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Negro Leagues
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Negro Leagues Legacy

Stars of the Negro Leagues

The Ghost
Marcelle's problems sometimes overshadowed his brilliant baseball career
By Ken Mandel/MLB.com


Oliver Marcelle lost part of his nose during a dice game.
Born: June 24, 1897, Thibedeaux, La.
Died: June 12, 1949, Denver, Colo.
Bats: Right
Throws: Right

His exploits include smacking superstar Oscar Charleston over the head with a bat, engaging in a dice-game quarrel that led to him losing part of his nose and being there the night a teammate killed a man in a barroom fight.

Third baseman Oliver Marcelle certainly played baseball with an unrivaled fire, and is regarded as one of the most skilled defensive third baseman in black baseball, keeping company with Ray Dandridge and Judy Johnson. Marcelle's career spanned 17 years, including a three-year layoff from 1931 to 1933.

The player who could do everything well was idolized by fans and respected by the media. He was fast, covered lots of ground and wielded a strong, accurate arm. No other player matched his ability at knocking down lasers and recovering to record the out at first base.

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Nicknamed "Ghost," Marcelle's career began in 1914 with the semipro New Orleans Black Eagles, near his hometown of Thibedeaux, La. Four years later he turned pro with the Brooklyn Royal Giants, the first of four Giants teams he would play with.

In 1920, Marcelle began his first of two stints with the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants, sandwiched around a three-year stint with the New York Lincoln Giants from 1923 to 1925. Though 27-years-old, Marcelle already was deemed a veteran and was appointed captain of the Lincoln Giants in 1924. That season he and Frank Wickware were with teammate Dave Brown the night Brown killed a man in a barroom fight. Though not involved in the altercation, he and Wickware were arrested at the ballpark but later released.

The next season, after an earlier effort to return him to Atlantic City failed, New York traded sent him to the Bacharach Giants. There, Marcelle and Dick Lundy formed an impregnable left side of the infield, and Marcelle was an integral part of the team's pennant-winning teams of 1926-27. In the 1926 World Series loss to the Chicago American Giants, he hit .293.

When the Eastern Colored League folded in 1929, Marcelle moved with Lundy to the Baltimore Black Sox, and Marcelle, now 32, hit .288. From 1921-28, Marcelle hit more than .300 five times, and below that average two other seasons. His averages during that stretch ranged from .255 to .364. He also batted .305 in eight winter seasons in Cuba, and is credited with hitting .333 in exhibitions against Major Leaguers.

"Ghost" was a speedy base runner and fierce competitor, though demons still haunted him. The quick-tempered Marcelle often battled with umpires, opponents and teammates - including the incident with Charleston and the baseball bat.

In 1930, his demeanor during a dice-game argument with Frank Warfield ended with Warfield biting off part of Marcelle's nose. Marcelle wore a patch over the part of the nostril that had been bitten off, and some oral accounts suggest this incident indirectly led to the premature end of his career.

According to James A. Riley's Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Leagues, the vain Marcelle couldn't handle the razzing from fans and opposing players regarding his face and left the Negro Leagues shortly after. He resurfaced in independent leagues and staged a brief comeback in 1934 with the Miami Giants, but otherwise faded into obscurity.

He painted houses in Denver after retiring and was penniless when he died of arteriosclerosis in 1949 at the age of 51. One of his sons, Everett "Ziggy" Marcel (the son spelled the last name differently) carried on his legacy and enjoyed a 10-year career as a backup catcher and utility player in the Negro Leagues.

Ken Mandel is a writer/editor with MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.