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Among experts, Oscar Charleston is regarded as the best player in Negro Leagues history. During his prime he became a legend in Cuba and one of black America’s most popular figures.
Among experts, Oscar Charleston is regarded as the best player in Negro Leagues history. During his prime he became a legend in Cuba and one of black America’s most popular figures. Yet even among serious sports fans, Oscar Charleston is virtually unknown today. In a long career spanning from 1915 to 1954, Charleston played against, managed, befriended, and occasionally fought men such as Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Jesse Owens, Roy Campanella, and Branch Rickey. He displayed tremendous power, speed, and defensive instincts along with a fierce intelligence and commitment to his craft. Charleston’s competitive fire sometimes brought him trouble, but more often it led to victories, championships, and profound respect. While Charleston never played in the Major Leagues, he was a trailblazer who became the first black man to work as a scout for a Major League team when Branch Rickey hired him to evaluate players for the Dodgers in the 1940s. From the mid‑1920s on, he was a player‑manager for several clubs. In 1932 he joined the Pittsburgh Crawfords and would manage the club many consider the finest Negro League team of all time, featuring five future Hall of Famers, including himself, Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson, and Satchel Paige.
Jeremy Beer is a founding partner at American Philanthropic in Phoenix. He is the author of The Philanthropic Revolution: An Alternative History of American Charity and his writing on sports, society, and culture has appeared in the Washington Post, National Review, First Things, and the Baseball Research Journal.
Description courtesy of the University of Nebraska Press.