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Oscar Charleston General Thread

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  • Oscar Charleston General Thread

    I believe Charleston more than deserves his own thread! I'd like to use this thread as a repository for Charleston articles, photos, film, etc.
    Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis

  • #2
    Considered by many the greatest Negro League player of all, multi-talented Oscar Charleston was often compared with three great white contemporaries: his hitting and speedy, aggressive baserunning (and hard-sliding style) brought favorable comparison to Ty Cobb; his physique (he was barrel-chested, with spindly legs), power, and popularity, particularly with youngsters, were reminiscent of Babe Ruth; and his defensive style and skills, playing a shallow, far-ranging centerfield with a strong, accurate arm and excellent fly ball judgment, brought visions of Tris Speaker. The New York Giants' John McGraw, familiar with the untapped black talent available, considered the 6' 190-lb Charleston the best, and coveted him.

    A native of Indianapolis, Charleston grew up serving as batboy for the local ABC's. At age 15, he joined the army and was stationed in the Philippines. The military gave the underage runaway the opportunity to display his abilities in track and baseball; he ran the 220-yard dash in 23 seconds, and played in the otherwise all-white Manila League. Entering big-time black baseball with the ABC's, he was a vital cog in their 1916 Black World Series triumph over the Chicago American Giants, batting .360 in seven of the 10 games played. After stints with the American Giants and New York Lincoln Stars, he rejoined Indianapolis when the Negro National League was organized in 1920.

    Through 1923, the lefthanded-hitting and throwing Charleston posted a .370 batting average with the NNL ABC's and St. Louis Giants, and in 1921 led the league in hitting (.446), triples (10), HR (14), total bases (137), slugging (.774), and stolen bases (28), finishing second with 79 hits in 50 games. From 1922 to 1925, he was player-manager for the Eastern Colored League Harrisburg Giants, and, after a second-division finish in 1924, he led them to three consecutive second-place finishes. In 1925, he batted .424. From 1928 to 1931, he hit .347 in two-year stints with the Hilldale club and the Homestead Grays. The Grays won a 10-game Eastern Championship Series from the New York Lincoln Giants in 1930.

    In 1932 Gus Greenlee persuaded Charleston to manage his Pittsburgh Crawfords. Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson, and Satchel Paige joined him to give the club four future Hall of Famers. Operating independently, they went 99-36 as their 36-year-old manager batted .363, second on the club to Gibson. Often considered black baseball's greatest team, the Crawfords became the dominant member of the tough National Negro Association, which operated from 1933 to 1936. Pittsburgh claimed the 1933 pennant, as did the Chicago American Giants, without resolution. In 1935 the Crawfords won the first NNL's only undisputed title. In 1936 they posted the best overall record, winning the second half of the split season. A title series with the first-half champion Washington Elite Giants was never completed, though the Giants won the only game played, 2-0.

    Charleston remained with the Crawfords through 1940, following them in moves to Toledo and Indianapolis. He became manager of the NNL Philadelphia Stars in 1941 and the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers when Branch Rickey formed the United States League in 1945. He was thus put in a position to scout and evaluate players for organized baseball's integration. He managed through 1954, leading the Indianapolis Clowns to the '54 Negro American League title, but died after the season.

    Statistics so far compiled show that Charleston batted .353 lifetime. He twice led the Cuban Winter League in SB, and had 31 during the 1923-24 campaign, setting a record that stood for more than 20 years. In 53 exhibition games against white major leaguers, he hit .318 with 11 HR.

    Charleston had a famous temper, and enjoyed brawling, resulting in legendary encounters with umpires, opponents, agents raiding his teams, a Ku Klux Klansman, and, on one occasion, several Cuban soldiers. As his legs gave out, he moved from centerfield to first base, yet as long as he played, he never lost his home run power, nor his meanness on the basepaths. He was sympathetic toward young players, and was protective of rookie teammates. A demanding manager who expected his players to perform as well as he did, his strength as a pilot lay in his understanding of the intricacies of the game. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Committee on Negro Baseball Leagues in 1976. (MFK)
    Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis


