Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Homestead, Allegheny County
Negro League star and Baseball Hall of Famer, James "Cool Papa" Bell played for both the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Homestead Grays.
Awards: Baseball Hall of Fame
Born in Starkville, Mississippi, in 1903, James "Cool Papa" Bell is often regarded to as the fastest man to ever play the game of baseball. James Thomas Bell began his baseball career as a pitcher for the St. Louis Stars of the Negro League in 1922. He later became a member of the greatly successful Pittsburgh Crawfords where he excelled as an outfielder, leadoff hitter, and base-stealer. His career lasted for nearly 20 years, during which he played for a number of different teams. In 1974 the Negro League Committee elected him to the Hall of Fame. Bell died on March 7, 1991.
James "Cool Papa" Bell was born on May 17, 1903, in Starkville, Mississippi. He grew up in a rather poor black family with a single mother, a sister, and five athletic brothers. Playing baseball at a competitive level since the age of 13, the sport always took precedent over education in Bell's life. As a result of Starkville, Mississippi, not having a black high school, Bell was forced to forget about school and focus primarily on baseball. Seeing that there was no point in staying in Starkville, Bell's mother sent him to St. Louis in 1920 to further pursue his baseball career. In St. Louis, Bell worked at a packinghouse where he made 53 cents an hour, and began playing for the semipro team, the Compton Hill Cubs, as a left-handed pitcher. Two years later, in 1922, James Bell began his professional career in the Negro Leagues with the St. Louis Stars as an outfielder and pitcher.
The professional baseball career of James "Cool Papa" Bell lasted for nearly 30 years, from 1922 to 1950. Over the course of his career, Bell made a name for himself as the fastest man to ever play the game of baseball and is often referred to as the "Black Ty Cobb" for his ability to quickly round the bases and run down fly balls. While playing for the St. Louis Stars, kids began to call Bell "Cool" for his ability to continually strike out opponents without ever appearing to be nervous. The nickname later developed into the slightly longer version, James "Cool Papa" Bell, by which he is known today. Due to poor record keeping, not much is known about James Bell away from his baseball career. Over his 28 year career, Bell played as a pitcher and outfielder for a number of different teams, and accumulated a career batting average of around .350.
After playing for two years with the semipro St. Louis Stars, Bell transitioned into the Negro Leagues.The first team that he played for was the Pittsburgh Crawfords, the powerhouse of the Negro Leagues. James Bell was a member of the Crawfords from 1932 to 1937. During his time with Pittsburgh, he excelled as an outfielder and leadoff hitter. Five years after joining the Negro Leagues, Bell chose to leave the United States to play internationally. For the next four years, Cool Papa Bell played baseball for Tampico and Torreon in Mexico. However, this did not last long. In 1941 Bell decided to rejoin the Negro Leagues in the U.S. as a player for the Chicago American Giants. His time spent with the Giants was very brief, as he was soon traded to the Homestead Grays where he stayed from 1943 to 1947. These are often viewed as the prime years of his baseball career. James "Cool Papa" Bell's final three years in the Negro Leagues were spent being shuffled around between the Detroit Senators in 1947 and the Kansas City Stars from 1948 to 1950. However, his involvement in baseball did not end here; Bell later became the manager of the Kansas City Monarchs.
While James Bell never got the opportunity to play in the major leagues because of its color barrier, he is still depicted as one of the greatest players to ever play the game. Standing at 5'11" and 140 lbs, Bell will always be remembered for his ability to round the bases in 12 seconds, steal two bases on one pitch, advance from first to third on a bunt, and score from second base on a sacrifice fly ball. Fellow Negro League player, Josh Gibson, once said, "Cool Papa Bell was so fast he could get out of bed, turn out the lights across the room, and be back in bed under the covers before the lights went out." In addition to being recognized as the fastest man to ever step on the field, Bell also played in the East-West All-Star game every year from its establishment in 1933 to 1944 except for during the years he played in Mexico.
James Thomas Bell is arguably one of the best players to ever take bat in the Negro Leagues. As a result, nearly 20 years after leaving the game of baseball as a player, Bell was honored for his successful career and inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1974 by the Negro Leagues Committee; he was 71-years-old. Seventeen years later, on March 7, 1991, James "Cool Papa" Bell passed away from natural causes.