April 18, 2021

The Baseball 100: No. 84, Cool Papa Bell (The Athletic)


Starting in December and ending on Opening Day, we at The Athletic will count down the 100 greatest baseball players by publishing an essay on a player every day for 100 days. In all, this project will contain roughly as many words as “Moby Dick.” Yes, we know it’s nutty. We hope you enjoy. 

Here’s how fast James “Cool Papa” Bell was: Jesse Owens refused to race him.

We should begin briefly with Owens’ story: He was, as you no doubt know, the fastest man in the world in the 1930s, the fastest man the world had ever seen. One day in 1935, he set three world records. The next year, at the Olympics in Berlin, under the outstretched arm of Adolf Hitler, Owens won four Olympic gold medals. He came home to a ticker-tape parade down Fifth Avenue in New York City. He was, the papers said, an American hero.

This is the grand American legend that has passed down through the years.

But, in fact, Owens was not treated like an American…

Read “The Baseball 100: No. 84, Cool Papa Bell” at The Athletic