#Spotlight – This week as part of Black History Month, we introduce you to Oscar Charleston.
When Bill James was asked to rank the greatest players since 1901, he listed Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Willie Mays, Oscar Charleston and Ty Cobb as his top 5. If you are not a fan of the Negro Leagues you may say, wait, Oscar who?
Honus Wagner said, “I’ve seen all the great players in the many years I’ve been around and have yet to see one any greater than Charleston.”
Oscar Charleston played many roles in baseball over the years, from player, manager, scout and even umpire. As a 15 year old he would enlist in the U.S. Army after lying about his age. He would be sent to the Philippines where he played for the 24th Infantry Regiment baseball team.
When he left the military and returned to the US, would would join his hometown team Indianapolis ABC's, playing mostly as a pitcher, but also getting a chance to hit and turn heads with his ability.
In just his second professional season, his ABC's team would play Rube Foster's Chicago American Giants in the black baseball championship. The ABC's would win the series with Charleston hitting .389.
In 1919 Charleston would join Foster's American Giants, playing CF. His ability to hit home runs at a rate of 1 in every 26 at bats was bested by only Babe Ruth's 1 in 19 at bats. At the end of the season, the Chicago Defender newspaper would label Charleston as the best player in baseball (white or black).
Like many great players in the Negro Leagues, Charleston would spend the next several years moving from team to team, but establishing himself as the best player wherever he played. In the 1920's Charleston would add player-manager to his resume.
At one point, Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey asked Charleston to help identify black players who could play major-league baseball. One of the players Charleston advised Rickey about was Roy Campanella, who played for the Baltimore Elite Giants at that time.
Unable to find another managing job, Charleston became an umpire for the 1946-47 seasons. The Philadelphia Stars would hire him to manage them from 1948-52 before disbanding. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976.