James "Cool Papa" Bell, a Hall of Famer who was once considered the fastest player in the Negro Leagues, died early today. He was 89.

He died in St. Louis University Hospital after a brief illness, hospital officials said.Bell, slowed in his later years and blind in one eye because of glaucoma at the time of his death, was rumored to be the highest-paid player in the Negro Leagues with a top salary of $90 a month. Barnstorming across the country, he played two and sometimes three times a day for 29 summer seasons and 21 winter seasons.

He batted .407 in 1946, his final season. But he was denied access to the major leagues, retiring a year before Jackie Robinson became the first black player in this century.

Locally . . .