For almost 30 years Cool Papa Bell maintained his reputation as the fastest man in baseball. His tremendous speed on the basepath and defensively in the outfield gave rise to numerous stories, mostly exaggerated. Satchel Paige often told a story about sharing a room with Bell while on the road with the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Bell, the story went, could turn out the light in the room and be in bed before the room got dark.
Other stories highlighted his speed around the bases, such as the one that Jimmie Crutchfield often told. "Cool Papa was so fast that one time when we were playing with the Crawfords against the Birmingham team he hit a ground ball right past the pitcher and that ball hit Cool Papa as he slid into second base!"
Exaggeration notwithstanding, Bell was undoubtedly the fastest base runner in the Negro Leagues. Coupled with his hitting prowess (hitting over .400 in several seasons) and fielding talents Bell's speed propelled him to one of the longest active careers in the Negro Leagues.
Bell began his career as a combination outfielder/pitcher with the St. Louis Stars in 1922. In 1932 he joined the powerhouse Pittsburgh Crawfords squad, a team that boasted a lineup that included four future members of baseball's Hall-Of-Fame. Later, he contributed to the lineups of the Homestead Grays and Kansas City Monarchs.
Although there is no question that Bell would have been a star in any league, the integration of the major leagues in the late 1940s came too late for him. Nonethless, he made significant contributions to major league baseball through his efforts as a coach with the Kansas City Monarchs, grooming such young stars as Jackie Robinson for the major leagues.
In 1974 Bell was inducted into the National Baseball Hall Of Fame.