
    Last edited by Honus Wagner Rules; 01-13-2014 at 02:52 PM.
    Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis

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    Charleston taking Lefty Grove deep in 1926.

    The Chester Times, October 4, 1926, pg 15


    1926-10-04 Chester Times pg 15.jpg
    Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis

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    I now have access to a new newspaper archive which includes the Indianapolis Freeman, a black newspaper. Charleston apologizes for beating up the umpire.

    The Freeman, November 13, 1915


    1915-11-13 The Freeman pg 7.jpg
    Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis

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    This is the earliest boxscore I have found so far. Charleston was a pitcher early in 1915!


    The Freeman, April 17, 1915, pg 7


    1915-04-17 The Freeman pg 7.jpg
    Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis

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    From everything I've read and heard about him from old-timers, Charleston was certainly one of the Top 5 or 6 ballplayers who ever played Baseball.

    I'd rank Babe Ruth over him and Josh Gibson, too, but that's probably about it. Gibson couldn't steal bases like Oscar, but there has never been a Catcher like Gibson. Imagine Mike Piazza if he could hit .385 with a .485 OBP with an arm like Campanella and even more HR power and a much much better baserunner.... that was Josh Gibson. And I value Catcher over CF

    If I was putting together an All-Time team and I couldn't get Gibson, there'd be nobody who could come close to what Josh could give a team at Catcher, but if I missed out on Charleston I could try to get Mays or Mantle or DiMaggio or Cobb

    Charleston combined power & speed & fielding and on-base % like probably no other. Mays comes close but Mays didn't walk as much or steal as much. Charleston was sort of like Rickey Henderson if Henderson could consistently hit 35-40 HR's a season and bat .375 and play defense like Mays!

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    Quote Originally Posted by 3and2Fastball View Post
    From everything I've read and heard about him from old-timers, Charleston was certainly one of the Top 5 or 6 ballplayers who ever played Baseball.

    I'd rank Babe Ruth over him and Josh Gibson, too, but that's probably about it. Gibson couldn't steal bases like Oscar, but there has never been a Catcher like Gibson. Imagine Mike Piazza if he could hit .385 with a .485 OBP with an arm like Campanella and even more HR power and a much much better baserunner.... that was Josh Gibson. And I value Catcher over CF

    If I was putting together an All-Time team and I couldn't get Gibson, there'd be nobody who could come close to what Josh could give a team at Catcher, but if I missed out on Charleston I could try to get Mays or Mantle or DiMaggio or Cobb

    Charleston combined power & speed & fielding and on-base % like probably no other. Mays comes close but Mays didn't walk as much or steal as much. Charleston was sort of like Rickey Henderson if Henderson could consistently hit 35-40 HR's a season and bat .375 and play defense like Mays!
    We actually had a Piazza vs Gibson debate a while back.

    http://www.baseball-fever.com/showth...vs-Josh-Gibson
    Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis

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    Bump!

    I found these pictures today.

    Don't know the year?
    ABC Team photo.jpg


    1921-22 Santa Clara (charleston is 6th from the right)
    1922 Santa Clara.jpg

    1932 Pittsburgh Crawfords
    1932 Crawfords.jpg
    Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis

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    Hey bluesky5, you're going to love this. I found this 2005 Sports Illustrated Charleston article.

    ************************************************** ******************************

    A One-way Ticket To Obscurity
    That's what being black in the first half of the 20th century meant for Oscar Charleston, the greatest baseball player you've never heard of


    John Schulian
    September 05, 2005

    There were some hard miles on that bus, and harder ones on the man behind the wheel. His name was Oscar Charleston, which probably means nothing to you, as wrong as that is. He was managing the Philadelphia Stars then, trying to sustain the dignity of the Negro leagues in the late 1940s as black ballplayers left daily for the moneyed embrace of the white teams that had disdained them for so long. Part of his job was hard-nosing the kids who remained into playing the game right, and part of it was passing down the lore of the line drives he'd bashed, the catches he'd made, and the night he'd spent rattling the cell door in a Cuban jail. His players called him Charlie, and when it was his turn to drive the team's red, white and blue bus, it was like having Ty Cobb for a chauffeur. Of course the players never said so, because sportswriters and white folks were always calling him the black Ty Cobb, and Charlie hated it.

