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Oscar Charleston

The Life and Legend of Baseball's Greatest Forgotten Player

Jeremy Beer

Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
Imprint: University of Nebraska Press
Published: 11/2019
Pages: 472
Subject: Biography and Autobiography
eBook ISBN: 9781496217820


2020 SABR Seymour Medal  2019 CASEY Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year Buck O'Neil once described him as "Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, and Tris Speaker rolled into one." Among experts he is regarded as the best player in Negro Leagues history. During his prime he became a legend in Cuba and one of black America's most popular figures. Yet even among serious sports fans, Oscar Charleston is virtually unknown today. In a long career spanning from 1915 to 1954, Charleston played against, managed, befriended, and occasionally fought men such as Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Jesse Owens, Roy Campanella, and Branch Rickey. He displayed tremendous power, speed, and defensive instincts along with a fierce intelligence and commitment to his craft. Charleston's competitive fire sometimes brought him trouble, but more often it led to victories, championships, and profound respect. While Charleston never played in the Major Leagues, he was a trailblazer who became the first black man to work as a scout for a Major League team when Branch Rickey hired him to evaluate players for the Dodgers in the 1940s. 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's combined record as a player, manager, and scout makes him the most accomplished figure in black baseball history. His mastery of the quintessentially American sport under the conditions of segregation revealed what was possible for black achievement, bringing hope to millions. Oscar Charleston introduces readers to one of America's greatest and most fascinating athletes.   


Jeremy Beer is a founding partner at American Philanthropic in Phoenix. He is the author of The Philanthropic Revolution: An Alternative History of American Charity and his writing on sports, society, and culture has appeared in the Washington Post, National Review, First Things, and the Baseball Research Journal, among many other venues.  


"There is a special place in heaven—or in Cooperstown, which is much the same thing—for the University of Nebraska Press, which continues to enrich our understanding of baseball history. It continues this noble work with Jeremy Beer's biography of Oscar Charleston. It does justice to the player whom Bill James rates as the greatest of all Negro Leagues players—and the fourth-greatest player of all time, behind only Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, and Willie Mays."—George F. Will, columnist and author of Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball    

"Weaving a story that is as entertaining as it is edifying, Jeremy Beer does the culture a great service by delivering a biography of the forgotten superstar Oscar Charleston—a man who lived on his own terms and played baseball like few others."—Charles Leerhsen, author of Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty  

"What if Oscar Charleston had still been in his prime when it came time for the color barrier to be broken in Major League Baseball? On sheer talent, he would have been an obvious choice to carry out the role subsequently championed by Jackie Robinson. In this crisp chronicle of Charleston's life, Jeremy Beer revitalizes the legend of an indomitably competitive man who deserves to be rated among baseball's true immortals."—Branch Rickey III, president of the Pacific Coast League