Cool Papa Bell

From BR Bullpen

2001 Fleer Greats of the Game #64 Cool Papa Bell

James Thomas Bell
born as James Thomas Nichols

  • Bats Both, Throws Left
  • Height 6' 0", Weight 155 lb.

Inducted into Hall of Fame in 1974

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Biographical Information[edit]

"One time he hit a line drive right past my ear. I turned around and saw the ball hit his ass sliding into second." - Satchel Paige about Bell

James "Cool Papa" Bell was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on February 13, 1974 by the Special Committee on the Negro Leagues. He is famous for legendary tales about his speed, many of them spun by the great Satchel Paige, but he was an outstanding player in his own right in the Negro Leagues.

For over 40 years, Satchel Paige claimed that “Bell was so fast he could flip the switch and then jump in bed before the light went out.” At a 1981 Negro League reunion in Ashland, Kentucky, Bell came clean about this story:

During one winter season in the late 1930’s, Satchel and I roomed together out in California. One night, before he got back, I turned off the light, but it didn’t go out right away. There was a delay of about three seconds between the time I flipped the switch and the time the light went out. There must have been a short or something. I thought to myself, here’s a chance to fool ol’ Satch. He was always playing tricks on everybody else, you know. Anyway, when he came back, I said, ‘Hey, Satch, I’m pretty fast, right?’ ‘You’re the fastest,’ he said. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘you haven’t seen anything yet. Why, I’m so fast, I can turn out the light and be in bed before the room gets dark.’ ‘Sure, Cool. Sure you can,’ he said. I told him to sit down and watch. I turned off the light, jumped in bed, and pulled the covers up to my chin. Then the lights went out. I howled and Satchel was speechless for once. Anyway, he’s been telling the truth all these years.


Bell migrated from Mississippi to the St. Louis, MO area in 1920, joining family members who had already done so, and began his baseball career in 1921 pitching for the semi-pro Compton Hill (St. Louis) Cubs, playing alongside three of his older half-brothers, Lee, Robert, and Sam. He signed with the St. Louis Stars on May 3, 1922 and was their top pitcher the next season, going 11-7 with a 4.53 ERA, leading the team in victories and ERA. Another half-brother, Fred Bell, pitched for the Stars in 1923. He was suspended by NNL president Gus Greenlee after jumping to the Dominican Republic in 1937 but was later reinstated.

Bell won a Triple Crown in the 1940 Mexican League. His .437 average led the league by 73 points ahead of fellow Hall of Famer Martin Dihigo and his 12 homers edged Ted Strong and Josh Gibson by one (though Gibson did not play the whole year in Mexico). Bell also led the league in OBP, slugging (by 65 points over Strong), runs (24 more than Willie Wells) and triples and finished one behind Wells and Wild Bill Wright in doubles. Amazingly, the speedster was only 3rd in steals, behind Sammy Bankhead and Wright.

Bell's batting hand changed over time. It appears that he was a righty hitter when he first came up with St. Louis. In 1924, Manager Big Bill Gatewood taught him to switch-hit, making him a far more valuable offensive player. The Mexican League encyclopedia lists him as a lefty, so he may have stopped being a switch-hitter late in his career.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 7-time NNL All-Star (1933-1936 & 1942-1944)
  • 5-time NNL At-Bats Leader (1927-1929, 1933 & 1934)
  • 5-times NNL Runs Scored Leader (1925-1927, 1931 & 1935)
  • NNL Hits Leader (1934)
  • 6-time NNL Singles Leader (1926-1929, 1933 & 1934)
  • NNL Doubles Leader (1925)
  • 4-time NNL Bases on Balls Leader (1933-1935 & 1944)
  • 8-time NNL Stolen Bases Leader (1925-1927, 1929, 1931, 1933, 1934 & 1945)
  • Won two Negro World Series with the Homestead Grays in 1943 and 1944
  • Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 1974

Further Reading[edit]

  • Manny Randhawa: "Cool Papa Bell: Faster Than Light", "The Negro Leagues", [2]
  • Lonnie Wheeler: The Bona Fide Legend of Cool Papa Bell: Speed, Grace and the Negro Leagues, Abrams Books, New York, NY, 2021. ISBN 978-1419750489

Related Sites[edit]