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Baseball: Oscar Charleston

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posted on Oct, 21 2005 @ 08:01 AM
What do you think of the Oscar Charleston rating dilemma?

Myriad reliable sources who saw him compared him to Speaker as a CF. That's the gold standard for the first half of the century.

Myriad reliable sources compared him to Cobb as a baserunner, except that Charleston was a human being. That's the gold standard, too.

And yeah, hitting is a lot more important than fielding or baserunning. But more than a few contemporaries suggested Charleston was either Ruth's equal as a hitter or, at least, not all that far short of Ruth and the same TYPE of hitter: left-handed, got on base a lot, and had the kind of devastating power that destroyed a pitcher's morale when he really got hold of one.

As you doubtless know, James puts him 4th all time, behind The Big Guy, Wagner and Mays. I think James is right in rating Wagner #1 at SS. It took some doing to convince me Wagner should go ahead of Ozzie, but James persuaded me. But I think James has Wagner WAY too high on the overall list (#2, ahead of Mays!). So I can see putting Charleston at least as high as #3, if not #1 or #2.

i am putting this post in a new thread at the request of baseballhistorynut....

posted on Oct, 21 2005 @ 04:07 PM
Dear Toejam:

OK, now it's time for me to keep my end of the deal and post some of the numerous quotes in Bill James' book concerning Charleston.

(1) Buck O'Neill said Willie Mays was the greatest major leaguer he ever saw, but Charleston was better. According to O'Neill, "Charlie was a tremendous hitter who could also bunt, steal a hundred bases a year and cover center field as well as anyone before him or since... he was like Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Tris Speaker rolled into one."

(2) Bernie Borgan, a longtime scout for the Cardinals, said Charles-ton was the greatest player he ever saw, including Ruth and Cobb.

(3) Great Cuban Pitcher Juanelo Mirabal said Charleston "would try to beat you any way he could. Just like Ty Cobb, rip your pants or your legs, just to beat you out of a game. To me, I don't know which one was best. Both of them were great."

(4) Dave Malarcher said Charleston "could play the whole outfield by himself."

(5) Satchell Paige said Charleston "used to play right in back of second base. He would outrun the ball. You had to see him to believe him."

(6) Hollis (Sleepy) Thurston, who barnstormed against Charleston, said he hit a HR every night.

(7) Jimmy Crutchfield said that if he had to pick the best player he ever saw, it would be Charleston or Josh Gibson.

(8) John Johnson of the Kansas City Call said Charleston ran so fast he made Cobb "look like a runner with a handicap."

(9) Bill James, who in my opinion is easily the foremost living baseball historian, says Charleston was "a barrel chested man with thin legs, like Ruth. He was intense, focused, bright, and did everything exceptionally well." James adds that "Charleston, in a sense, put Mays and Mantle together. He combined the grace, athleticism, and all-around skills of Mays with the upper body strength of Mantle, plus he was a left-handed hitter. His hands were so strong that when he was playing first base late in his career, pitchers would use him to rub down new baseballs, as he could rub a baseball so hard that he would open up the seams. He played shallow, like Speaker, and ran down everything hit over his head. He was an intense player--more intense than any of these [greats] except Cobb, and his intensity was less destructive than Cobb's. Buck O'Neill said Charleston had a stop sign on his chest. It's impossible to compare him to the others without head to head numbers; it's impossible to imagine that he was much better than they were. But he was a hell of a package."

Finally, after rating Charleston as the 4th greatest total player of all time (behind Ruth, Wagner (?) and Mays), James says this: "It's not like one person saw Oscar Charleston play and said that he was the greatest player ever. LOTS of people said he was the greatest player they ever saw. John McGraw, who knew something about baseball, reportedly said that, at least according to the Sporting News.... His statistical record, such as it is, would not discourage you from believing that this was true. I don't think I'm a soft touch or easily persuaded; I believe I'm fairly skeptical. I just don't see any reason not to believe that this man was as good as anybody who ever played the game."

Having read all of these things--and more--about Charleston, I get frustrated when I hear some talking head on TV reduce the Negro League to Josh Gibson and Satchell Paige. Doesn't it sound pretty obvious who was really the greatest of them all? And this isn't someone who--like Honus Wagner--was born in 1874. This is someone who was born a year after the man almost every baseball history expert rates #1. So, if Babe Ruth counts on such lists--and p.c. noise about segregation aside, Ruth obviously should count--then just as obviously, Charleston should count.

