Bell quietly tolls in Negro League lore
Steady pitcher overshadowed by more charismatic teammates
An overshadowed workhorse during his day in the Negro Leagues with the famed Kansas City Monarchs, right-handed pitcher William Bell has a chance to be recognized as an immortal.
Bell, a 5-foot-9, 180-pounder, pitched from 1923-37, the first eight of those years with Monarchs teams that collected stars and pennants. Bell, one of 39 players from the Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues eras being considered for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, toiled alongside such bright stars as Hall of Famer Wilber "Bullet" Joe Rogan and two others now being considered, Jose Mendez and Chet Brewer.
Also, Bell brought a quiet personality that was full of substance. Is there a good Bell story out there? Negro Leagues and baseball historian Phil Dixon, author of "The Negro Baseball Leagues: A Photographic History," said he has interviewed a number of former Monarchs for various projects and doesn't recall any signature stories. But Bell could be depended on to compete for nine innings. He completed 74 percent of the games he started.
"In the '20s, most of the relief pitching was done by 'Bullet' Rogan as he got older, but back then, guys expected to finish what they started, and William Bell did that," Dixon said. "He wasn't a drinker or a carouser and he took pretty good care of himself. I never heard a bad word about him.
"He was well-liked. He wasn't the most colorful guy they had, but he was real steady. He pitched on a lot of good teams with the Monarchs. He got to the East and was with a lot of good teams, too. William Bell was a good pitcher who pitched a long time, and was consistent enough to keep putting up good numbers after he left the Monarchs."
The result was a long career that also took him to the New York Harlem Stars, Detroit Wolves, Homestead Grays, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Newark Dodgers and Newark Eagles. According to a bio by Negro Leagues historian Dick Clark (one of the 12 members of a special panel of historians and researchers, each of whom will have a chance to vote for the candidates), Bell's 124-48 record gave him a .721 winning percentage, the highest in the history of the Negro Leagues.
Those were official league games, meaning they didn't count the constant barnstorming schedule against various teams. Had he played the 154-game schedule that was played in the Major Leagues at the time, Clark estimates Bell would have averaged an 18-7 record. Bell also gave up less than one hit per inning over his career.
He won 10 league games for the Monarchs from 1924-30, which could have easily been 20-win seasons with a different schedule. Bell also tied for the Cuban winter league lead in wins with nine in 1928-29.
Bell died on March 16, 1969, in El Campo, Texas, at age 71. As historians take a look back at the Negro Leagues, his recognition has grown. Bell is a fixture on lists of top pitchers from that era.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.