Bill James, Cristobal Torriente, Josh Gibson, Mickey Mantle, Oscar Charleston, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Satchel Paige, Willie Mays
As Black History Month winds down, a little bit more from Bill James on Oscar Charleston.
In the second edition of his Historical Baseball Abstract, James rated Charleston as the best Negro League player in 1921, 1922, 1923, and 1925, and as one of the two best players (along with Cristobal Torriente) from 1917 through 1919. Charleston, in other words, was James’s retrospective Negro Leagues MVP for up to seven years. Josh Gibson was James’s Negro Leagues MVP choice for five years, Buck Leonard for four, John Henry Lloyd for four, and the Cuban Torriente for up to four.
Charleston was named by James as having had the “best power/speed combination” of any player in the Negro Leagues. He was one of six players who could lay claim to the title of “most aggressive baserunner.” Charleston also made James’s Negro League Gold Glove team.
MVP-level hitting, power, speed, baserunning, fielding. Not a bad combination. Good enough to make Charleston, in James’s estimation, the best center fielder in Negro League history. And with respect to two more highly celebrated New York center fielders, well, “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.”
In sum, along with Josh Gibson at the plate and Satchel Paige on the mound, Oscar Charleston was for James one of three Negro Leaguers who could stake a credible claim to being the best ever at their positions.
Paige, Gibson, and Charleston played together for the 1932–36 Pittsburgh Crawfords. Not only did Charleston man first base for that team; he was also the manager.