I had the pleasure of interviewing former Negro leagues player Harold Hair last month. That statement ought to be qualified immediately. Hair was a good hitter for the Birmingham Black Barons and the Kansas City Monarchs, hitting (according to him) .355 in 1958, but he isn’t just a former ballplayer. An alumnus of North Carolina A&T, he’s a former high school basketball coach, athletic director, construction superintendent, and pastor, among other things. He is also the subject of this recent Florida newspaper profile. Eighty-four years old, he lives in Jacksonville, Florida, today.
Hair told me that he met Oscar Charleston in 1953. He couldn’t remember where. It might have been the East-West all-star game in Chicago, he thought. Oscar was out of the game, formally, in 1953, but it strikes me as quite possible that he came to the game, where he had long been a fixture, anyway.
Hair recalled that Oscar was a “big guy” and a “nice guy.”
While Hair was sitting around with Oscar and some other players, Oscar, then 56, decided to show off how strong he was. He took a baseball in his hands, twisted it, and tore the cover right off.
Hair insisted that this really happened. I had read somewhere that Oscar could perform this feat, and I told Harold I thought it might have been a legend. “That was no legend,” he replied.
I think I’ll take his word for it.