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Oscar Charleston Newsbeat

Monday, April 06, 2015

Was Ty Cobb the White Oscar Charleston?

Charleston also annoyed Londos by shouting “WHAT?” whenever he tried to talk.

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 at the wheel. Of course the players never said so, because sportswriters and white folks were always calling him the black Ty Cobb and Charlie hated it…

John McGraw [proclaimed]: “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 hundred 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… 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 men who had seen him play, men who knew his greatness to be the cold, hard truth… Thus did James anoint Charleston the fourth greatest player ever. Only the Babe, Honus Wagner, and Willie Mays are ahead of him, in that order. And—how Charlie would have loved this—Cobb is one place behind him… James expected at least one roaring good argument about Charleston’s presence in such august company. Instead, all he got was this: “stunned silence.”...

Charleston used his fists on everybody who crossed him regardless of pigmentation, 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… 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 District Attorney Posted: April 06, 2015 at 12:44 PM | 6 comment(s)
  Beats: history, negro leagues, oscar charleston

 

 

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