“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.
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 an aggressive demeanor and will to win.
His finest season was likely 1925 when he hit .427 for the Harrisburg Giants to go with 20 homers and 97 RBI. 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 1933, he joined the Pittsburgh Crawfords and would manage the 1935 Crawfords club that many consider the finest Negro League team of all time, featuring four future Hall of Famers including himself: Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson and Judy Johnson. 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 big league achievements. 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.
Charleston passed away on Oct. 5, 1954. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1976.