Nickname(s): The Hoosier Comet
OF-1B-MGR Negro Leagues 1915-54 Indianapolis ABC's, New York Lincoln Stars, Chicago American Giants, St. Louis Giants, Harrisburg Giants, Hilldale, Homestead Grays, Pittsburgh Crawfords , Toledo Crawfords, Indianapolis Crawfords, Philadelphia Stars, Brooklyn Brown Dodgers, Indianapolis Clowns
- Led League in ba 21
- Led League in hr 21
- All-Star in 1933-35
- Hall Of Fame in 1976
Considered by many the greatest Negro League player of all, multi-talented Oscar
Charleston was often compared with three great white contemporaries: his hitting
and speedy, aggressive baserunning (and hard-sliding style) brought favorable comparison
to Ty Cobb; his physique (he was barrel-chested, with spindly legs), power, and popularity,
particularly with youngsters, were reminiscent of Babe Ruth; and his defensive style
and skills, playing a shallow, far-ranging centerfield with a strong, accurate arm
and excellent fly ball judgment, brought visions of Tris Speaker. The New York Giants'
John McGraw, familiar with the untapped black talent available, considered the 6'
190-lb Charleston the best, and coveted him.
A native of Indianapolis, Charleston
grew up serving as batboy for the local ABC's. At age 15, he joined the army and
was stationed in the Philippines. The military gave the underage runaway the opportunity
to display his abilities in track and baseball; he ran the 220-yard dash in 23 seconds,
and played in the otherwise all-white Manila League. Entering big-time black baseball
with the ABC's, he was a vital cog in their 1916 Black World Series triumph over
the Chicago American Giants, batting .360 in seven of the 10 games played. After
stints with the American Giants and New York Lincoln Stars, he rejoined Indianapolis
when the Negro National League was organized in 1920.
Through 1923, the lefthanded-hitting
and throwing Charleston posted a .370 batting average with the NNL ABC's and St.
Louis Giants, and in 1921 led the league in
hitting (.446), triples (10), HR (14),
total bases (137), slugging (.774), and stolen bases (28), finishing second with
79 hits in 50 games. From 1922 to 1925, he was player-manager for the Eastern Colored
League Harrisburg Giants, and, after a second-division finish in 1924, he led them
to three consecutive second-place finishes. In 1925, he batted .424. From 1928 to
1931, he hit .347 in two-year stints with the Hilldale club and the Homestead Grays.
The Grays won a 10-game Eastern Championship Series from the New York Lincoln Giants
In 1932 Gus Greenlee persuaded Charleston to manage his Pittsburgh Crawfords.
Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson, and Satchel Paige joined him to give the club four future
Hall of Famers. Operating independently, they went 99-36 as their 36-year-old manager
batted .363, second on the club to Gibson. Often considered black baseball's greatest
team, the Crawfords became the dominant member of the tough National Negro Association,
which operated from 1933 to 1936. Pittsburgh claimed the 1933 pennant, as did the
Chicago American Giants, without resolution. In 1935 the Crawfords won the first
NNL's only undisputed title. In 1936 they posted the best overall record, winning
the second half of the split season. A title series with the first-half champion
Washington Elite Giants was never completed, though the Giants won the only game
Charleston remained with the Crawfords through 1940, following them
in moves to Toledo and Indianapolis. He became manager of the NNL Philadelphia Stars
in 1941 and the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers when Branch Rickey formed the United States
League in 1945. He was thus put in a position to scout and evaluate players for organized
baseball's integration. He managed through 1954, leading the Indianapolis Clowns
to the '54 Negro American League title, but died after the season.
far compiled show that Charleston batted .353 lifetime. He twice led the Cuban Winter
League in SB, and had 31 during the 1923-24 campaign, setting a record that stood
for more than 20 years. In 53 exhibition games against white major leaguers, he hit
.318 with 11 HR.
Charleston had a famous temper, and enjoyed brawling, resulting
in legendary encounters with umpires, opponents, agents raiding his teams, a Ku Klux
Klansman, and, on one occasion, several Cuban soldiers. As his legs gave out, he
moved from centerfield to first base, yet as long as he played, he never lost his
home run power, nor his meanness on the basepaths. He was sympathetic toward young
players, and was protective of rookie teammates. A demanding manager who expected
his players to perform as well as he did, his strength as a pilot lay in his understanding
of the intricacies of the game. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Committee
on Negro Baseball Leagues in 1976.
|FROM THE BASEBALL CHRONOLOGY|
|» August 2, 1930: Playing under Kansas City's portable light system, the Pittsburgh (later Homestead) Grays 44-year-old hurler Smokey Joe Williams (27 strikeouts) spins a one-hitter to defeat the Monarchs' Chet Brewer (19 strikeouts, including 10 in a row starting in the 7th) 1–0 in a fiercely contested 12-inning matchup. Oscar Charleston scores the only run.
» September 20, 1935: The Pittsburgh Crawfords beat the New York Cubans to win the Negro NL Championship 3–0 behind the pitching of Leroy Matlock and the extra-base hits of Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell and Oscar Charleston.
» February 9, 1976: Oscar Charleston is selected for the Hall of Fame by the Special Committee on the Negro Leagues.