Many experts on black baseball say that Hall of Famer Cool Papa Bell was the fastest man who ever played in the Negro Leagues, but some who remember the early years say that Spotswood Poles was even faster. The 5’7″ 165-lb Poles, a bowlegged, switch-hitting outfielder, played in an era from which most statistics have been lost, but an indication of his great talent was his nickname, The Black Ty Cobb.
Poles broke in as the centerfielder and leadoff hitter for the powerful 1909 Philadelphia Giants. He moved on to the New York Lincoln Giants in 1911, when he batted .440 and stole 41 bases in only 60 games. He hit .398 in 1912, and .487 in 1914. With the Lincoln club in the 10-game 1915 Black World Series, he batted only .205 (9-for-44), but, because of his baserunning ability, scored 11 runs. He averaged .319 in four winters in Cuba. In ten exhibition games against major league opposition, he collected 25 hits in 41 at-bats for an amazing .610 average.
Poles enlisted in the 369th Infantry in 1917 at the age of 30, and earned five battle stars and a Purple Heart fighting in France. He resumed his baseball career after WWI, but became tired of the constant travel and retired in 1923. He died in 1962 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.