    • #3
      Seems like discussions of the top Negro league position player center on Charleston, JH Lloyd, and Gibson. From what I can gather, Oscar probably had the most complete skill set of the three. Lloyd is often compared to Wagner, but the other two men didn't really have contemporaries in white baseball who were similar...Speaker and Cobb may compare somewhat to Oscar, but weren't known for having as much power, while there were no white catchers of Josh's time who were such overwhelming power hitters. Maybe Charleston compares best to Mays looking at all of baseball history (though with a totally different personality) and Gibson is kind of a Piazza who could really catch, or a Bench with a stronger bat but not so outstanding defensively?
      Stearnes and Willie Wells were outstanding players in all respects, but I've never heard anybody suggest they were quite at the level of the being the all time best. Cool Papa Bell is an interesting one...the focus on his amazing speed makes it hard for me to judge him as an all around player. I get the impression that he did not hit for great power and did not throw well, but would be very interested to hear what others have to say about him.
      My favorite story about Charleston involved him staggering around after an auto accident in which he was driving...and somebody pointed out that he still had the steering wheel in his hands. That is some amazing strength. I also remember reading that pitchers would ask him to "creak" the ball for them before returning it in hopes of getting a funny break from it re-expanding or having the cover a little loose.
      "I throw him four wide ones, then try to pick him off first base." - Preacher Roe on pitching to Musial


      • #4
        “The best Major League Baseball player I've ever saw was Willie Mays, but the best baseball player was Oscar Charleston. Oscar could hit you 50 home runs, could steal 100 bases. This was Oscar Charleston. We old-timers say, "The closest thing to Oscar Charleston was Willie Mays." -Buck O’Neil

        “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.”

        In the early years of the Negro National League the power-hitting Charleston was its biggest star. In 1921 he compiled an incredible .446 batting average with 14 homeruns. A stocky, compact player, Charleston used his uncommonly thorough understanding of the game to his every advantage. His aggressive "take no prisoners" approach to the game made him a formidable opponent on the field.

        A barrel-chested, left-handed hitter, the fiery Charleston hit for both average and power while revolutionizing defensive play in center field. His blazing speed, aggressiveness on the base paths and focused intensity led many to compare him to Ty Cobb. For a player of his size with his tremendous power, Charleston was also a skilled base runner and a threat to steal bases. With his tremendous speed, Charleston could play shallow centerfield and still have the ability to run down long drives, his defensive style and skills, playing a shallow, far-ranging centerfield with a strong, accurate arm and excellent fly ball judgment. Many compared his style of defense to that of Tris Speaker.


        • #5
          I had a discussion w/ one of the few remaining living Philadelphia Stars (who played in the 40's under Charleston as a manager) and they said every once in a while in an exhibition game blowout, Charleston would put himself in the game and in his late 40's / early 50's still hit the snot out of the ball.
          Baseball Happenings
          - Linking baseball's past, present and future.


          • #6
            They have a very nice statue of Oscar at the Negro League Baseball Museum. Unfortunately I couldn't find a picture of it.
            Attached Files
            Buck O'Neil: The Monarch of Baseball


            • #7
              wikipedia article

              Oscar McKinley Charleston (October 14, 1896 - October 5, 1954) was an American center fielder and manager in baseball's Negro Leagues from 1915 to 1945. Baseball historian Bill James has ranked him as the fourth best player in the sport's history.

              Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, Charleston joined the Army at 15 and served in the Philippines. Returning to America, Charleston immediately began his baseball career with the Indianapolis ABC's in 1915. He served as a player and/or manager for the ABCs, Chicago American Giants, Lincoln Stars, St. Louis Giants, Harrisburg Giants, Philadelphia Hilldales, Homestead Grays, and Pittsburgh Crawfords.

              An intense, focused, intelligent man, Charleston was among the most renowned players of his time, a tremendous power and contact hitter and one of the finest defensive center fielders of all time. His career batting average was .353 and he regularly finished among league leaders in both home runs and stolen bases. He was also known for his combative nature, getting into many brawls, including at least one memorable fight with an array of Cuban soldiers.

              In 1932, Charleston became player-manager of the Pittsburgh Crawfords and presided over perhaps the best Negro League team of all time. His roster included Hall of Famers Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, and Judy Johnson. The team went 99-36 and Charleston himself batted .363.

              In addition to his tremendous play in the Negro Leagues, Charleston excelled in exhibition play against all-white major league teams, batting .318 with 11 home runs in 53 games. Contemporary observers compared his play to that of Tris Speaker and Babe Ruth. Baseball historians generally consider him one of the greatest players in history. He died at age 57 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

              Charleston was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976. In 1999, he ranked Number 67 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, one of five players so honored who played all or most of their careers in pre-1947 black leagues, and was nominated as a finalist for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. Bill James had him ranked as the 4th best ball player of all time. It is likely that he had 500 Home Runs and 500 stolen bases in his career.

              Oscar Charleston, Negro L. CF, 1915-23-------------------1930-31-------------------------------1922-24---Wikipedia

              Last edited by Bill Burgess; 09-23-2009, 04:18 PM.


              • #8
                I found this cool video today. Enjoy.

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


                • #9
                  I have read a few dozen books on the subject of the Negro League or “Blackball”. I think Oscar Charleston is at the center of “Blackball” history more than any other man including Satchel Paige or Rube Foster. Oscar was a member of four of the greatest “Blackball” teams in a single season in the history of the game.

