Quick Takes


    The most common sport to have two separate teams within one metropolitan area is baseball, with multiple teams in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay Area. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, Boston, St. Louis and Philadelphia also had two baseball franchises, but one franchise from each city relocated in the 1950s.
    The only area with at least two franchises in all four sports is New York, which is both the largest city and the largest metropolitan area in the United States. Five of the metro area's nine major sports franchises play outside the city limits; the NFL's Jets and Giants, the NBA's Nets, and the NHL's Devils all play in New Jersey, and the NHL's Islanders play on Long Island. However, all teams retain "New York" in their name except the Devils and Nets.

    Washington, D.C., from the start of the 2005 baseball season, hosts the Nationals, formerly the Montreal Expos. Washington had not had a MLB team since 1972 when the Senators moved to Texas. It could be argued that the Baltimore Orioles previously served as Washington's baseball team since the cities of Baltimore and Washington are less than 40 miles apart. In fact, the Orioles' dependence on the Washington market was great enough that Orioles owner Peter Angelos received concessions from MLB in exchange for his permitting a new team in Washington. In any event, Washington is now officially home to all four major sports.


Story of the Week


    I’ve written about the Negro Leagues before on my website, but I’ve never done a feature on one of the players who did as much for the Negro Leagues as any other, namely “Cool Papa” Bell. The stories linked to Bell are legendary. Some can be substantiated; all are quite interesting.


    Born May 17th, 1903 in Starkville, Mississippi, Bell joined the St. Louis Stars of the Negro National League as a pitcher in 1922. By 1924, he had become their starting centerfielder, and was known as an adept batter and fielder, and the "fastest man in the league". Bell had a brilliant career in the Negro League as well as the Mexican winter leagues through 1944. He last played for a Detroit semi-pro team in 1946. (Keep in mind that the MLB color line was not broken until Jackie Robinson did so in 1947.)


    He coached for the Kansas City Monarchs in the late 1940s, managing their barnstorming "B" team, scouting for the club, signing prospects, and teaching the ins and outs of the game to future major league baseball greats Jackie Robinson, Ernie Banks and Elston Howard, among others.


    Because of the opposition the Negro Leagues faced, and because of the lack of reliable press coverage of many of their games, no statistics can be given for Bell with any accuracy. What is undeniable is that Bell was considered to be one of the greats of his time by all the men he played with. He is recorded as having rounded the bases in 12 seconds. As the great Satchel Paige jokingly noted in his autobiography, Maybe I'll Pitch Forever, "Compared to Bell, Jesse Owens looked like he was walking.” I rather doubt that knowing the marks set by Jesse Owens, but the statement was certainly a testimony to Bell’s speed.


    Paige also liked to tell a tall tale referencing one hotel at which he and Bell stayed, in which there was a short delay between flipping the light switch off and the lights actually going off due to faulty wiring, sufficient for Bell to jump into bed in the interim. Leaving out the explanatory details, Paige liked to say that Bell was "so fast he can turn off the light and be in bed before the room gets dark!" Paige also joked of a time when facing Bell that the outfielder hit a line drive up the middle that went screaming past Paige's ear, and hit Bell in the buttocks as he was sliding into second base. It’s a funny line, buy highly improbable.


    Many tales exist of "Cool Papa." For example, one claims that Bell scored from second base on a sacrifice fly. Another states that he went from first to third on a bunt, which is possible for a speedy runner if the fielded ball was thrown to first for the sure out and the first baseman was unable to make the long throw to third in time.


    More astonishing is the claim related in Ken Burns’ Baseball that he once scored from first on a sacrifice bunt. In an exhibition game against white all-stars, Bell broke for second on a bunt and run, with Satchel Paige at the plate. By the time the ball reached Paige, Bell was almost to second and rounded the bag, seeing the third baseman had broken towards home to field the bunt. The catcher, Roy Partee of the Boston Red Sox, ran to third to cover the bag and an anticipated return throw from first. To his surprise, Bell rounded third and brushed by him on the way home. Pitcher Murry Dickson of the St. Louis Cardinals had not thought to cover home with the catcher moving up the line, and Bell scored standing up.


    Another article in Burns’ book states that he stole two bases on a single pitch, which is difficult but feasible if a catcher making the throw to second made a mediocre throw and had a second baseman or shortstop unable to catch the runner at third with a throw.


    There are many other possibly exaggerated anecdotes about Bell, such as running a full trip around the bases in 11 seconds. The most unlikely was that he was once called out for being hit by his own batted ball while trying to slide into second base. I don’t drink any longer, but when I did, I could not have consumed enough Manhattans to make me buy that one.


    The bottom line is the fact that Bell was a great baseball player. “Cool Papa” was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974.


    Bell died in his home on Dickson Street in St. Louis in 1991 at age 87. In his honor, the city renamed Dickson Street as "James 'Cool Papa' Bell Avenue". He has also been inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame.


    In 1999, Cool Papa Bell was ranked 66th on The Sporting News list of Baseball’s Greatest Players, one of five players so honored who played all or most of his career in the Negro Leagues, and was nominated as a finalist for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.


    Note: The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is located in Kansas City, MO. It is an important cultural experience.


Last Week’s Trivia


    Mike Ditka is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He has championship rings as a player, a coach and an owner. He has a ring from Super Bowl VI as a player for the Dallas Cowboys. He was head coach of the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX. And he was an owner of the 2006 Chicago Rush of the Arena Football League. (Ditka also was responsible for one of the most ridiculous (if not the most ridiculous from the standpoint of draft preparation) trades in NFL history while in control of the New Orleans Saints. He traded all of the Saints’ 1999 draft picks plus their first round draft pick in 2000 to the Redskins in order to move up in the ’99 draft to select Texas RB Ricky Williams. Ditka set the Saints franchise back for years.)


Trivia Question of the Week


    What is Bill Masterton’s sad legacy? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.