The day Ed Charles made like Jackie Robinson

I promised that I would tell the tales of walk-off that were interesting and unusual, so here goes with one with which I was unfamiliar.

One of the key people on the 1969 Mets was third baseman Ed Charles, who was a leader, not in performance, but in personality. Charles was a likable person, his best days as a player long behind him. He was a poet (an uncommon skill for a ballplayer) who would later work with at-risk youth. He scored the winning run in the ninth inning of the first Mets World Series victory in Game 2 against the Orioles. The New York Times referred to him as the heart and soul of that Mets team. You may know him from the movie 42, in which he was shown as a young fan of Jackie Robinson’s.

This story dates to 1962, Charles’ rookie season as a 29-year-old with the Kansas City Athletics (much of Charles’ minor league days, he dealt with racism in the deep South) and it’s one where he did Robinson proud.

Charles was an excellent rookie, hitting 17 home runs and stealing 20 bases on a mediocre team. That he didn’t receive any Rookie of the Year votes is puzzling, given that the award winner, Yankees infielder Tom Tresh had an OPS 11 points lower.

Charles was known as ‘The Glider’ because of his speed, which was best on display on August 8 of that season in a game against the Minnesota Twins.

We can pick this one up in the ninth inning. The Athletics led 3-2 and Charles had not done anything eventful. But he’d be given a chance when future Hall-of-Famer Harmon Killebrew poled a game-tying home run leading off the top of the inning. T

he score held, 3-3 into the bottom of the ninth and Charles led off for the Athletics with a single to left. The next batter, Norm Siebern bunted, but Charles beat the throw to second base, giving the Athletics two men on base with nobody out. The Twins threw to first on the next batter’s bunt and got an out, putting runners on second and third. An intentional walk loaded the bases and then Twins pitcher Ray Moore struck out Gino Cimoli for the second out.

That brought up Joe Azcue, a light-hitting catcher, who had earlier driven in a run with a sacrifice fly.

The report in the Minneapolis Tribune describes Charles as bluffing towards home plate on Moore’s first pitch. But when Moore took a big windup prior to his second delivery, Charles bolted for the plate and beat the pitch there to score the winning run.

Minutiae
– A walk-off straight steal of home is a play that is both extraordinarily rare and extraordinarily bold. The last one in a regular season game was by a backup catcher for the Cardinals, Glenn Brummer, against the Giants in 1982. Marquis Grissom was credited with one since then for the Indians against the Orioles in Game 3 of the 1997 ALCS, though it probably should have been scored a wild pitch or passed ball.

– The other significant accomplishment on the 1962 Athletics was pitcher Bill Fischer setting an MLB record with 84 1/3 consecutive walk-free innings. Fischer, a longtime pitching coach, died last month.

– Jackie Robinson had 19 steals of home, but none were walk-offs. His most famous one came against the Yankees in the 1955 World Series.

– Remember yesterday that I pointed out that Ted Williams had only seven walk-off RBIs. Ed Charles is among those who had Williams beat. He had eight, including two with the Mets.

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