Cool Papa Bell: The Fastest Baseball Player of All Time?

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Cool Papa Bell’s speed is truly the stuff of legends.

“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

Early Life

James Thomas “Cool Papa” Bell was born in 1903 in Starkville, Mississippi. He was the son of Jonas Bell and Mary Nichols. His family were sharecroppers and were very poor.

When Bell was 17 years old, he left Starkville, Mississippi, and moved to St. Louis, Missouri, to live with his brother and attend high school. That was the plan anyway. The call of baseball was much louder than Bell’s urge to attend classes.

Baseball Career

After playing for a little while with his brother on an amateur team in St. Louis, Bell signed with the St. Louis Stars — a team in the Negro Leagues.

Cool Papa Bell finished his career with a .325 career batting average. He played his entire career in the Negro Leagues. Sadly, he never played in the Major Leagues because no Major League team would sign a black player.

Cool Papa Bell was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974. While baseball cannot change its past, they have tried to do much to right past wrongs.

The Legend

So — just how fast was Cool Papa Bell?

Bell reportedly scored from first on a bunt, stole two bases on one pitch and was so fast that Olympic sprinter and fastest man in the world Jesse Owens flat out refused to race him. —

But the legend continues to grow.

This has to be by far one of my favorite baseball stories ever: It again, comes from Paige (and has been repeated over and over again), “Bell was so fast (he could) turn off the light and be under the covers before the room gets dark!” — Beyond the Boxscore

While the stories of his speed are exaggerated — there is always a kernel of truth in the legends. Cool Papa Bell had nearly 300 stolen bases in his 21-year career, but no doubt, the statistics are incomplete.

I remember hearing about Cool Papa Bell at an early age — my dad told us the story of a baseball player so fast he could turn off the lights and be in bed before it got dark.

Of course, we had to try it for ourselves — and learned it was impossible for us mere mortals.

But apparently — not for Cool Papa Bell.

The fastest baseball player — and perhaps human — to ever live.

Baseball players like Cool Papa Bell are what make baseball such a fantastic sport. The legends make baseball feel almost magical — like some players are gifted with superhuman abilities.

And truth be told — there is something magical about a baseball field.



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Jameson Steward

Jameson Steward

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