Fast feet, Cool shoes
Negro League teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Satchel Paige claimed that Bell was faster than track star and Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens.
Yancey may have thought Bell’s feet were aloft, but these spikes clearly show the wear and use from making numerous round trips along the bases.
Though renowned for the speed he used to his advantage, Bell was a solid hitter, often batting .300 or higher. For many Negro League teams, it simply wasn’t enough to just get on base, but you had to do whatever was necessary to score runs. Bell and others took this to heart, sacrificing runners over a base or outlasting a pitcher to earn a walk.
“We played a different kind of baseball than the white teams. We played tricky baseball. We did things they didn’t expect,” Bell once said. “We’d bunt and run in the first inning. Then when they would come in for a bunt we’d hit away. We always crossed them up. We’d run the bases hard and make the fielders throw too quick and make wild throws. We’d fake a steal home and rattle the pitcher into a balk.”
More than 25 years of such tenacity and quick-thinking ultimately resulted in Bell’s election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974, making him the fifth person elected by the Negro League Committee. Joined by some of the previous Negro League electees at the Induction Ceremony, Bell offered a grateful response to his inclusion in the Hall of Fame.
“There were a lot of great ones in the Negro Leagues,” he said that August day. “We – Satchel, Irvin, Campy, Leonard, and myself – were the lucky ones. I’m thanking God for letting me smell the roses while I’m still living.”
Matt Rothenberg is the manager of the Giamatti Research Center at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum