Oscar Charleston

Oscar McKinley Charleston
Inducted to the Hall of Fame in: 1976
Primary team: Pittsburgh Crawfords
Primary position: Center Fielder

“Charlie was a tremendous left-handed hitter who could also bunt, steal a hundred bases a year, and cover center field as well as anyone before him or since…he was like Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Tris Speaker rolled into one.” – Buck O’Neil

As a youth, Oscar Charleston was a batboy for his hometown Indianapolis ABC’s. At the age of 15, he enlisted in the military, and was sent to the Phillipines, where he played baseball with the 24th Negro Infantry. In 1915, still a teenager, Charleston returned to Indianapolis and quickly became a star center fielder for the ABC’s. The next year he led them to the first of many championships in his career.

A powerful hitter who could hit to all fields and bunt, Charleston was also extremely fast on the base paths and in center field. He played a very shallow center, almost behind second base, and his great speed and instincts helped him outrun many batted balls. He had a powerful arm. Coupled with this great natural ability was a Cobb-like aggressive demeanor and will to win. His temper flared on and off the field, and a story is told in which Charleston ripped the mask off a Ku Klux Klan member and confronted him face-to-face.

His finest season was likely 1921 – when he hit well over .400 and led the Negro National League in doubles, triples, and homers. He won batting titles in the Eastern Colored League in 1924 and 1925.

From the mid-1920s on, he was a player-manager for several clubs. In 1932, he joined the Pittsburgh Crawfords and would manage the club many consider the finest Negro League team of all time, featuring five future Hall of Famers including himself, Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson, and Satchel Paige. Charleston hit three home runs in leading the Crawfords to victory in the seven-game championship in 1935 against the New York Cubans.

He played nine seasons of winter ball in Cuba, amassing statistics quite similar to his Negro League achievements. He is thought to have hit .326 lifetime in exhibition games against white major leaguers. In the 1940s, Charleston scouted for Branch Rickey, making recommendations on the best players to consider for the job of integrating the major leagues. He managed as late as 1954, when he led the Indianapolis Clowns to a league championship. That fall he suffered a stroke and died. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976.

Said Satchel Paige of Charleston: “You had to see him to believe him.”

"Some people asked me, 'Why are you playing so close to the right-field foul line?' What they didn't know was that Charleston covered all three fields, and my responsibility was to make sure of balls down the line and those in foul territory. "
Dave Malarcher

Career stats

Year Inducted: 1976
Primary Team: Pittsburgh Crawfords
Position Played: Center Fielder
Bats: Left
Throws: Left
Birth place: Indianapolis, Indiana
Birth year: 1896
Died: 1954, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Played for:
New York Lincoln Giants (1916)
Indianapolis ABCs (1917-1918)
Chicago American Giants (1919)
Detroit Stars (1919)
Indianapolis ABCs (1920)
St. Louis Giants (1921)
Indianapolis ABCs (1922-1923)
Harrisburg Giants (1924-1927)
Hilldale Daisies (1928-1931)
Pittsburgh Crawfords (1933-1937)
Philadelphia Stars (1941)
Pittsburgh Crawfords (1939-1940)
Pittsburgh Crawfords (1932-1938)
Philadelphia Stars (1941)
Philadelphia Stars (1942-1944)
Philadelphia Stars (1946-1950)
At BatsAB
Home RunsHR
Stolen BasesSB
Batting AverageBA
On Base %OBP
Slugging %SLG