Marcelle made his mark with glove
Third baseman remembered as one of the true greats
Few people would argue that third baseman Oliver Marcelle didn't play baseball or live life with unbridled passion. Nor can a persuasive argument be made that Marcelle wasn't one of the most skilled defensive third basemen in the history of black baseball.
It's his passion and his acknowledged excellence that might have Marcelle on the verge of baseball's grandest prize: selection to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Marcelle is one of 39 players and executives from black baseball who are under consideration for induction into Cooperstown. A panel of 12 baseball historians and Negro League experts is reviewing the credentials of players like Marcelle and will announce on Feb. 27 whether any of the 39 will gain immortality.
The case for Marcelle is built on credentials that are certainly worthy of the Hall of Fame.
"A rare gem afield, he could do everything," baseball historian James A. Riley wrote of Marcelle in "The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues." "He had no equal in knocking down hard-hit balls and getting his man at first. Whether making spectacular plays to his left or to his right, or fielding bunts like a master, he delighted fans."
Those baseball fans got their first glimpse of Marcelle in 1914 when he joined the New Orleans Black Eagles, a semi-pro team near his home in Thibedeaux, La. In 1918, he went to play for the Brooklyn Royal Giants.
Two years later, he began the first of two stints with the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants. He squeezed three years in with the New York Lincoln Giants (1923-25) around his two stints with the Bacharach Giants.
With the Lincoln Giants in 1924, Marcelle, 27, was named a team captain. In 1925, he went back to the Bacharach Giants in a trade. With Dick Lundy at shortstop, the two men gave the club a left side of the infield as strong as any in the history of baseball.
In 1926 and '27, Marcelle proved an integral part of the team's pennant-winning squads. In the 1926 World Series loss to the Chicago American Giants, he hit .293. He bounced around to a couple of teams over the next few years, but he also spent eight seasons playing Winter Ball in Cuba, where he's credited with hitting .333 in exhibitions against Major Leaguers.
In addition to his unequaled work with the glove, Marcelle, nicknamed "Ghost," had great speed on the bases and played the game at 100 mph. But he also possessed a hair-trigger temper, which often left him at odds with umpires, opponents and even his teammates.
One incident that was particularly notorious occurred when he got into an argument with teammate Oscar Charleston, one of the game's all-time greats. Marcelle put an end to the dispute when he hit Charleston over the head with a bat.
In 1930, Marcelle's Creole temper brought him more trouble. During a dice game, he got into a fight with Frank Warfield, who bit off part of Marcelle's nose. Marcelle, a vain man, wore a patch over the chunk of his nostril that Warfield bit off.
According to Riley's encyclopedia, the incident might have led to Marcelle's premature retirement. The chiding he took from fans and opposing players wore on Marcelle, and he quit the Negro Leagues shortly after the incident.
He kicked around a couple of independent baseball leagues for a few years, and then in 1934, he staged a short comeback with the Miami Giants. But from there, Marcelle lived in obscurity as a house painter in Denver. He died penniless June 12, 1949; he was 51.
Yet his legacy in baseball did live on. In 1952, the Pittsburgh Courier ran a poll of the all-time Negro League teams. Marcelle was selected over Hall of Famers Ray Dandridge and Judy Johnson as the greatest all-around third baseman.
"Oliver Marcelle could do everything!" author John B. Holway quoted the Courier as saying in his book "Blackball Stars: Negro League Pioneers." "A fielding gem who could go to his right or left with equal facility, could come up with breath-taking plays on bunts. ... He was a ballplayer's ballplayer and the idol of fandom."
Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. MLB.com reporter Ken Mandel contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.