Five years before the Negro Leagues were founded, its future superstar roamed the outfield for the Indianapolis ABCs — a 21-year-old, barrel-chested slugger who was a five-tool player, but only because there weren't any more tools.
Oscar Charleston, often referred to in the black press as "The Hoosier Comet," may have been the greatest all-around baseball player in history. He was an aggressive, fearless, brawler who wouldn't back down, and whose scrapes on and off the field were as incredible as his playing skills.
He was scared of no one. During his first year as an ABC pitcher/outfielder in 1915, after returning from military service in the Philippines, he and teammate Bingo DeMoss were arrested for assaulting an umpire and starting a riot. Other squabbles include fighting with a Ku Klux Klan member and several Cuban soldiers. Charleston's "never say die" attitude never wavered and would later translate into a successful managing career.
Charleston rapidly established himself as a standout player with Indianapolis and was the centerpiece of the franchise when it joined the Negro National League in 1920. Other teams included the Kansas City Monarchs, Dayton Marcos, Chicago Giants, Detroit Stars, St. Louis Giants and Foster's Chicago American Giants.
From the league's beginning, the seventh of 11 children was the league's biggest star. In 1921 some records say he batted as high as .446 with 14 home runs. The left-handed swinger routinely led the league in batting, home runs and stolen bases.
In his prime, his blend of power and speed was unmatched by any other player in the Negro Leagues. Rarely did he not take an extra base or slide into a base hard without his spikes high. And on the flip side, there wasn't a drop-off with the glove either. Many players recalled the countless times he robbed them of hits in the gaps, and his combination of outstanding range, good hands, a rifle arm and superior instincts always had opposing hitters and base runners running scared.
The slugger ended a 27-year playing career that spanned four decades credited with a .376 batting average. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976.