    While Cobb counted the millions he'd made on Coca-Cola stock, Charlie bounced around on cramped, stinking buses until he, like their engines, burned out. The Stars would play in Chicago on Sunday afternoon, then hightail it back to Philly so they could use Shibe Park on Monday, when the big leaguers were off. So they drove through the long night, with Charlie peering at the rain and lightning, wondering which was louder, the thunder or the racket his players were making.

    When he could take no more, he glanced back at Wilmer Harris and Stanley Glenn, a pitcher and a catcher, earnest young men who always stayed close to him, eager to absorb whatever lessons he dispensed. "Watch this," he said, yanking the lever that opened the bus door. Then he leaned as far as he could toward the cacophonous darkness, one hand barely on the wheel, and glowered the way only he could glower.

    "Hey, you up there!" he shouted. "Quit making so damn much noise!"

    The bus turned as quiet as a tomb. "I bet there wasn't one player hardly breathing," Glenn says. The Stars were a straitlaced bunch--"the Saints," some called them with a sneer--and they weren't inclined to test whatever higher power might be in charge. But Charlie was different from them, and anybody else for that matter. And when the thunder boomed louder still in response to his demand, he proclaimed his defiance with a laugh. If it didn't kill him, it couldn't stop him.

    On my plaque they said I was versatile. They said I "hit well over .300 most years." Most years. Like saying Joe Louis was a pretty good fighter. �-- Oscar Charleston, in Cobb, a play by Lee Blessing

    the words are the product of a writer's imagination, but the inspiration for them was as real as the bile that Charleston must have choked on every time his skin color was held against him, every time he was told he couldn't play where he belonged. Bigotry handed him a one-way ticket to obscurity. Even when he went into the Hall of Fame, in 1976, he was overlooked. How could it have been otherwise when there were big names, white names-- Bob Lemon, Robin Roberts--going in with him? Besides, the general public had been conditioned to think only of Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson if it thought of Negro leaguers at all.

    Satch and Josh had swept into Cooperstown after its walls of intolerance crumbled five years earlier, and a myth sprang up around them that made it impossible to imagine anyone having paved the way for them. But Oscar Charleston did. He played so long ago that even old-time Negro leaguer Double Duty Radcliffe, who died on Aug. 11 at age 103, said of Charleston, "He was before my time."

    Double Duty exaggerated, of course, for the two of them were teammates on the 1932 Pittsburgh Crawfords. Yet by then Charleston had spent most of two decades as the reigning icon in black baseball. No matter what he did for the Craws--and he played first base, batted third and managed what became the greatest Negro leagues team ever--there was always an old-timer around to say you should have seen him when he was really Oscar Charleston.

    Starting in 1915, he turned centerfield into an art gallery on behalf of the Indianapolis ABCs, New York Lincoln Stars, Hilldale Daisies and three kinds of Giants: Chicago American, St. Louis and Harrisburg. His vagabond life was inspired by the disposable nature of the era's contracts and the wisdom of another black baseball pioneer, Pop Lloyd: "Wherever the money was, I was." At every stop, including Cuba in the winter, Charleston hung great catches as if they were paintings. He played shallow, the way Tris Speaker did and Willie Mays would, but when he went back for a ball, legend says he performed acrobatics that have eluded everyone else in the position's history, leaping, spinning, making catches behind his back. Yet his showmanship was founded on fundamentals that compensated for what was, at best, an ordinary throwing arm. Never would artistry interfere with winning.

    And never, until Charleston moved on to the Homestead Grays in 1930 and declared himself too old and slow for the position, would a team of his put anyone else in center. Fellow centerfielder Cool Papa Bell, mesmerized by the sight of Charleston playing so close that he could almost shake hands with the second baseman, imitated the icon who became his manager on the Crawfords. And Gentleman Dave Malarcher, who patrolled the outfield with Charleston for Indianapolis, once said, "People asked me, 'Why are you playing so close to the rightfield foul line?' What they didn't know was that Oscar played all three fields. I just made sure of the balls down the line, and all the foul ones too."

    But when Charleston broke in with Indianapolis, he thought he was a pitcher. Maybe it was symptomatic of what Stanley Glenn says, affectionately, "Oscar was lefthanded, and he acted like a lefthander. You know, a little crazy." Charleston was an Indianapolis kid, the seventh of 11 children born to an African-American mother and a Sioux father who was a construction worker and, the story goes, a jockey. Oscar had enlisted in the Army at the end of eighth grade, at age 15, and now, after four years and an infantry tour in the Philippines, he was playing for the team that once employed him as a batboy.

