Oscar Charleston- The Greatest Player We Never Saw

With the Hall of Fame ceremonies in Cooperstown a couple weeks ago, I have been thinking about the Hall of Fame and about an idea the Bill James had years ago. Today if you visit Cooperstown and you visit the Hall of Fame section where the plaques are- all the Hall of Famers are presented equally. Nothing separates the Babe Ruth’s, Ty Cobb’s and Henry Aaron’s-the truly elite from your players whose being in the Hall are controversial. James has had the idea of making the Hall- a Pyramid of Fame-  you have 5ive levels, the bottom level- the borderline players make up the biggest section and you narrow it down until you get to the top where you have the truly greatest players who pretty much every expect would agree were the best of the best. I love this idea not only would it distinguish the best from the rest but it would create a lot of interest in the Hall of Fame, and probably increase attendance at the Hall of Fame and Museum. I think it would stir up a lot of interest, Sandy Koufax for example, what level Hall of Famer his he? I think most would agree he is not an entry level guy but is he a truly elite or a level below? I love those type of discussions.

The great players from the Negro Leagues would be difficult to define. Sadly, before 1947 they had to play in a separate league. There were players who played in that league who would have without a doubt shined if they had been given the opportunity to play in the major leagues.

One of the players I would have loved to have seen was Oscar Charleston. He was a centerfielder who played from 1915 until 1941. He was a power hitter and a great contact hitter. He is considered by those who saw him one of the finest defensive centerfielders of all-times. When he played in exhibition games over the years against all-white major league teams he played in 53 games, had 11 home runs and batted .318. He was compared by those who saw him to Babe Ruth and Tris Speaker. How great was he? Sadly, we will never know. But from all the evidence we have I would put him in the elite category. One of the all-time greats. Bill James in his New Baseball Historical Abstract- has Charleston as the 4th greatest player of all times. Buck O’Neil- who played in the Negro Leagues against Charleston, who lived until the age of 94 and died in 2006, so he saw a lot of baseball over those years- said that the greatest major league baseball player he ever saw was Willie Mays. Buck added that the best baseball player ever saw was Oscar Charleston.

Oscar Charleston died in 1954 at the age of 57. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976.