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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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The Glider, Ed Charles

The first thing you remember about Ed Charles if you’re a Mets fan is how he rushed the pitcher’s mound at Shea Stadium, October 16, 1969. If those New York Mets had an In Action card, that picture would be its front side. Jerry Grote was hoisting Jerry Koosman, catcher and pitcher, ebullient in World Series victory. These two who were officially championship company were about to be a crowd of three, as the third baseman couldn’t resist a mound visit. Mr. Charles certainly wouldn’t be the last to frolic on the Shea dirt and grass that Thursday afternoon alongside the Jerrys, but he was the first. It’s an unforgettable image. Not that you’d ever want to forget it.

The second thing you remember about Ed Charles is up to you. Me, as I ponder the passing of the beloved poet laureate of the most beloved baseball team a city ever embraced…I remember a movie. Not the movie you’d suspect if you saw 42, the well-meaning 2013 biopic in which the uninitiated learn that, oh by the way, young Ed Charles, a future big leaguer from Daytona Beach, Fla., crossed Spring Training paths with trailblazing Jackie Robinson. The trail, incidentally, would require more blazing than one man could possibly provide, and Mr. Charles wound among those who’d follow Mr. Robinson in making a sport and a country that much better by their determined presence in it. We know it wasn’t easy for the man we revere for wearing 42 in Flatbush. It wasn’t much easier for the fellow who eventually graced No. 5 in Flushing. Ed Charles signed to play professional baseball in 1952. He was promoted to the major leagues in 1962. Let’s just say it wasn’t his talent that kept him in the minors for ten long years.

Yet the movie I’m thinking of is not 42, but The Blues Brothers, the rollicking 1980 music-heavy comedy that has nothing explicit to do with Ed Charles. Except for the gag in which Elwood Blues’s driver’s license lists 1060 West Addison — Wrigley Field — as his home address and thus crosses up the cops who are foiled in tracking him and his sibling down, it has nothing to do with baseball. Yet there’s one scene that sticks out for me where Mr. Charles is concerned.

The scene features Curtis and the band stalling for time at the Palace Hotel Ballroom. The band is dressed in civvies, while Curtis is wearing the same dark shades, suit and hat favored by Jake and Elwood, which adds up, given that Curtis is the father figure who raised them. At this moment in the film, the title characters — portrayed by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd — are trying desperately to avoid their burgeoning army of enemies and make their way to the sold-out gig they arranged to save their childhood orphanage. As the crowd demands a show, Curtis has a brainstorm.

CURTIS: Do you guys know “Minnie the Moocher”?
MURPHY DUNNE: I knew a hooker once named Minnie Mazola.
CURTIS: No, the song “Minnie the Moocher”.
STEVE CROPPER: Yeah. So what?
CURTIS: Hit it!

And with that command, the ragtag musicians are transformed into a tuxedo-clad troupe from decades gone by, led by Curtis at center stage, resplendent in white tails. In all but name, the character reveals himself unmistakably — as if there was any mistaking him to begin with — as the immortal Cab Calloway. With the Blues Brothers band backing him up, Curtis/Cab indeed belts out “Minnie the Moocher” in all its glory, distracting the onscreen audience and treating moviegoers to a performance for the ages (before we get back to the car chases and such).

The image of the one and only Cab Calloway suddenly and magically decked out in the most classic of threads flashed through my mind three winters ago when walking through the door of McFadden’s at Citi Field, site of the second annual Queens Baseball Convention, came none other than the Glider, Ed Charles. I don’t know how Ed Charles usually dressed, but at our instant of contact, he was the epitome of dressed to the nines. Mr. Charles raised QBC’s style quotient exponentially all by himself. It wasn’t CGI and it wasn’t exactly a plot twist. We who had constructed the program for that year’s QBC had promised Ed Charles would show up to receive an award. Except it was getting late, I hadn’t heard from Mr. Charles and I wasn’t exactly sure if we would be seeing him, never mind seeing him look so sharp.

It was something like waiting for the Blues Brothers to appear, I suppose, except no representatives of Illinois’s law enforcement community had chosen to join us. Also, in this case, Mr. Charles was the star attraction as well as living legend. The rest of us were Mets fans dressed like Mets fans. Ed Charles, upon his entrance, was Cab Calloway at the Palace Hotel. He radiated class. The topcoat. The suit. The cane (a bit of an impediment to the Glider actually gliding, but I’d swear that was his gait). And, of course, the World Series ring.

I don’t know how many dozens of us were left on the premises late that Saturday afternoon in January 2015 to greet him. More than enough for a quorum, but not nearly as many as had been around at the height of the event. There should have been as many as had greeted him and his teammates on Lower Broadway forty-six Octobers prior. We should have showered him in ticker tape. QBC saved the award, the one we named after Gil Hodges, for the final presentation. It was both a high point to go out on and a bit of a shame, because by the sixth hour of a fun-filled day, some had already departed, having had their fill of fun.

Their loss. Ed Charles brought the curtain and the house down. Sparked by his electricity, McFadden’s morphed into one of the big rooms. The Cotton Club. The Savoy. Shea Stadium. In the best sense of the phrase, he was a sight to see.

And he was someone even better to listen to. On the phone, when I’d been explaining what QBC was and why we would be honored to have him there, his frailty was palpable. I’d already heard he wasn’t doing well, and our conversation confirmed for me that asking him to come to our DIY fanfest was asking a lot. He lived in East Elmhurst, only about forty blocks from McFadden’s, but still, at this stage of his life, in his condition, I could envision his good intentions in accepting our invitation going by the wayside.

