Out of the Shadows: African American Baseball from the Cuban Giants to Jackie Robinson

By Bill Kirwin | Go to book overview

ANTHONY R. PRATKANIS & MARLENE E. TURNER


The Year “Cool Papa” Bell Lost
the Batting Title
Mr. Branch Rickey and Mr. Jackie Robinson's
Plea for Affirmative Action

IN THE EYES OF MANY BASEBALL FANS, James “Cool Papa” Bell was the headiest and fastest base runner of his or any other time. In 1933 (his best season), he stole 175 bases in 180 or so games with the Pittsburgh Crawfords. He would often score from first on a single or reach third on a sacrifice. In his 29 seasons, Bell compiled a.339 lifetime batting average in the Negro Major Leagues. (He hit.392 against white pitching in 54 exhibition games and stole 15 bases in the 35 games where records were kept.) He played on at least five Negro Major league All-Star teams and was named to the Pittsburgh Courier's All-Time All-Star team as a center fielder.1

Ironically, many fans remember him for what he didn't achieve on the playing field—the year he purposely lost the batting title. In 1946, at age 43, Bell was hitting.411 and locked in a race for the batting title of the Negro Major League with the younger Monte Irvin. Bell, always the competitor, this time pulled himself out of the line-up for the last games. Irvin went on to win the title with a.389 average. (Bell lacked the needed number of at-bats to qualify for the crown). When asked why he had deliberately lost the title, Mr. Bell responded: “For the first time the Major Leagues were serious about taking in blacks. I was too old, but Monte was young and had a chance for a future. It was important he be noticed, important he get that chance.” When a player as competitive as Bell deliberately comes up short on the playing field, it behooves us to try to understand why. The answer lies in the actions taken by two men— Mr. Branch Rickey and Mr. Jackie Robinson—just one year earlier in 1945. To appreciate the significance of their actions, we must go back in time to the middle of the nineteenth century and to the origins of baseball's exclusion of black Americans.

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