Oscar McKinley Charleston
- Bats Left, Throws Left
- Height 6' 0", Weight 200 lb.
- Negro Leagues Debut Year 1915
- Negro Leagues Final Year 1941
- Born October 14, 1896 in Indianapolis, IN USA
- Died October 5, 1954 in Philadelphia, PA USA
"Charleston could hit that ball a mile. He didn't have a weakness." - Dizzy Dean
Oscar Charleston is considered by many experts to have been the greatest ballplayer of the Negro Leagues. Bill James ranked him as the fourth-greatest player of all time in his New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. He was primarily a center fielder in the early part of his career, switching to left field and then to first base as he aged. He is among the top five Negro Leaguers in batting average and home runs, as well as the all-time leader in stolen bases.
Charleston began his career in 1915 after having served in the Philippines, where he was a big star as a pitcher for the all-black 24th Infantry Regiment. His catcher at the time was Bullet Joe Rogan. Over his career, he played for the Indianapolis ABCs (1915-1918, 1920, 1922-1923), New York Lincoln Stars (1915-1916), Bowser's ABCs (1916), Chicago American Giants (1919), St. Louis Giants (1921), Harrisburg Giants (1924-1927), Hilldale (1928-1929), Homestead Grays (1930-1931), Pittsburgh Crawfords (1932-1938), Toledo Crawfords (1939), Indianapolis Crawfords (1940), and Philadelphia Stars (1941). He managed the Pittsburgh Crawfords (1932-1938), Philadelphia Stars (1941, 1942-1944, 1946-1950), Brooklyn Brown Dodgers (1945), and the Indianapolis Clowns (1954). He also was an umpire. When the Brooklyn Dodgers began to sign players form the Negro Leagues after the end of World War II, Branch Rickey employed him as a de facto scout and it was on his recommendation that he signed Roy Campanella, among others. He died about one month after having led the Clowns to the NAL pennant.
Charleston was later described as having had a terrible temper and being in numreous fights with opposing players, umpires, police, and even armed soldiers, but this is greatly exaggerated. As a 19-year-old with the Indianapolis ABCs, however, he did get into a famous fight on October 17, 1915, when he decked a white umpire with a punch while rushing to the defence of teammate Bingo DeMoss, who had started the fight; the incident nearly caused a race riot (the ABCs were playing a team of while "All-Stars") and both DeMoss and Charleston were arrested and eventually found guilty and fined relatively small amounts. According to legend, Charleston once ripped the hood off a Klansman who had confronted him. Despite (or perhaps because of) his aggressiveness, he was one of the most popular figures in the Negro Leagues throughout his playing and managing career.
Negro Leagues Career Statistics
|1916||New York Lincoln Stars
|1919||Chicago American Giants
|1921||St. Louis Giants||NNL||76||279||104||122||17||12||15||91||32||41||.437||.746|
|1938||did not play|
|Averages||per 162 g||6.80||162||604||147||214||36||15||23||119||36||78||.354||.578|
- sources: www.seamheads.com (1916-1922), Gary Ashwill & Kevin Johnson; Shades of Glory, Hogan et al, ppg. 384-385 (1923-1941)
- Jeremy Beer: "Hothead: How the Oscar Charleston Myth Began", Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Vol. 46, Nr. 1 (Spring 2017), pp. 5-15.
- Jeremy Beer: Oscar Charleston: The Life and Legend of Baseball’s Greatest Forgotten Player, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE, 2019. ISBN 978-1-4962-1711-0