Ed Charles, the veteran third baseman with the heart of a winner and the soul of a poet was a leader on and off the field and a genuinely nice guy who was an integral part of the 1969 Miracle Mets. His championship ring was the culmination of an 18-year professional career. Charles’ name is sometimes forgotten because he didn’t make any highlight reel plays in the World Series, but those of us who still recall the team celebration and the appreciation the young Mets showed their veteran leader will only have good memories of Ed, who officially retired at the end of the 1969 season.
Charles started his professional career in the Braves’ organization in 1952. At the time, the Braves were one of the more aggressive teams in the signing of African-American players such as Sam Jethroe, Bill Bruton, Jim Pendleton, and of course, Hank Aaron. But unlike those players who soon surfaced as starting outfielders in the major leagues, Charles spent nearly 10 years in the Braves’ system without even a cup of coffee with the big club until he was traded to the lowly Kansas City A’s in December of 1962.
Many of Charles’ seasons were spent in places like Jacksonville, Florida and Louisville, Kentucky which had to be particularly rough at the time on a dark-skinned player. Also, having Eddie Mathews ahead of you had to be hard to overcome. Charles persisted, gaining a reputation as a poet who wrote about his minor league travails. Charles had many solid, if unspectacular minor league years until finally getting his opportunity with the Athletics for whom he played regularly in the big leagues at third base for five seasons. When a young third base prospect named Sal Bando looked like the real thing and Danny Cater was available to back him up, Charles was traded to the Mets in May of 1967 for outfielder Larry Elliot.
The perennially-losing Mets always seemed to need help at third base and Charles was brought in where he eventually supplanted Ken Boyer as the starter. Jerry Koosman soon gave Ed the nickname “The Glider” for his smooth gliding style at third base. It was odd that after more than 15 years of pro ball, Ed first picked up the nickname by which he’ll always be remembered.
Charles actually led the Mets in home runs with 15 in 1968 (a typical total for him), but the Mets’ grand plan had hot prospect Amos Otis ready to take over in 1969 and Charles was not even kept on the 40-man roster. Eventually, Charles was invited to spring training as a non-roster player, possibly to mentor Otis, or to fight for a position on the bench. It turned out Otis had little interest in playing third base and soon fell out of favor with Gil Hodges.
Charles won his way back on the roster and was at third base on opening day. Splitting time with rookie Wayne Garrett and minor league veteran Bobby Pfeil, Charles played in just 61 games and batted just .207 for the Mets in 1969, but he provided veteran leadership on and off the field and like most of the 1969 Mets, always made the most of his hits, made some memorable defensive plays and was far more valuable than the statistics might indicate. Mets’ fans felt extra-happy for him because he truly deserved to take home a World Championship ring after a long career in the minors and then with losing major league teams. He is fondly remembered.