                  Charleston started in 1915 with the Indianapolis ABCs although I don’t think he played a great deal that first year. The 1916 version of the ABCs has to be one of the top ten best Negro League teams ever. Charleston also played on the 1923-24 Santa Clara Leopardos which is considered to be the best team ever in the Cuban Winter Leagues. I think a very strong argument could be made that the 1923-24 Leopardos (Leopards) were the greatest team ever assembled anywhere including the Major Leagues. Then Oscar was on the 1931 Grays which many historians believe was the best Negro League team of all time. After that Charleston was on the great 1935 Pittsburg Crawfords team that is also the top pick by many historians. Oscar was a member of four of the greatest teams ever assembled and I think he is the biggest contributing factor to each of those teams’ greatness.

                  I believe Oscar Charleston was one of the most talented men to ever play the game. I certainly don’t think Bill James overvalued him. He was a pure five tool player and seemed to have more similarities in skills with Willie Mays than any other player. The biggest differences are that Oscar hit from the left side and although he had a strong arm it was not equal to that of Willie Mays.


                  • #10
                    Cool Papa Bell I think was orginally a pitcher, so likely his arm wassnt too bad.


                    • #11
                      It's time to get this thread going again. I found these two early newspaper references. Charleston was infamous for his fierce temper. He got into a fight in 1915, his first year in pro ball. He was just 18 years old when this fight happened.

                      1915-10-25 Fort Wayne Sentinel pg 24.png...............1915-11-26 Indianapolis Star pg 8.png
                      Last edited by Honus Wagner Rules; 02-21-2014, 12:03 AM.
                      Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis


                      • #12
                        A more detailed account of the riot.

                        1915-01-25 Indianapolis Star pg 1.jpg
                        Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis


                        • #13
                          An excellent discussion on Charleston:
                          "No matter how great you were once upon a time — the years go by, and men forget,” - W. A. Phelon in Baseball Magazine in 1915. “Ross Barnes, forty years ago, was as great as Cobb or Wagner ever dared to be. Had scores been kept then as now, he would have seemed incomparably marvelous.”


                          • #14
                            I finally picked up a copy of The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (2001, yeah I finally joined the 21st century...), and went straight to his section on the Negro Leagues. Here is what Bill James wrote about Oscar Charleston after ranking him as the #1 Negro League center fielder (page 189):

                            1. Oscar Charleston. Regarded by many knowledgeable people as the greatest baseball player who ever lived. Buck O'Neil said that Willie Mays was the greatest major league player he ever saw, but Charleston was better. According to O'Neil, "Charlie was a tremendous left-handed 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."

                            Bernie Brogan, a longtime scout for the St. Louis Cardinals who signed many major league players, said that Charleston was the greatest player he ever saw, including Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb.

                            Cuban pitcher Juanelo Mirabal said that 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."

                            Dave Malarcher said he "could play the whole outfield by himself" and Paige said "He used to play right in back of second base. He would outrun the ball. You had to see him to believe him."

                            Hollis (Sloppy) Thurston barnstormed against him, said that he hit a home run every night.

                            Jimmy Crutchfield said "if I had to pick the best player I saw in my time, it would be hard to pick between Charleston and Josh Gibson."

                            John Johnson of the Kansas City Call wrote that Charleston was so fast that "he makes Ty Cobb look like a runner with a handicap."

                            Charleston was a barrel-chested man with thin legs, like Ruth. He was intense, focused, bright, and did everything exceptionally well.
                            "It ain't braggin' if you can do it." Dizzy Dean


                            • #15
                              Buck O'Neil told great stories but he tended towards hyperbole. Charleston was Cobb, Ruth, and Speaker all rolled into one? I'm surprised Buck didn't throw in Honus Wagner and Napolean LaJoie in there as well. But here's the thing though. When did Buck see Charleston play? As far as I can tell from my research Buck never saw Charleston play when Charleston was in his prime. Buck was 15 years younger than Charleston. Buck was born and raised in Florida and from what I've read so far didn't leave Florida until 1934 to play semi pro ball. Charleston was 37-38 years old in 1934. Buck didn't join the professional Negro Legues until 1937. Charleston was 40 years old during the 1937 season. So, it's highly unlikely that O'Neil ever saw Charleston play in his prime. Even is Buck did see Charleston play in the early 1920's Buck wasn't even a teenager then. It seems obvious that whatever Charleston stories Buck told were given to him by other people. Buck was not a first person eye witness to Charleston greatness as a ballplayer.
                              Last edited by Honus Wagner Rules; 12-27-2013, 10:49 AM.
                              Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis