Saturday, March 17, 2018

Farewell to The Poet of the Mets

I would like to take this gorgeous St. Patrick's Day to pay tribute to...a Met.

That is, Ed Charles—"Gum," "Ez," "The Glider," and "The Poet,"—just deceased at 84, and third baseman for the 1969 Miracle team.

 Charles grew up in about the most horrendous circumstances imaginable, a poor black kid in Daytona Beach, Florida. He got to witness his father regularly beat his mother—and then the Daytona Beach cops beat his father.

He dreamed of playing baseball professionally one day, but back in the day, it wasn't that much of a dream.  It meant beating around in some crowded cars with his teammates on whatever Negro League team he would've been restricted to. Banned from staying in good hotels, eating in nice restaurants, or even going to the bathroom at most filling stations.

Then, one day in 1945, 13-year-old Gum Charles got the word that Branch Rickey had signed Jackie Robinson to a major-league contract.

It made him feel "like a little boy waiting for Christmas and Santa Claus to see what kind of toys he was going to bring us," he would remember, and prayed for Jackie make it, knowing, "If he succeeded he was going to open the door to Christ Almighty...It gave me a little hope that perhaps at last we were on the right track as far as living the type of American dream, this freedom of opportunity we were supposed to have in this country."

(It also delighted a 16-year-old kid sweeping up in a St. Louis store. "I felt like dancing all over that floor," remembered Elston Howard.)

After somehow graduating from high school, Ez was signed in 1952 by the Boston Braves, for a few hundred dollars. His timing could not have been worse. Eddie Mathews had just broken in for the Braves, and though Charles quickly showed himself to be a fine hitter and excellent glove, between Mathews and military service, it took him 10 years to make it to the show—and then with the Kansas City Athletics.

It didn't stop him. Still, somehow, a believing Christian, Ed Charles took to writing poems of faith. One in 1961 read, in part, "Grateful to You I'll always be/ For exploiting my talents for the world to see."

Nobody saw much of his talents during five, very credible years with a miserable Athletics team. Traded to the Mets in 1967, he had an excellent season in 1968, but still had to come back and win a spot as a non-roster invitee in 1969.

"The Glider," as Jerry Koosman nicknamed for his smooth fielding style, was 36 and nearing the end now, appearing in only 61 games. But he still had one good day left in him.

In the second game of the World Series, with the Mets trailing one game to none, and the score tied at 1-1, Charles lined a two-out single off Dave McNally in the ninth, then made a daring dash to third on a hit by Jerry Grote, and scored easily on another hit by Al Weis.

In the bottom of the inning, with two on and two out, he made an excellent stop of a sharp ground ball by Brooks Robinson, and a throw that just nipped B. Robby at first. The Series was tied, and the Mets never looked back.

The Poet retired after that and went to work for the Mets, who as usual did not know what they had. Fired in a dispute over moving expenses by that supreme ass, M. Donald Grant, Charles passed a civil service test, and spent his second career helping troubled kids at a home in the Bronx, and taking care of an aged relative.

It was all in keeping with the man who deserved another nickname, in keeping with this Irish day: The Mensch.

The Times did run a nice obit for Charles yesterday, at least. Today, a piece on Frazier's concussion...but also more FIFA. What would a day be without FIFA?

Soccer 44, Yankees 23.


13bit said...

Thanks, HC. I loved that write-up and did not all of that about him.

HoraceClarke66 said...

Thanks, 13bit!

Yeah, it's amazing the odds people have overcome to get to what we take for granted.

Parson Tom said...

Great stuff. Thank you!

Rose City Wobbly said...

What a wonderful piece of historical writing. Thanks! This kind of stuff will make Duque stop mailing it in!

I have not visited IIH ... IIF ...IIc ... for a couple of months now but am glad I just did to catch such a fine post. RIP Ed Charles - I remember your game well.

As an aside I see you all acquired a Josephine County - Grants Pass - Oregon boy - Brandon Drury. I've never met him out here but I hear from locals he has the same genetic red-ass makeup as another native Oregon infielder - Wally Backman - but Drury has more pop in his bat and lot less mouth.

I wish him luck under the microscope of your town's expectations - but for $500 K this year you may find yourself a nice piece - an Oregon Thunder Egg - in your race to a Playoff finish ...

Good luck and go Giants.

HoraceClarke66 said...

Thanks, R.C.W.! Though I reject even the teasing notion that our Peerless Leader is ever a slacker!

Drury has been a matter of controversy here since his acquisition, but we are keeping open minds. Or we're just drunk, it depends.

Alibi Ike said...

Great history lesson and inspiring story. Thanks!

(On another topic, Horace, I'd like to post your Band parody posted last week, on, with your permission. Please LMK)