What a pity, though, that segregation prevented Charleston from playing in MLB, and thus quite likely in the AL, at exactly the same time as Ruth. Then we could compare him very directly with Ruth.

The young Ruth (i.e., before all the weight stayed on) was a good RF, but no more; Charleston was the black Speaker. They were night-and-day on the bases, too, but I'm talking about as hitters.
Both men were natural left-handed hitters. Both men possessed enormous upper body strength and a phenomenal natural swing that you're either blessed with or you're not. Both men hit for a very high career average--among the best ever--and yet also hit with preposterous power.

Personally, I don't believe Charleston faced the same quality of pitching Ruth did, so I think Ruth must be considered the superior hitter. And I know for sure hitting is easily the most important thing a position player does. But when you've got phenomenal ability on the bases and in CF, that's certainly not NOTHING. It's enough to outweigh a fair amount of edge on the other player's part at the plate. And reading all those remarks, it's not clear to me that Ruth had an enormous edge over Charleston as a hitter. An edge, yes. An enormous one? Not so clear.

It saddens me that so many fans who like baseball history, including a number of African-Americans I've met who are both baseball fans and very proud of yesteryear's great African-American athletes, have no clue who Oscar Charleston was. As Bill James says, there are at least 20 books about DiMaggio and probably thousands of magazine covers with Joe D. on them; probably no books or mag covers solely about Charleston. Yet as great as Joe D. was (I rank him in the Top 20 all time, and he's inarguably one of the Famous Five Elite CF's, with Speaker, Cobb, Mays and Mantle), no way was he Charleston's equal as a player.

Baseball History Nut

posted on Oct, 21 2005 @ 05:40 PM
Oscar Charleston

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 1930.

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.

Charleston was indeed a fantastic player and had a great career, why doesn't he get the recognition that goes to some of the other stars of the era?

posted on Oct, 21 2005 @ 06:24 PM
No clue.

Josh Gibson--whom I DO rate as #1 at catcher, ahead of Campanella, Bench and Berra--had to be taught how to play catcher, and will never be confused with Rickey Henderson, Willie Wilson or Willie Mays as a baserunner. Charleston was, as I've shown, comparable to the god of MLB CF's in the first 1/2 of the century (Speaker), and was often in-fact compared favorably to the demon-god of baserunners (Cobb).

That doesn't just means steals, either. It also means extra base hits. Cobb and Speaker got over 1,000 extra base hits each, NOT COUNTING home runs, which is incredible. Yet knowledgeable people, including a lot of white ones, thought Charleston was their superior on the base paths. In fact, I've never read an extended, analytical explanation as to why Cobb or Speaker was better on the bases than Charleston. But I've sure read contrary views.

AND, on top of being comparable to Cobb on the bases and Speaker in CF, the guy could seriously be compared to Ruth as a hitter. OK, he wasn't as good a hitter as Ruth. Let's say he was "only" as good as Gehrig or a left-handed Foxx.

That's awfully damn good, and when you throw in the facts that he was a gold-standard CF and a gold-standard baserunner, you have to open your mind to the real possibility he, not his contemporary who wore #3 for the Yankees, was the greatest baseball player ever. I still rate Ruth #1, but I'm a hopeless sentimentalist who has read Creamer's timeless "Babe: The Legend Comes to Life" about a trillion times, and when you look at his ludicrous stats (a .690 CAREER slugging average, which would have been over .700 had he not played those years with a dead ball????!!!!), it's so hard to pick anyone else.

One thing for sure: Neither of them ever took any damn steroids. Neither of them got magically 3 times as good and large after his 35th birthday. They were both every bit as good as the historical records say they were, and legitimately so.

What a pity they could not play in the same league, seeing as how they were only a year apart in age. Then we'd know for sure, wouldn't we?

Baseball History Nut

posted on Oct, 25 2005 @ 03:47 AM
Well, Toejam, we tried to stimulate interest in this possibly-the-greatest-ever baseball player. You noted, I'm sure, all the quotes I reproduced from James' book. Here is what James says about his rating of Charleston as the #4 greatest player ever [and of Joe Dimaggio as #13]:

"There are twenty books about Joe DiMaggio, none (that I know of) about Oscar Charleston. DiMaggio appeared on magazine covers hundreds of times, probably thousands; I don't know that Charleston ever appeared on one. It is natural for people to believe that DiMaggio was greater than Charleston. But I believe that if skeptical, intelligent readers would take the time and trouble to learn about Charleston, this is about where he would be commonly rated."

