James Thomas Bell
Born: May 17, 1903, Starkville, Mississippi
Died: March 7, 1991, St. Louis, Missouri
"Cool Papa" Bell was considered by most who saw him to be the fastest baseball player ever to play the game. A switch-hitting centerfielder, he began his career in 1922 with the St. Louis Stars in the Negro National League; later played with the great Pittsburgh Crawfords of the mid-thirties with Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson, and finished his career with the Homestead Grays in 1950. Also coached Jackie Robinson in 1945 while Robinson was beginning his career with the Kansas City Monarchs. One of his managers with the Stars noticed his swagger in the field and called a "cool papa," and the nickname stuck. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1974.
Most of Bell's statistics from the Negro Leagues are unknown, but it is believed he hit over .400 several years by collecting a large number of infield hits, and finished with a career Negro League average of .341. He also reportedly stole 175 bases in one year over a stretch of 200 games (including winter leagues in Latin America). In any case he was selected to the Negro All-Star Game in every year of its existance, and was regarded in his time as one of the best players in the game.
Many tales exist of "Cool Papa" scoring from second base on a sacrifice fly, going from 1st to 3rd on a bunt, and stealing two bases on a single pitch. There are many other, possibly exaggerated anecdotes about Bell: Satchel Paige said of Bell that he could turn off the light in his room and be in bed before the room was dark. He was once clocked running a full trip around the bases in 11 seconds. And, perhaps the most likely, was that he was once called out for being hit by his batted ball when he slid into second base.