In the literature of the Negro Leagues, it’s common to come across claims that so-and-so prominent white baseball player or manager said such-and-such about not-so-prominent black baseball player or manager. In the case of Oscar Charleston, Dizzy Dean and John McGraw are often said to have offered high praise for his abilities.
Usually, it’s really hard to find original, first-hand quotes from these white figures about the black player in question. The quotes are simply repeated, and inevitably garbled, by writer after writer, memoirist after memoirist. McGraw, especially, commented on about every Negro Leaguer there was, at one point or another, if the literature is to be believed.
I’ve hunted for years for a good McGraw-on-Charleston source, without success. But here, at least, is a pretty good, if second-hand, source providing the great Detroit Tigers slugger Hank Greenberg‘s thoughts on Charleston. It’s from 1940, when Charleston’s playing career was all but over and Greenberg was at his peak (he won the AL MVP in 1940). The source is Al Moses, a respected African American columnist.
Just when Greenberg would have seen Charleston at the plate is unclear; he could have played against him in an exhibition, or he could have seen him play in New York, where Hank grew up.
Note the pairing of Oscar with Paige. Today we are often led to believe that during the Negro Leagues’ heyday Paige and Gibson towered over everyone else in the popular mind. This simply wasn’t the case. Paige was a uniquely powerful drawing card because of his charisma and theatrics, not to mention his ability, but Charleston was as popular and highly regarded among African American fans and sportswriters as anyone.