I'll add this:

In MLB, CF has a legendary history, because 5 of the very greatest players played there (Cobb, Speaker, DiMaggio, Mays and Mantle), and whoever is #6--Duke Snider?--isn't close to any of the Great Five. (I am not counting active players.) James rates DiMaggio #13, Speaker #11, Mantle #6, Cobb #5... and Charleston #4. Only Mays--and just barely, at that (#3)--is rated ahead of Charleston.

If the great players who saw both, and whom James quotes, are to be believed, that is an error and Charleston should be rated higher than Mays, too. Whatever. The mere fact that's an intelligent proposition says it all.

I have a friend in Hollywood... one whose name would be known to some here, because he was an All-American in one sport before he became an actor. I've converted him to a baseball fan, and he's sort of livid that nobody even knows who Charleston was (including him, before he met me). It's a real shame. Charleston did not play in the Stone Age. He was an exact contemporary of Babe Ruth's and was born 10 years more recently than Ty Cobb.

My friend says Hollywood would not make a movie about him because it would be perceived as merely PC. How sad. There are many people alive who knew him, and quite a few people alive who played for or against the team he managed in the 1950's, prior to his untimely death.

I'm sure they could provide enough information for an interesting movie, because Charleston was, by all accounts, no Uncle Tom. He was EXTREMELY intense and both played and, later, managed with the pedal to the metal at all times. He wasn't subhuman, like Cobb, but he wasn't anyone you wanted to be on the wrong side of, and a loss just ate at his gut.

I hope I live long enough to see a movie about him and his incredible career. Dozens of movies have been made about far lesser baseball careers.

Baseball History Nut

posted on Oct, 25 2005 @ 08:20 AM
as i have been doing some reading and research on the negro leagues and it's players i see that many of them played winter ball in Cuba, and central America....i would guess that the caliber of the leagues down there were pretty good at that time, have you ever looked into just how good these leagues were?

posted on Oct, 25 2005 @ 02:41 PM
No, I haven't. How high a percentage, approximately, of these teams were comprised of Negro League players? And what do you know about the depth of quality on these teams?

I know that for quite awhile (though certainly no more), washed up players from MLB like Randy Bass, a nobody even in his prime, were able to shine in Japan as a team's one allotted American. (I believe he was intentionally walked for the last few games one year, to keep him from breaking the HR record, which is a real joke.) Were the Negro League players like that on the teams you're talking about, or were the rest of those teams competitive and reasonably strong?

To me, that's the pivotal question in assessing the relevance of what Charleston did on those teams. I mean, obviously it's relevant, but the answer to what I'm asking will determine (for me) just how relevant.

Baseball History Nut

posted on Oct, 25 2005 @ 04:38 PM
i know next to nothing about these teams, i was hoping that you did, i was reading up on another negro league great Martin Dihigo, when i noticed that many of those players went down to Mexico during the winter to play ball, from what i have read they operated as an independent league from the late 1930's till 1946, at that time they wanted to become another major league and raided players from here, 23 major leaguers made the jump including Sal Maglie, there were open contracts for Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial, the league folded and the players who jumped were reinstated in 1949...

i haven't been able to find much info other than this brief history

posted on Oct, 26 2005 @ 05:22 PM
Re Martin Dihigo: I remember when he got into the Hall. I hadn't known much about him until then, but read upon his enshrinement that he was a "third baseman." I've since learned he was primarily a second baseman, but could play all nine positions, with third base probably being his second most frequently played position.

I bring this up because the previously-mentioned ex-all-American (in another sport) turned actor who's a friend of mine asked me to name who I thought were the best African-American players of all-time at each position, including Negro Leaguers. I gave Mays the edge over Charleston, and thus Gibson and Paige were the only Negro League players on my list: Gibson, Paige, Murray (narrowly), Morgan, Ozzie (not Larkin), Bonds, Mays and Aaron, plus, at third, Terry Pendleton.

He said, "What the hell is Terry Pendleton doing on a list like THAT?! I told him I couldn't think of anyone better, and, when James subsequently released his magnum opus, my recollection is that neither could he. Then right about that time, Dihigo got enshrined and I started reading about him. IF he qualifies as a 3rd baseman, he's on that team... unless you're going to do the same thing with Jackie Robinson, count him as a third baseman (his second most frequent position), and then you've got a hell of question on your hands....

