From SABR member Frank Ceresi at The National Pastime Museum on May 15, 2013:
Forty-some years ago, when very few baseball scholars had much information, let alone interest, in what we now loosely call the Negro Leagues, it fell upon one or two dedicated historians to dig into the history that was, for all intents and purposes, totally unknown. Many had a vague notion of the clever Satchel Paige or the mighty slugger Josh Gibson, but what about the others? There was virtually no mention of those players either on my Topps Gum cards or in Cooperstown’s hallowed halls. But what about the hundreds of men who toiled in the “other” league, a separate league from the majors, where ballplayers were largely confined to back roads, country parks, and barnstorming games? In other words, who were these men who were prevented from playing in the majors simply because of the pigment of their skin?
That is when John Holway, a man who I consider a National Treasure, stepped into the fold to help answer those questions for my generation and those that will come forever. And to answer those questions, Mr. Holway embarked upon a task that was not easy. I have since learned from John, who today is a close friend of mine, that his own interest in black ball was also peaked right in my own back yard when, in 1943, as a young boy he saw Satchel’s Kansas City Monarchs pitch against Gibson and the Grays at Griffith Stadium. John tucked his childhood memory away until years later, then a pretty accomplished baseball historian himself (he had written the very first books on Japanese baseball and sumo wrestling to be translated into English after serving in Korea in the early 1950s), John began to comb the sports pages from arcane newspapers stashed at the Library of Congress for baseball coverage and statistics related to those who played in the Negro Leagues, that “other” league.
Eventually, by piecing together bits and pieces of information culled from his copious research notes and interviews, John published a series of five books dedicated exclusively to the Negro Leagues. And, God willing, there are more to come! As John and I became close friends, he shared with me many of his research files. Amongst them was this amazing story that he coaxed from one of the great Negro Leaguers who is also in the Baseball Hall of Fame, James “Cool Papa” Bell. The content is so amazing, even reading it nearly 40 years after John compiled it, that we have decided to present this to you in a series of several segments. By the time you read each part of this series, you will know much about “Cool Papa” Bell, the ballplayer and the man.
Originally published: May 15, 2013. Last Updated: May 15, 2013.