    Maybe his days as a pitcher were done as soon as the ABCs saw him track a fly ball, just lower his head and not look up again until his internal radar had guided him to the place where it came down. Or maybe the end came when the ABCs saw him booming baseballs to faraway places. It was a time when every team, black or white, was hunting for its own Babe Ruth, and here was another reformed southpaw pitcher who had the bat and the build: a hair under six feet tall, 190 pounds and getting bigger, with spindly legs and a chest-o'-drawers torso.

    If, as historian James A. Riley suggests, Charleston never matched the Babe's power, he was easily the black equivalent of Rogers Hornsby, who batted more than .400 three times in one four-year stretch. Of course, he was faster than Hornsby and almost anyone else--the Army clocked him at 23 seconds in the 220-yard dash--and he was capable of dragging a bunt, stealing a base and cutting the glove off your hand if a throw happened to beat him. However you choose to look at Charleston, slugger or slasher, he raised enough hell with his bat to launch a thousand stories.

    He hit the triple that gave the ABCs black baseball's unofficial championship in 1916. He won, or tied for, five home run titles. In his best year, 1921, The Baseball Encyclopedia says he batted .434 with 14 doubles, 11 triples, 15 homers and 34 stolen bases in 60 league games. That fall he had five homers in five games against a team of major league (i.e., white) barnstormers. Then he roared off to Cuba, where he batted .471. Even when he was calling himself an antique, he rang up a .372 average for the Crawfords in 1933, as if to remind the future Hall of Famers he was managing--Josh and Satch, Cool Papa and Judy Johnson--that he was made of the same stuff.

    Teammates and opponents stampeded to proclaim his greatness. One of the few still standing, Buck O'Neil, the eternal flame of the Negro leagues, testifies that, as Double Duty put it, "a better player never drew breath." Of the departed, Newt Allen, the Kansas City Monarchs' second baseman, swore that Charleston hit the ball so hard, "he'd knock the glove off you." Dizzy Dean, who faced him while barnstorming in the 1930s, described pitching to Charleston as a throw-it-and-duck proposition. Ted Page, a splendid Crawfords outfielder, told historian John B. Holway that Charleston introduced himself to the great Walter Johnson before an exhibition game by saying, " Mr. Johnson, I've done heard about your fastball, and I'm gonna hit it out of here." In Page's account, which may qualify as legend become fact, a home run was indeed what Charleston hit. To win the game, naturally.

    But all that is mere preamble to the proclamation that John McGraw issued from the game's intellectual mountaintop: "If Oscar Charleston isn't the greatest baseball player in the world, then I'm no judge of baseball talent."

    Decades later Bill James could hear the echo of McGraw's endorsement as he set to work on his engaging, argumentative Historical Baseball Abstract. Swept up in the list-making orgy that defines contemporary culture, James wanted to rate the top 100 players ever. If he generated controversy by including a player who was a mystery to "a lot of very knowledgeable baseball fans," he says, so much the better.

    Numbers had to be crunched-- James without statistics would be like Hendrix without his guitar--and other people's lists had to be studied. But when it came to Negro leaguers, everything changed, because there weren't always game stories and box scores to substantiate the players' greatness. "When we went to New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., they'd write up our games in the newspapers," says 93-year-old Andrew Porter, a victim of Charleston's terrible swift bat when Porter pitched for the Baltimore Elite Giants. "But during the week we'd be out playing in small places, and you wouldn't know nothing about it."

    So the list became for James a matter of the heart and the gut. "You wind up making a lot of assumptions," he says. But at every turn, he found more praise for Charleston from the men who had seen him play, the men who knew his greatness to be the cold, hard truth. "There was a scout for the Cardinals, I think his name was Bohlen--he'd scouted for them for many years--and at the end of his career he said the three greatest players he'd ever seen were Cobb, Ruth and Charleston," James says. "He wasn't hyping Charleston, he was just looking back, and he seemed so reasonable, so straightforward, that I said, 'I'm willing to believe.'"

    Thus did James anoint Charleston the fourth greatest player ever, according to the revised New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, published in the spring of 2003. Only the Babe, Honus Wagner and Mays are ahead of him, in that order. And--how Charlie would have loved this--Cobb is one place behind him. Then you have Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Walter Johnson, Josh Gibson and Stan Musial. James expected at least one roaring good argument about Charleston's presence in such august company. Instead, all he got was this: "Stunned silence."