Baseball History Nut

posted on Oct, 26 2005 @ 05:42 PM
In a poll conducted in the early 1980s among ex-Negro League players and other experts on black baseball, Dihigo gathered votes as best all-time outfielder and third baseman, and was voted to the first team all-time black all-star team as a second baseman

i think it would be safe to include him on your list at third base, he is also the only player to be inducted into baseball hall of fames in Cuba, Mexico, and the US...

posted on Oct, 26 2005 @ 05:55 PM
OK, good enough. No way in hell he rates ahead of Charleston, but if his peers voted in significant numbers that he was the best third baseman, then they must have regarded him as a third baseman. Jackie Robinson played 256 MLB games at 3B, and 748 at 2B, so rating him at 3B would obviously be just trying to find a place to squeeze him in on the team. And I ain't gonna put him ahead of Morgan.

Baseball History Nut

posted on Oct, 26 2005 @ 06:32 PM
Well, this seems like a good place to put this brief rant:

I am watching the pre-game to the fourth, and likely final, game of the World Series. They just unveiled the "all-time" Latino MLB team. NOWHERE ON THAT TEAM IS MINNIE MINOSO.

Now, anyone who has James' book has to know how unjust this is. Minoso never got to play in MLB until he was 28, and from that point on he had a better career than the vast majority of Hall of Famers. He was routinely in the Top 10 in all sorts of categories--including on-base percentage 9 times in 10 years, slugging 6 times in 10 years, OPS 8 times in 10 years, runs scored 9 times in 10 years, total bases 9 times in 10 years, and runs created 9 times in 10 years-- from 1951-1960. He LED the league in HBP in 9 of those 10 years, plus the next year.

And you have to figure that Minoso lost at least three PRIME seasons, 1946-1948, due to segregation. More, if he did not serve in WWII, though it's unlikely he would have played in MLB without military service in 1943-1945, when he was 20, 21 and 22.

They put Pujols on this team, which is fine if he has another 7 or 8 great seasons, but otherwise it's way premature. They put Edgar Martinez on this team, and it's not clear to me that Martinez was better than Minoso plus the 3 prime seasons he lost. (Remember, everyone rightfully agrees guys like DiMaggio, Feller and Greenberg should get credit for prime years missed in WWII. Why not Minoso for 3 prime years missed due to institutionalized racism?) Yes, Minoso was a subaverage outfielder, but he was a lot better defensively than Martinez.

Toejam, you mentioned the possibility that Clemente's popularity is in part a product of his being the first bigtime star from the Caribbean, which makes sense to me. But wasn't Minoso the first big Latin American MLB star? And his ability to laugh at the hatred is amazing. As you know, James reports the incident in which Minoso went with a white teammate into a restaurant, only to have an embarrassed waiter inform him, "Sorry, sir, but we don't serve colored people." To which Minoso replied, "That's all right. I don't eat colored people."

He's gotta be on that all-time team.

Baseball History Nut

posted on Oct, 26 2005 @ 07:11 PM
i was also suprised when i saw the team earlier today, i think that you must remember that it was a fan poll, online and at chevy dealers that determined the 12 players...there are a new generation of fans and a lot of the history of the game is being forgotten, i would like to see the team done again, this time by baseball historians, i think that the results would be much different

for those of you who missed it here are the selections

Ivan Rodriguez, Puerto Rico, C; (1991-current): A 12-time All-Star, Rodriguez won 10 consecutive Gold Glove Awards and was selected to play in nine straight All-Star Games starting in 1992. He was named the 1999 AL Most Valuable Player after hitting .332 with 35 home runs and 113 RBIs. He finished that season with 199 hits. He has played in at least 100 games per season 12 times since 1992.

Albert Pujols, Dominican Republic, 1B (2001-current): Only 25 years old, Pujols' best days could be ahead of him. Arguably one of the best hitters in the Major Leagues, the right-handed slugger hits for average and power and is always among the top candidates for the NL's Most Valuable Player Award. He hit 37 home runs and drove in 130 runs as a rookie with St. Louis in 2001.

Rod Carew, Panama, 2B (1967-1985): An 18-time All-Star, Carew won seven batting titles and hit .300 or better -- including a .388 mark in 1977 -- in 15 consecutive seasons. He was named the AL MVP in 1977 and AL Rookie of the Year in 1967. With 3,053 hits, Carew is one of three players from Latin America with at least 3,000 hits. Roberte Clemente and Rafael Palmeiro are the others. He is one of seven players from Latin America in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Edgar Martinez, Puerto Rico, 3B (1987-2004): Martinez could be regarded as the greatest designated hitter in baseball, but he spent the first part of his 18-year career with the Mariners at third base. Martinez walked away from baseball in 2004 with 309 home runs, 514 doubles, a .312 career batting average and a .418 career on-base percentage. A seven-time All-Star selection, Martinez arguably had his best year in 1995, when he led the league in hitting (.356), on-base percentage (.479), runs (121), and doubles (52). He also won the Roberto Clemente Award in 2004.

