Cheap Seats

James "Cool Papa" Bell, 1903-1991

A tip of the Cheap Seats cap to James "Cool Papa" Bell, one of the greatest players in the history of St. Louis baseball.

The longtime hero of the Negro National League St. Louis Stars died at the age of 87 on this date 10 years ago.

Elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974 and named in 1999 by The Sporting News as one of the top 100 players in Baseball history, Bell played in the Negro Leagues from 1922-37 and again from 1942-46. He began his career as his team's best starting pitcher. But by 1924 he switched to playing centerfield and became one of its top stars at the plate.

In between his two stints of American baseball, Bell starred in the Mexican League, winning the triple crown there as a hitter in 1940.

Bell, whose given name was Nichols, was known as the fastest player in baseball. He could supposedly round the bases in 12 seconds flat and, as legend had it, was so quick that he could turn off the lights at night and be in bed before the room got dark.

Negro Leagues pitching legend Satchel Paige said that if Bell would have raced Olympic legend Jessie Owens, Bell would have made Owens look like he was walking. Paige also told a tall tale about Bell hitting a line drive off of him in a game that hit Bell in the hindquarters as he slid into second base.

After his death, at his home on Dickson Street in St. Louis, the city renamed that road James "Cool Papa" Bell Avenue."