Have you ever heard of a man so fast he could turn out the light in the room and be in bed before the room got dark? This is just one of the many tales that were used to descibe Negro League legend James "Cool Papa" Bell.
While his legendary speed may have been exaggerated at times, his quickness made him one of the most feared base runners, shattering the confidence of infielders who helplessly watched him leg out two-hoppers.
The son of an Oklahoma Indian and farmer, Bell may have been the fastest man to play professional baseball. His talents propelled him to one of the longest active careers in the Negro Leagues. He hit .341 in 25 seasons, including summers of .396 and .373 for the Homestead Grays in the mid-1940s. He was also said to have hit .400 a few times.
The fans adored him, selecting him to 11 East-West All-Star teams, beginning with its inception in 1933.
"Cool Papa was so fast that one time when we were playing with the (Pittsburgh) Crawfords against the Birmingham team, he hit a ground ball right past the pitcher and that ball hit Cool Papa as he slid into second base!" – teammate Jimmie Crutchfield.
"If he bunts and it bounces twice, put it in your back pocket," – Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe.
The outfielder who once stole 175 bases in just under 200 games, and who was once clocked circling the bases in an astonishing 12 seconds, was simply that fast.
Bell's career was largely over by 1947, the year Jackie Robinson debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He retired in 1950, at age 47, from the Kansas City Stars, a farm team of Robinson's Kansas City Monarchs. He worked for four years as a scout for the St. Louis Browns until they moved to Baltimore, and he then worked as a custodian and night security officer at the St. Louis City Hall until 1970. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974 and died at age 88 in 1991.