Alex Rodriguez, Dominican Republic, SS (1994-current) : Regarded as one of the best all-around players in the game, Rodriguez shined as a shortstop before moving to third base for the Yankees prior to the 2004 season. Rodriguez was named the AL's Most Valuable Player in 2003 and he became the youngest player ever to reach the 400-home run plateau in 2005. A two-time Gold Glove winner at shortstop, Rodriguez is a nine-time All-Star.

Mariano Rivera, Panama, Relief Pitcher (1995-current): Regarded as one of the most reliable closers in baseball, Rivera ranks inside the top ten in career saves. Before becoming the Yankees full-time closer in 1997, the right-hander set a club record in 1996 for the most strikeouts by a reliever with 130. Rivera, who saved 40 or more games in a season five times and 50 or more twice, led the Yankees to World Championships in 1996 and 1998-2000, while winning the 1999 World Series MVP. The seven-time All Star has finished five seasons with an ERA under 2.00 while never completing a season with an ERA above 3.00 as a reliever.

Roberto Clemente, Puerto Rico, OF (1955-1972): With his induction in 1973, Clemente was the first Hispanic-American to be selected to the Hall of Fame and the only player to be exempt from the mandatory five-year post-retirement waiting period. Clemente spent 18 seasons with the Pirates, recording 3,000 hits, 240 home runs and 1,305 RBIs. A 12-time All-Star selection and 12-time Gold Glove winner, Clemente won his only MVP award in 1966, despite collecting four batting titles in the 60's. He also helped the Pirates claim the 1971 World Series title.

Manny Ramirez, Dominican Republic, OF (1993-current): Ramirez spent eight seasons in Cleveland before his current five-year stint with Boston. A nine-time All-Star, seven-time Silver Slugger and winner of the 2004 World Series MVP award, Ramirez earned the batting title in 2002 with a .349 average and led the league in slugging percentage in 1999, 2000 and 2004.

Vladimir Guerrero, Dominican Republic, OF (1996-current): After eight seasons with Montreal, Guerrero won his first MVP award with the Angels in 2004 by hitting .337 with 39 home runs and 129 RBIs. He has hit over .300 in every season since 1997, reaching the 200-hit mark three times and leading the league in that category (206) in 2002. A seven-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger, Guerrero stole 138 bases through his first nine seasons to go along with 273 home runs and 828 RBIs.

Pedro Martinez, Dominican Republic, Starting Pitcher (1992-present): A three-time Cy Young Award winner, Martinez won for the first time in 1997, while with the Expos, and in 1999 and 2000 with the Red Sox. Martinez entered the 2005 season with a .705 winning percentage -- the best among pitchers with 200 or more decisions. In 1999, he became the first pitcher in history to have 300-strikeout seasons in each league.

Juan Marichal, Dominican Republic, Starting Pitcher (1960-1975): Marichal compiled 243 wins and a 2.89 ERA. He started 451 games and completed 244 of them, pitching 52 shutouts. He was inducted into Cooperstown in 1983, the first player from the Dominican Republic to enter the Hall of Fame.

Fernando Valenzuela, Mexico, Starting Pitcher (1980-1997): In 17 big-league seasons, Valenzuela compiled a 173-153 record and a 3.54 ERA for the Dodgers, Angels, Orioles, Phillies, Padres and Cardinals. He threw a no-hitter for the Dodgers in 1990 and ranks among the all-time leaders in nearly all of the franchise's record books.

posted on Oct, 26 2005 @ 08:43 PM
Thanks for the explanation. I didn't realize it was a fan poll. That, of course, explains Minoso's omission.

Baseball History Nut

posted on Oct, 28 2005 @ 04:40 PM
here is a follow up on the all Latino baseball team from

New England baseball historian Bill Nowlin, among others, raised questions why Ted Williams, who was of Mexican ancestry on his mother's side, was not included on the Latino Legends ballot, according to the BOSTON GLOBE.

Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson was another critic, citing his Mexican ancestry and wondering why he wasn't on the ballot, either. Ramirez was a no-show for the ceremony honoring the team.

i didn't see the ballot but it would be real interesting to see who MLB had on there, this could be another reason Minnie Minoso wasn't on the team....

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