    Oscar Charleston deserves better.

    Even when he was horsing around, you could sense the brute in him, the anger lurking just beneath the surface. It was there when he wrestled Gibson before games, supposedly for fun, two powerful men sweating and grunting and tossing each other around on the ball fields that both served and betrayed them.

    Charleston was past his physical prime by this point, and he was giving away 15 years to Josh, but damned if he'd let it show. "Must have been like two water buffaloes hooking up," says Hall of Famer Monte Irvin, who heard all about it when he was a young Newark Eagle. A decade or more later, when Gibson was dead and Charlie was still full of the devil, he would playfully snatch up Glenn--"and I was 6'2" and weighed 225 pounds," Glenn says. The louder his young catcher squawked, the more Charlie laughed. It wasn't always a pleasant sound. "You never knew when he was angry," says Mahlon Duckett, the Philadelphia Stars' second baseman throughout the '40s. "They tell me in the old days, he could be laughing and knock you out."

    Maybe that's why the Crawfords' Ted Page paid attention to Charleston's eyes; he knew they wouldn't deceive him. "Vicious eyes, steel-gray, like a cat," Page said in Holway's book Blackball Stars. To look into them was to see a man worth steering clear of in a fight, "a cold-blooded son of a gun."

    Charleston used his fists on everybody who crossed him, black or white, on the field or off, as if breaking a nose or knocking out teeth gave him not just satisfaction but also sustenance. The smart ones backed down, the way professional wrestler Jim Londos, the Stone Cold Steve Austin of his day, did when Charleston threatened to throw him off a train for making too much noise. But at least one Ku Klux Klansman failed to get the message about discretion being the better part of valor, and according to Cool Papa Bell, Charleston yanked the hood off his head and made him run like a scalded dog.

    Laughing all the way, Charleston teed off on opponents, teammates, umpires, even the owner of the Hilldale Daisies. In all the accounts of Charleston's battles, the closest thing to a recorded loss is when Oliver Marcelle, the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants' hyperviolent third baseman, supposedly clubbed him over the head with a bat. That is one story, however, that Buck O'Neil is quick to shoot down in his autobiography, I Was Right on Time. "Oscar," he says, "had a stoplight nailed to his chest."

    Still, Charleston was like the fastest gun in the West, and challengers came from every direction, even the grandstand. One Saturday afternoon in Havana in 1924 Charleston was playing for the powerhouse Santa Clara team when he stole third base and carved up a Cuban infielder with one of his spikes-high slides. As the poor devil lay bleeding in the dirt like a Hemingway bullfighter, a uniformed Cuban soldier charged out of the stands and jumped Charleston from behind. Charleston shook off the cheap shot, then used the soldier for a punching bag until the cops showed up. They dragged Charleston off to the calabozo for the cell-door-rattling night he told his young Philadelphia Stars about a quarter century later.

    " Jim Murray had a line about Frank Robinson and how he played the game the way the great ones played it, out of pure hate," Bill James says. "I don't know that Oscar was filled with hate, but there was a lot of anger in him."

    Charleston might have been scarred by the racism in his boyhood Indianapolis. "At that time," says Riley, the historian, "there was more Klan activity in Indiana than there was in the South." Something ugly might have happened in the Army too. But no anger-management specialist is needed to track down the most likely source of what drove him: Here was a proud man confronted daily by the fact that the world beyond the Negro leagues would never know just how great he was. He would never face Ty Cobb on the diamond, never find out once and for all if Cobb shouldn't have been called the white Oscar Charleston.

    The only reported instance of Cobb's playing against blacks comes from the autumn of 1910, when he toured Cuba with the Detroit Tigers. He batted .370--he also got thrown out stealing by a Negro leagues catcher named Bruce Petway--and then he swore off interracial ball. So it took playwright Lee Blessing to conjure up a meeting between that snapping-turtle racist and Charleston, in Cobb. "Were you any good?" Cobb asks, as if word never reached him. "Better'n you," Charleston replies.

