Cool Papa Bell
The fastest man ever to play baseball, Cool Papa Bell rode the crest of his publicity from his incredible speed and colorful nickname into the Hall of Fame. The lean, 5’11” 140 lb racehorse once was clocked circling the bases in an astonishing 12 seconds. Cool Papa used his speed and daring to become the foremost base stealer in baseball and to “leg-out” extra base hits, thus offsetting his lack of real power at the plate.
Numerous stories are told of his feats on the basepaths. Many no doubt are true, such as consistently hitting two-hoppers to the infield and beating the throw to first for a hit, going from first to third on a bunt, scoring from second on a sacrifice fly, and stealing two bases on one pitch. Other stories stretch one’s credulity without an extra explanation. Such accounts have Cool Papa hitting a single up the middle and being declared out when hit by his own batted ball as he slid into second base; and of course the most repeated story of how he could switch off the light and get into bed before the room was dark.
While some stories may be exaggerated, his speed was real. He once stole 175 bases in just under 200 games. He also utilized his speed in the field, with his great range allowing him to play a shallow center field and still run down pitcher’s mistakes. A left-handed thrower, he used a quick release to adequately compensate for a mediocre arm. The switch hitting Bell had good bat control and hit for a high average.
Cool Papa’s popularity was evident, being voted to the East-West All-Star game every year from its inception in 1933 through 1944, except for the years when he was playing in Latin America. Further indications of his exceptional batting skills are a .391 batting average in exhibition games against major leaguers and his lifetime batting average of .341 for a quarter-century in black baseball.
Born May 18, 1905, Cool Papa Bell was 69 years old when he was honored for his long and distinguished baseball career by being inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974.
Positions played: outfield
Teams: St. Louis Stars, Kansas City Monarchs, Chicago American Giants, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Homestead Grays
Comparable Players: Lou Brock