On this day in 1974, James “Cool Papa” Bell was inducted in the the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Said to be the fastest man to ever run the base paths, he played in the National Negro League and in Latin America, and finished his professional career with a .341 batting average; he hit .391 in exhibitions against then all-white MLB players.
Originally a pitcher who moved to center field, Bell first signed a pro contract at age 17, and spent the next 29 years playing and managing. After Bell’s Negro League days were over, Bell lived in an old red-brick apartment in St. Louis. He worked as a scout for the St. Louis Browns for four years, then served as a security guard and custodian at St. Louis City Hall until 1970. Bell suffered a heart attack and died at Saint Louis University Hospital on March 7, 1991; his beloved wife Clara had passed a few weeks earlier.
Of Bell’s speed, Satchel Paige once remarked “Bell was so fast he could turn off the light and be under the covers before the room got dark.”