    It's the only possible answer, for Charleston was locked in eternal competition with a legend who was his mirror image in everything except race and fame: played centerfield, batted lefthanded, took no prisoners on the bases, even managed, and did it all furiously. Forever overlooked, Charleston had the right to be angry. But the Negro leaguers still with us hesitate to say so. And those who do say so are quickly negated by testimony that follows O'Neil's benevolent template: "Charlie? No, Charlie wasn't angry."

    Yet one afternoon in 2003, as O'Neil walked among the life-sized statues in Kansas City's soulful Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, the awe he felt all those years ago returned to lower his guard. Double Duty Radcliffe, traveling by wheelchair, had joined him, and their eyes settled on Charleston's defiant bronze presence.

    "Look at that neck," O'Neil said, and smiled appreciatively at what its thickness portended. "He'd knock you out the way." And Duty said, "I seen him knock two fellas out in Indianapolis. Knocked 'em cold."

    They made the violence seem matter-of-fact, gave it the same ritual quality as a ballplayer's knocking dirt from his spikes with a bat. But anger as ritual becomes something deeper, more profound. Better, perhaps, to call what drove Charleston an abiding rage.

    The scrapbook's yellowed pages are crumbling around the edges. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum provides white cotton gloves for handling the book on those rare occasions that it comes out from under lock and key, but the gloves do only so much. The rest is left to fate, like the legacy of the man who kept the book.

    Charleston gathered his clippings with little regard for their dates or the names of the newspapers they appeared in. His overriding interest, it seems, lay in stories that proclaimed him CHARLESTON THE GREAT�in the States and EL FAMOSO PLAYER CHARLESTON�in Cuba. But here and there are glimpses of something deeper than vanity. His obsession with Cobb surfaces repeatedly; one story wonders how much Charleston is worth if the Georgia Peach makes $30,000 a year. In an engagingly literate if disingenuous letter to The Pittsburgh Courier's sports editor, Charleston writes about "[elevating] Negro Athletics to the place we would have them be" while claiming that umpires jobbed his Harrisburg team. And he takes special care to chronicle the way his brawl in Havana inspired cartoons, essays apologizing for the Cuban soldier's "wicked attack," and a public collection to buy him a gold watch (price: $82.50).

    In the midst of all that, one clipping seems almost as if it came from somebody else: "Miss Jane B. Howard of Harrisburg, Pa., was quietly married to Oscar Charleston Thursday noon at the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Percy Richards, 3305 Lawton Ave."

    The story goes on to say that Charleston would be playing for St. Louis come spring, so the year must have been 1921. His wife was an elementary school teacher and the daughter of Harrisburg's most prominent African Methodist minister, Martin Luther Blalock. She was well-read, knew much about culture and travel, and in time--she lived until a few weeks past her 100th birthday, in 1993--she became the Blalock family's cornerstone. All of which makes her marriage to a divorced, brawling ballplayer three years her junior that much more puzzling. But Janie never did any explaining. "She was from an age," says her niece Elizabeth Overton, "when you didn't tell your business."

    It was no secret, however, that she had known tragedy before she met Charleston. Her first husband had died on their honeymoon, the victim of a flu that swept Cuba. "Our Janie was a widow," Overton says. "Maybe that's why she considered Charleston more than she would have."

    They made a striking couple, especially in photos in which they are dressed for winter, Oscar in a topcoat and fedora, Janie with a cloche pulled snug over her ears. She was pretty and petite, barely five feet tall but hardly shy. "She'd set anybody straight," Overton says. One of the few secrets Janie shared was that she took Oscar to Sunday school, much to the amusement of his teammates. Not that they saw much of her. "She didn't mix well," Double Duty Radcliffe said. But she was with Charleston in Harrisburg for four seasons, and she accompanied him to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cuba and even a managing job in Toledo, until her father died in 1942 and she went home to care for her mother, home for good.

    Janie never had children, and once she returned to Harrisburg, though she and Oscar didn't divorce, there was no husband by her side. How much she saw of him thereafter is lost to time, but when he died of a heart attack in Philadelphia on Oct. 5, 1954, nine days shy of 58, there was one last sign that he had never stopped loving her: He willed her all his earthly possessions. And she turned right around and gave them to his sister, who had cared for him at the end.

    It was an act of integrity, just as Oscar's had been. To think anything else would be as wrong as to assume the worst because Janie never set out pictures of him. "You want pictures to last," her niece says, "you keep them in the dark."

