Oliver H. Marcelle
a.k.a. Marcell, Marcel
Positions: 3b, ss
Teams: Brooklyn Royal Giants (1918-1919, 1930), Detroit Stars (1919), Atlantic City Bacharach Giants (1920-1922, 1925-1928), New York Lincoln Giants (1923-1925), Baltimore Black Sox (1929), Miami Giants (1934)
Height: 5' 9'' Weight: 160
Born: June 24, 1897, Thibedeaux, Louisiana
Died: June 12, 1949, Denver, Colorado
Oliver Marcelle was a superior defensive third baseman, and his skillful play and faultless style earned him distinction as the peer of black third basemen in the 1920s. In a 1952 Pittsburgh Courier poll he was selected over Hall of Famers Ray Dandridge and Judy Johnson as the all-time greatest player at the hot corner, and was also picked by John Henry Lloyd in 1953 for his All-Time All Star team. A rare gem afield, he could do everything. He was very fast, covered lots of territory, and possessed a quick and snappy arm. 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 the fans.
While idolized by the fans, he was also respected by the media and players. The press considered him to have "the ability of Frisch" and to be "as brainy as Herzog." In 1924, although still young, he was classed as a veteran and appointed captain of the New York Lincoln Giants. He and Frank Wickware were with teammate Dave Brown the night Brown killed a man in a barroom fight. Although not involved in the incident, the next day at the ballpark he and Wickware were picked up but later released.
The following year, after an effort by the Bachrarach Giants to secure him earlier in the season had fallen through, he was traded in midseason to Atlantic City, where he teamed with Dick Lundy to form an almost impregnable left side of the infield, and was an integral part of the team's success in the pennant years of 1926-27. In the 1926 World Series against the Chicago American Giants, he hit a solid .293 in a losing effort.
Moving with Lundy to the Baltimore Black Sox after the Eastern Colored League's breakup, he still had enough hits left in his bat to hit a respectable .288 in 1929 as the Black Sox won the American Negro League pennant. A good hitter (.305, .364, .295, .343, .308, .255, .306, and .296 for the years 1921-1928), he was most dangerous in the clutch, registering a .305 lifetime average in Negro League competition. During eight winter seasons in Cuba, "Ghost" also had a .305 average, including a league-leading .393 in 1923-1924 with the league champion Santa Clara team. He is also credited with an average of .333 in exhibitions against major-leaguers.
After finishing eight years at Tomey Lafon Elementary School and attending high school at New Orleans University, the New Orleans native began playing semi-pro baseball in 1914. After playing with the New Orleans Black Eagles, he began his professional career in 1918 with the Brooklyn Royal Giants. He hit .229 in 1919, playing primarily with the Royals, but also appeared briefly with the Detroit Stars. In 1920 he began his first stint with the Bacharachs, leaving to join the Lincoln Giants in the middle of the decade, but returning to the Bacharachs in 1925 for his second tour of duty in Atlantic City. Although he batted in the second slot most of his career, when he returned to the Bacharachs he hit in the third spot as they won their first Eastern Colored League pennant.
Marcelle was a good base runner and a fierce competitor who was always in the thick of battle. He had lots of pep and fight but was too temperamental on the field. The competitive Creole's quick and fiery temper frequently caused him trouble with umpires, opponents, and teammates. Once, on the field, in a flash of temper he hit Oscar Charleston over the head with a bat. In 1930, in an off-the-field incident, his temperment led to a dice game quarrel with Frank Warfield, resulting in a fight in which Warfieid literally bit off part of his nose. Afterward Marcelle continued to play ball, but wore a patch over the hole left when the nostril portion was ripped off in the fight. Oral accounts indicate that this incident was indirectly responsible for his withdrawal from league play because Marcelle, a vain man, could not endure the "ragging" from fans and opposing players about his appearance. Although his league playing career was prematurely ended, he continued with independent teams for sometime afterward, attempting a comeback with the Miami Giants in 1934. Eventually he faded from the sports scene and into obscurity.
After retiring from baseball in 1934, he became a house painter in Denver, Colorado. That year he arranged for the Kansas City Monarchs to play in the Denver Post tournament, marking the first time a black team was permitted to participate. When he died of arteriosclerosis in 1949, he was living in abject poverty, but he left behind a legacy of greatness over a seventeen-year career in black baseball. One of his sons, Everett "Ziggy” Marcel, also played in the Negro Leagues, and entered organized baseball after the color line was eradicated.
Source: James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.