Why Was Oscar Charleston Forgotten?


History, more often than we would like, is an unjust judge. Consider the case of Oscar Charleston, a baseball player who for nearly 40 years was one of the most talented, charismatic, and profoundly intense competitors in the Negro Leagues.

Today, almost no one—including serious baseball fans—knows the slightest thing about Charleston, despite the fact that he arguably pieced together the best overall résumé of any figure in baseball’s storied history.

That résumé has three basic components: First, Charleston was a stupendously good player—so good that in 2001 the celebrated baseball analyst and historian Bill James rated him the fourth-greatest player of all time, behind only Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, and Willie Mays. Second, Charleston was a highly successful manager. He won three Negro Leagues championships as a manager and in one poll of ex-players was named the greatest skipper in the leagues’ history. And third, Charleston was a trailblazing scout—probably the first African…

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