    Restless, always restless. At the plate he kept wagging that big bat until he found a pitch to demolish. Everywhere else he just kept moving. He worked security at Philadelphia's Quartermaster Depot during World War II and ran the depot's mixed-race ball club. He helped Branch Rickey seek out black talent for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and legend says it was Charleston who steered Roy Campanella their way. He tossed baggage for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and he umpired too. Unable or maybe plain unwilling to slow down, he signed up for a second season of managing the Indianapolis Clowns weeks before he died. When the guys who had played for him on the Philadelphia Stars went to his viewing in South Philly's biggest hall, what they saw, Glenn says, was pure Charlie: "He looked like he was going to jump out of there and say hello to you."

    To this day, the last of the Stars can hear him barking at their best lefthander for throwing a "balloony pitch" and bitching at hitters who didn't take every extra base in sight. They remember, too, a morning departure for a road trip when Charlie ordered whoever was driving the bus to pull out just as the lefthander ambled around the corner.

    "But you said we were leaving at eight," the players said. "It's only five till."

    "Next time he'll be early," Charlie said.

    There was only one way in Charlie's world: his way. Time and again he let the Stars know it, but never so memorably as the night he picked up a bat to pinch-hit in an exhibition game. He was past 50, and the lights in the park barely deserved the name, but he still bludgeoned a shot to right centerfield. "It would have been [an inside-the-park] home run for anybody else," Mahlon Duckett says. "Charlie fell out at third base." And there the Stars assumed he would stay until somebody got a hit. But when the next batter flied to center, Charlie tagged up and broke for home, just as in the old days. "I said, 'What's he doing?'" Duckett recalls.

    He was doing what he always did when a throw beat him by 10 feet. He was lowering his head and plowing into the catcher, and he wasn't worrying that the catcher still had his mask on. Hell, Charlie probably relished it, even when his head hit the mask. The catcher dropped as if he'd been shot, and the ball skittered away, and the man who had risked his bull neck for a single run in a game that meant nothing left a message for all who would follow unaware: Tell them Oscar Charleston was here.
    Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis

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    double post.
    Last edited by Honus Wagner Rules; 05-23-2014 at 04:59 PM.
    Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis

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    I know some people want to hang onto larger than life legends so they may not want to hear what I have to say about some of the men that played in Black baseball or Blackball. Sometimes, I worry that when I make a contribution to the conversation here that nobody wants to talk about it anymore. I enjoy and appreciate these players and that is why I am here. Oscar Charleston was a great player, but I believe that his power as a hitter has been exaggerated by some authors. We have statistics for Oscar from more than 4,000 plate appearances covering 944 games. He has a .354 career batting average and a .428 OBP in those recorded games. He hit a total of 118 homeruns in those games which translates roughly to an average of about twenty homeruns in a 162 game season. He hit triples at almost the same rate. These are still some great stats, but we have to keep in mind that the level of competition was not equal to that of Major League baseball. This has to be considered when making a comparison to Willie Mays (The player Charleston has most often been compared to). I do not believe that Charleston hit with as much power as Willie Mays and there is no way that he had as strong of a throwing arm. Yes, Charleston had a very nice throwing arm, but not in the legendary category such as the throwing arm of Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente and some others. Follow this link to see some stats for Oscar Charleston:

    http://www.seamheads.com/NegroLgs/player.php?ID=134

  12. #52
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    Quote Originally Posted by TerryB View Post
    I know some people want to hang onto larger than life legends so they may not want to hear what I have to say about some of the men that played in Black baseball or Blackball. Sometimes, I worry that when I make a contribution to the conversation here that nobody wants to talk about it anymore. I enjoy and appreciate these players and that is why I am here. Oscar Charleston was a great player, but I believe that his power as a hitter has been exaggerated by some authors. We have statistics for Oscar from more than 4,000 plate appearances covering 944 games. He has a .354 career batting average and a .428 OBP in those recorded games. He hit a total of 118 homeruns in those games which translates roughly to an average of about twenty homeruns in a 162 game season. He hit triples at almost the same rate. These are still some great stats, but we have to keep in mind that the level of competition was not equal to that of Major League baseball. This has to be considered when making a comparison to Willie Mays (The player Charleston has most often been compared to). I do not believe that Charleston hit with as much power as Willie Mays and there is no way that he had as strong of a throwing arm. Yes, Charleston had a very nice throwing arm, but not in the legendary category such as the throwing arm of Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente and some others. Follow this link to see some stats for Oscar Charleston:

    http://www.seamheads.com/NegroLgs/player.php?ID=134
    I want to know enough to be comfortable in assessing these players, so I'm with you, TerryB. The stats we are getting these days still aren't for as long a seasons or as complete a stat set as we'd have had for them if they'd played in the majors, to be sure. But they're complete enough that it's nearly random what we're missing (I'd guess that truly memorable league games being missing is rarer than ordinary ones, which would might skew the stats upward a tad for a dominant player), but it shouldn't be a big concern with the amounts of PA we're getting now.

