“One time he hit a line drive right past my ear. I turned around and saw the ball hit him sliding into second.”
Satchel Paige was talking about
Bell played in the Negro Leagues from 1922-46, the year before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Bell is legendary for his speed, taking two or even three bases on a bunt, beating out ground balls back to the mound, and registering as nothing more than a blur around the bases for 27 years. He played shallow in center field because he was able to go back and run down just about anything hit over his head that stayed in the ballpark.
Not only that, Bell played all year round, also playing 21 seasons of winter ball in Cuba, Mexico and California.
Here are some key points to know about Bell, who was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974.
• Bell was born in Starkville, Miss., on May 17,1903. He moved to St. Louis to be with family at age 17, and shortly thereafter began his baseball career with the Compton Hill (St. Louis) Cubs. He joined the St. Louis Stars of the Negro National League two years later, and garnered his nickname as a pitcher. With an arsenal featuring curveballs, knuckleballs and screwballs that he could throw from three different release points, Bell was simply calm and cool out on the mound even amid stressful situations.
One in particular stands out, in which he struck out Oscar Charleston, considered the greatest hitter in Negro Leagues history, to escape a jam. His manager at the time, Bill Gatewood, came up with the moniker, adding “Papa” perhaps because of how Bell handled himself like a veteran out on the mound even as a teenager.