As a youngster in the Deep South, Ed Charles considered it a miracle that Jackie Robinson made it to organized baseball. He went on to become a major-leaguer in his own right and was part of the “Miracle Mets.’’ The third baseman and poet laureate on the 1969 World Series championship team died Thursday at his home in East Elmhurst, Queens. He was 84.
Charles provided stability at a revolving-door position for the Mets, platooning at third with Wayne Garrett. He ended the final game of his career by celebrating near the pitcher’s mound as the Mets completed one of the most improbable triumphs in sports history.
He remained a New Yorker for the rest of his life after playing three seasons in Flushing, having been arguably the greatest player in Kansas City Athletics history.
Growing up and coming through baseball’s ranks, he endured Jim Crow laws and attitudes — in the minor leagues, he often had to stay with black families while white teammates roomed at segregated hotels — and began expressing his feelings in poetry. He kept writing poems during and after his time in the big leagues.
On the field, he seemed inspired and lyrical as well — at least to teammate Jerry Koosman, who was so impressed by a play Charles made that he nicknamed him “The Glider.” The name stuck through the years in which he worked in community relations and as a scout for a franchise that was known for record-setting futility before 1969.
Charles became a fixture in the Mets’ family, appearing at just about all of the important occasions and sometimes contributing verse. He was working for New York City in 1999, helping youths in a Bronx school, when his former club was making a playoff run. Speaking on the phone about working with students in the heart of Yankees country, he said, “We’re converting them, we’re converting them.”
Nothing moved him, though, as much as a chance meeting at a Small Business Association office in 1972. He was doing paperwork for an enterprise, and so was Robinson. Charles thanked the baseball pioneer for all he had done and Robinson graciously thanked him in return. Years later, Charles said in a Newsday interview, “Jackie brought us all up to the next level.”
Edwin Douglas Charles was born on April 29, 1933, in Daytona Beach, Florida, where segregation ruled. He was one of nine children in what became a splintered family. Before he spent his teenage years living with relatives and attending Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg, he and friends played hooky from school to watch the Montreal Royals, the top Dodgers farm team, practice in 1946 across the street from his home. Robinson was on that team.
Charles followed in his hero’s footsteps, impressing the then-Boston Braves enough to get a contract with their minor-league team in Quebec City. His big break came in December 1961, when they traded him to the Athletics. As a 29-year-old rookie, he led Kansas City with 20 steals and was second on the team with 17 homers.
He thought he was in line to become a coach with the A’s, but they sent him to the Mets in 1967. Charles replaced Ken Boyer at third base and had a solid 1968 season, but given his age, the club exposed him to the expansion draft. When neither the Expos nor Padres selected him, Charles went to Mets camp in 1969 as a non-roster player. He won a spot with his savvy and ability to relate to everyone in the clubhouse, being particularly encouraging to hard-hitting outfielder Cleon Jones.
Charles homered against Steve Carlton on Sept. 24, 1969, the night the Mets clinched the National League East title. He also scored the winning run in Game 2 of the World Series.
In a statement, the Mets said: “Ed Charles, our beloved Glider and Poet Laureate of the 1969 Mets, was one of the kindest and warmest people ever to be a Met. His essays and poems inspired his teammates to the improbable World Series championship. With Jackie Robinson as his role model, Ed perpetuated a legacy of making a positive impact on other people’s lives.’’
During and after his many years with the city’s Department of Juvenile Justice, he was present for almost all of the Mets’ major celebrations. He was there when the club honored broadcasters Ralph Kiner and Bob Murphy (he wrote a ballad for each). He was among the team ambassadors on the field after the final game at Shea Stadium. He was at Citi Field when Mike Piazza was inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame in 2013.
He always recognized how far he had come, and who helped him get there. When Robinson died in late 1972, months after the two men met, Charles wrote a poem that included the verse, “Thanks Jackie wherever you are / You will always be our first superstar.”
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