    I don't get excited about the single season marks, with 50 or less games often being all that's reported. That's like getting all hyped up over someone's stats in May in the majors. But when you put a guy in several thousand PA context with walks (which to my mind is the most important improvement in the data), you can get a much better picture of them than you could with the data available only a decade or so ago. I'd rather rely on that data than the combination of the fragmentary data at the turn of this century combined with the narratives which often contained flourishes from guys who knew how to tell an entertaining story. In some ways, relying on those narratives without the better data we have now is like relying on the "history" as told by a "based on true events" film or TV show. One other factor is the issue of barnstorming. Josh Gibson undoubtedly pounded pitchers even more than he did in black ball league play, since it seems the average quality of barnstorming opponents wasn't even as good as that in the Negro Leagues. Since Negro Leaguers played almost year round with few days off, Gibson might have hit a thousand homers against all opposition. I think it more telling that in about 2000 recorded PA he hit about 350/400/620 with a homer in less than every 20 PA, despite playing a lot in a terrible HR park like Griffith Stadium.
    Seen on a bumper sticker: If only closed minds came with closed mouths.
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  13. #53
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    Quote Originally Posted by jalbright View Post
    I want to know enough to be comfortable in assessing these players, so I'm with you, TerryB. The stats we are getting these days still aren't for as long a seasons or as complete a stat set as we'd have had for them if they'd played in the majors, to be sure. But they're complete enough that it's nearly random what we're missing (I'd guess that truly memorable league games being missing is rarer than ordinary ones, which would might skew the stats upward a tad for a dominant player), but it shouldn't be a big concern with the amounts of PA we're getting now.

    I don't get excited about the single season marks, with 50 or less games often being all that's reported. That's like getting all hyped up over someone's stats in May in the majors. But when you put a guy in several thousand PA context with walks (which to my mind is the most important improvement in the data), you can get a much better picture of them than you could with the data available only a decade or so ago. I'd rather rely on that data than the combination of the fragmentary data at the turn of this century combined with the narratives which often contained flourishes from guys who knew how to tell an entertaining story. In some ways, relying on those narratives without the better data we have now is like relying on the "history" as told by a "based on true events" film or TV show. One other factor is the issue of barnstorming. Josh Gibson undoubtedly pounded pitchers even more than he did in black ball league play, since it seems the average quality of barnstorming opponents wasn't even as good as that in the Negro Leagues. Since Negro Leaguers played almost year round with few days off, Gibson might have hit a thousand homers against all opposition. I think it more telling that in about 2000 recorded PA he hit about 350/400/620 with a homer in less than every 20 PA, despite playing a lot in a terrible HR park like Griffith Stadium.
    I don't get too excited about stats from fifty games either, but when we have a few thousand recorded plate appearances then I think that does tell us a good deal about the player. In Josh Gibson's case the Seamheads site only has 452 PA, but his 26 homeruns and .361 batting average in those plate appearances do seem consistent with what we now know about Josh Gibson and the level of competition. You might find the new book Outsider Baseball and informative read. Author Scott Simkus tackles the question of how many homeruns Josh Gibson hit among other things.

  14. #54
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    BBref has about 2000 PA for Gibson
    Seen on a bumper sticker: If only closed minds came with closed mouths.
    Some minds are like concrete--thoroughly mixed up and permanently set.
    A Lincoln: I don't think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.

