The Greatest Ever???

By Tony McClean
Updated: July 15, 2005

Oscar Charleston

Oscar Charleston

NEW HAVEN, Ct. — To the black press, longtime Negro League star Oscar Charleston was commonly known as the “Hoosier Comet”. In a career that spanned four decades, Charleston was a player and manager who was considered by many to be the best all-around ball player in the history of the Negro leagues.

Born in Indianapolis , Indiana , Charleston left school in his mid-teens and joined the Army. He first played organized baseball while stationed in the Philippines . He was the only black player in the Manila League in 1914.

He returned to Indy a year later and signed with the ABCs, the local Negro club for whom he had been a batboy as a child. At 5-foot-11 and over 200 pounds, the barrel-chested Charleston quickly made an impression. His expert play in centerfield and his lively bat helped the ABCs win a title in 1916.

A left-hander who hit for both power and average, he was best known for his exceptional speed, strong throwing arm, and volatile temper that often led to fights on and off the field. He joined the Chicago American Giants in 1919 but returned to the ABCs the following year, when the team joined the newly formed Negro National League.

In 1921, he enjoyed a typically strong year, batting .434, stealing 35 bases in 60 games, and leading the league in doubles, triples, and home runs. Charleston also played with the St. Louis Giants, the Harrisburg Giants (serving as a player-manager), and the Philadelphia Hilldales in the 1920s.

During his career, Charleston would hit over .400 twice more (.411 in 1924, .445 a year later) and maintained an average of .350 for nine straight seasons.

He joined the Homestead Grays in 1930 and was part of the 1931 team that also starred Josh Gibson, Smokey Joe Williams, Ted Page, and Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe. From 1932 to 1938 he was player-manager for the Pittsburgh Crawfords.

Charleston retired as a player in 1941 with a lifetime batting average of .357. He then managed various teams, including the Indianapolis Clowns, up until 1954, the year he died.

Before he passed, Charleston guided the Clowns to their last Negro World Championship that season. Former teammate Ted Page once said, “Oscar Charleston loved to play baseball. There was nothing he liked better.”

He received his greatest honor posthumously when he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976.

NOTE: The Encyclopedia of Negro League Baseball and the African-American Registry contributed to this story.