Cool was so fast, he could turn out the light and jump in bed before it got dark. – Satchel Paige
James “Cool Papa” Bell is considered to have been the fastest man to ever play professional baseball.
James Thomas Bell was born on May 17, 1903, in Starkville, Mississippi. He was the son of Jonas Bell and Mary Nichols. He was raised along with two sisters and four brothers. His mother sharecropped with her brother on their father’s land, but Bell had his eyes set on baseball. Baseball was something that stayed on his mind.
He later worked in the creamery at the Agricultural and Mechanical College in Starkville. There he learned to grade cotton at its agricultural experiment station. He wanted to attend night school, but instead of attending classes he cut to play baseball in the park. He eventually attended school and even finished two years of high school. But, baseball was Bell’s main interest and he joined his brothers on an amateur St. Louis baseball team. In 1922, he signed with the St. Louis Stars in the Negro League, and from there his professional baseball career began that lasted nearly thirty years as a player and coach. Bell played his last game a year before Jackie Robinson broke the major league color barrier in 1947.
His teammates gave him the nickname “Cool Papa” at the age of 19 and still a rookie on the team. His reactions to hearing he made the headlines in a newspaper didn’t alarm him and he was also known to remain cool throughout the games played, so he became known as “Cool Papa.” Bell’s speed as an outfielder and around the bases got people to talking and many of them had accurate stories to tell about the player while other stories might have been a bit exaggerated. In 1974, Bell was inducted into the National Baseball Hall Of Fame. Bell died March 7, 1991.