  15. #55
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    I feel comfortable with 2500 PA personally. That's roughly 5 seasons of MLB AB's. What does everyone else think?
    "I go all out. And I'm going to bring that to the table every day, in good times and bad times." - Eric Byrnes

    "...far too many people want to retroactively apply today's standards to yesterday's players, as if they played the game under the same assumptions and just heedlessly and obdurately plowed on in their own groove." - Los Bravos

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    I've been trying to get more detailed first person accounts of Charleston. Former BBF poster "The Splendid Splinter" has a baseball journal that belonged to his great-grandfather who saw Charleston play several times and documented what he saw. According to The Splendid Splinter his great-grandfather had 48 journal entries for Charleston. Unfortunately, The Splendid Splinter doesn't post at BBF anymore, his last post was in 2008. Does anyone have contact with him or know his e mail address?
    Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis

  17. #57
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    Quote Originally Posted by bluesky5 View Post
    I feel comfortable with 2500 PA personally. That's roughly 5 seasons of MLB AB's. What does everyone else think?
    Even a couple of season's worth, 1000 or so, will do if it backs up the reputation of the guy, especially if he also led a bunch of leagues he was in. Another thing is that the best players tended to wind up on the best teams in the Negro Leagues, so you want to see some pennants. Let's put it this way: if all we had were Mike Trout's first two seasons of data, and it was backed up by 5 home run titles, a few batting titles, an MVP, 10 all-star games, 3-4 RBI titles and a WS ring or two, would anyone doubt he was a great player? That's a better description of what's been found for the Negro Leaguers.
    Seen on a bumper sticker: If only closed minds came with closed mouths.
    Some minds are like concrete--thoroughly mixed up and permanently set.
    A Lincoln: I don't think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.

  18. #58
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    Quote Originally Posted by jalbright View Post
    BBref has about 2000 PA for Gibson
    The stats for Josh Gibson on the Baseball Reference site are consistent with the stats found on Seamheads for him lending further credibility. Seamheads will be releasing stats for Josh Gibson from the 1935 and 36 Negro National League seasons soon.

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    Some great news to share. I spoke with writer Geralyn Strecker via email. She is working on an Oscar Charleston biography due out in 2016. She's given me permission to post the following email excerpt.

    When comparing Charleston's best CF years (probably 1915-1927) with Mays, and Charleston's hitting with anyone mid-1920s and later, you must consider major changes in equipment. Charleston was catching with a small, thin mitt that did nothing except take a little sting off the ball. Most fielders caught 2-handed until after WWII, but sportswriters repeatedly noted Charleston's "one-handed circus catches." When he pulled off these feats, fans showered coins onto the field. By comparison, Mays had a more modern mitt and outfield walls. For hitting, Charleston's early career is still part of the deadball era, plus many of the parks still either did not have outfield fences and/or had fans sitting in the outfield grass.

    Charleston was a total player, and his on-field career spanned 30 years (1912 in the Philippines through 1942) with no significant injuries. As a kid, he was the best pitcher in Manila, tossing frequent shutouts against many white players who saw time in the high minors or even took a sip of coffee in the majors. His speed was amazing, and fortunately the Army timed him during track & field meets. Speed + brains = impressive stolen base totals. He could slam home runs but loved to run out triples and could lay down a drag bunt better than anyone at the time, usually making it to first. The most comprehensive assessments of his skill come from the Cuban press, where writers saw him compete against the best of all leagues and backgrounds. In 1933, when the Negro Leagues held their first All-Star game, fans still gave 36-year-old Charleston the most votes overall, even though he was playing first by that time. People just knew he was great, and peers deemed him the Black Cobb, Black Speaker, and Black Ruth (the latter while Gibson was still in diapers).

    Bill James ranks Charleston #4 all time behind Ruth, Wagner, and Mays. That is certainly in the right ballpark. Others might have had a better year or two, but to sustain the talent over three decades is truly amazing. And after that, he was a mastermind manager and scout, contributing to professional baseball right up to his death. In 1954, he led the Indianapolis Clowns to the NAL pennant but then died shortly after the season ended. His obituary appeared in black newspapers on the same page as Mays celebrating World Series victory.

    Interestingly, Charleston also had no serious vices. He didn't smoke, drink, use drugs, or gamble. His biggest weakness was pie.

    Can you tell I am a Charleston fan? I even live in the old ballpark where he managed and played for the Indianapolis Crawfords in 1940. As the home field for the AAA Indianapolis Indians from 1931-1996, the park has been known by many names--Perry Stadium, Victory Field, Bush Stadium--and is now the Stadium Lofts. It's just too cool for words. My patio leads right out to home plate.
    Last edited by Honus Wagner Rules; 06-03-2014 at 02:33 PM.
    Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis

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