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  • Bill Chastain

Happy for Cool Papa

Cool Papa Bell had been retired from baseball two years when he played in a post-season exhibition game in 1948 against a collection of major leaguers, including Cleveland Indians ace Bob Lemon.

The game took place in Los Angeles two complete baseball seasons after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier, a step forward for black players but one that did little for Bell, who had labored in relative obscurity for twenty-four years in the Negro leagues and now was past his prime.

White ballplayers knew of Bell and played against him during his heyday. Tales of his speed made him an urban legend before such a term existed. According to such legend, Bell once hit a line drive up the middle and the ball hit him as he slid into second base. And Bell had such speed he could turn out the light in his hotel room and be under the covers before it got dark. Fact or fiction, a curiosity about Bell prevailed in the crowd that night in Los Angeles.

Despite Bell’s age and rust, he doubled off Lemon during his first trip to the plate. Next time up, he singled off the All-Star and stood on first remembering what he’d learned from having seen Lemon pitch in the past. He was a "one-look guy." Stare hard at the runner then make the pitch.

Lemon did what Bell thought he would, setting off an extraordinary chain of events.

Bell took off knowing that the hitter would be bunting. After seeing that the sacrifice had been put down, he headed to second. Rather than slide, he rounded the bag and noticed the third baseman had not returned to cover the base after racing in to field the bunt. Bell took off for third.