How Fast Was Cool Papa Bell?

This article was written by Jim Bankes

This article was published in The National Pastime: Premiere Edition (1982)

Just how fast was Cool Papa Bell? Well, listen to the master story teller, Satchel Paige.

“One day, when I was pitchin’ to Cool, he drilled one right through my legs and was hit in the back by his own ground ball when he slid into second.”

Or, how about this? Satchel again. “Bell was so fast that he could turn out the light and jump in bed before it got dark.” Paige amused people with this claim for nearly 40 years but, of course, nobody really believed him.

Finally, at the 1981 Negro Baseball Reunion in Ashland, Kentucky, Cool Papa assured everyone that his friend was telling the truth. “During the 1937 winter season, Satchel and I roomed together in California. One night, before he got back, I turned out the light, but it didn’t go off right away. There was a delay of about three seconds between the time I flipped the switch and the time the light went out. Must of been a short or something.

“I thought to myself, here’s a chance to turn the tables on Ol’ Satch. He was always playing tricks on everybody else, you know. Anyway, when he came back to the room, I said, ‘Hey Satch, I’m pretty fast, right?’

 ‘You’re the fastest,’ he said.

“Well, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet, I told him. 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 just sit down and watch. I turned off the light, jumped in bed, and pulled the covers all the way up to my chin. Then, the light went out.

“It was the only time I ever saw Satchel speechless. Anyway, he was telling the truth all these years.”