I envisioned incorrectly. Ed Charles showed up, took the stage and took over. He could have worn anything he liked, but he was receiving an award, and he meant to receive it seriously, thus the GQ ensemble. But clothes, no matter how fine, are just clothes. Ed Charles struck the figure he did because of what else he brought to bear: humility; gratitude; dignity; and the implied authority of history he personified. He talked with us about Gil Hodges. He talked with us about 1969. He talked with us about Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige. He answered every fan’s question. He read his poetry. He gave out autographs. He asked for nothing. Despite how far along he was in years and how difficult it had to be, he stood the entire time. We had a seat for him. He didn’t bother with it.

I was in awe of him that afternoon. I was in shock a few days later when he called me at home to ask if I could send him a copy of my introductory remarks (he liked the stat I included about all the homers he hit off future Hall of Fame pitchers). I was overwhelmed every time I thought of Mr. Charles on that frigid Saturday warming the spirits and souls of strangers. Then again, for the Glider, a stranger was just a Mets fan he hadn’t yet met. He didn’t know from me or QBC or McFadden’s, but he surely knew from Mets fans. I’ve thought of the entire scene often, the way he emerged from the equivalent of a sickbed, the way he swept into the room and the way he stayed in the room until all who wished to be touched by him knew they’d been touched. The privilege of presenting an award to Ed Charles and then standing off to the side and experiencing him accepting it is a prize I will always cherish.

The championship he helped present me when I was six years old was pretty special, too.

Before 2015 was out, Ed Charles was back at Citi Field. He and Ron Swoboda strolled to the mound to deliver first pitches during the National League Division Series. The Glider still needed the cane to get around. He had a full house applauding him that night.

We applaud him still, in tribute to a singular life that brought millions together in joy. We miss him now that he is gone, having passed Thursday at his East Elmhurst home at the age of 84, but we are grateful for his coming to us when he did. On the field. Off the field. In our memories. In our hearts.

21 comments to The Glider, Ed Charles

  • DaMetsman in Washington State

    This ode to The Glider is lovely, poignant and moving. Greg Prince is a writer who delivers words like great sculptors mould bronze and stone into stunning works of art. Ed Charles was not a character. He was a man of character. Those of us who reveled in the ascension of our Mets to 1969 World Series champions will never forget the role The Glider played. Thanks Greg. Thanks Mr. Charles. You are much beloved. RIP

  • The last time I cried at the death of a beloved baseball figure was in 1972. I was still a teen at the time. It’s been nearly 50 years and its hard for me to imagine that any other baseball passing could have triggered those tears again. I pray for Krane and Buddy and Rusty… but Ed… Ed was the heart and soul of the ’69 Mets and one of the finest people who ever walked the planet. He persevered. He overcame. He glided. I’ve often thought about how the Mets left him off the 40-man roster after 1968 and were reluctant to even bring him in as an NRI in ’69. I’ve often considered, on some spiritual level, that Ed Charles may well have been the reason the Mets won it all that year. Because he, above all, had earned that. The last time I cried at the passing of a human being was when my mother died 4 years ago and, before her, my father. I never met Ed Charles. I didn’t need to. He was that special.

  • Dave Murray

    Beautiful tribute to a treasure of a player and person.

  • Grandpa Gary

    Ed Charles was a true gentleman. My brother and I met Ed Charles in 1962. He was looking for a house in Queens and just happened upon the house across the Street. Our neighbor called my mom and said a MLB player is here and asked if we wanted an autograph. It was a very special day and he was delighted to give us an autograph.
    We will miss him. Thanks for sharing.
    GB

  • Ken K. in NJ

    The 4 words you used for the title of this post is the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Ed Charles.

    Specifically, Bob Murphy saying those words (and he always said all four words, never just “Ed Charles”) in his unique Murphyian Dialect.

    I’m sure it’s no coincidence that those are the words you used to title your post.

    RIP Mr. Charles.

  • Matt in DE

    Great tribute, Greg.

    I never had the opportunity to watch Mr. Charles play (a few year before my time), but I do recall him visiting Happy Time Day Camp in Freehold, NJ, when I was 8 or 9 years old. First he talked about and demonstrated hitting and fielding, and fielded questions from the group. When signing autographs, he took the time to talk to each of us and ask us about what position we liked to play (Center Field, as I was obsessed with the song of the same name by John Fogerty, at the time). The whole time, he had a wide smile on his face.

    This was well over 30 years ago, but it still a very clear memory. I hope that there many more people with equally strong memories, as that ensures that he is never really gone.

    RIP Mr. Charles

  • Rochester John

    A fine fitting tribute, Greg. The Glider was the favorite Met of my 1969 comrade-in-Mets, my mother. He was one more link to her that I cherished and will now miss.

  • Very nice story. I never heard a bad word about Ed Charles. Everyone who met him said that this one time Met was a nice person. Putting the story to the niceness of him gives us a better persepective of the man. #RIPEdCharles

  • Dave

    Beautifully done, Greg, and of course I expected no less. The Glider meant so much to all Mets fans of a certain age.

    A few years ago we were at the Feast of Mt Carmel in Williamsburg, the very last as far as I can tell of the old pre-hipster Williamsburg things left. The one where about 100 guys carry an 80 foot high tower down the street, with a maybe 20 piece band on a riser just in case the tower doesn’t weigh enough by itself. Blazing hot day, trying to escape the heat as much as anything. Until Ed Charles walks by, looking fit as a fiddle in his Mets Alumni polo shirt. I normally assume famous people have better things to do than be approached by me, but my wife eggs me on, and I go over and say hi, and tell him how that image of him dancing and jumping at the mound after the final out in 69 is perhaps my favorite image in Mets history, just thanks to the look of pure joy on his face. Not only was he gracious and friendly, he made me feel like he was there looking for me. Those few minutes when I shook hands and chatted with Ed Charles was a great “this is what it means to be a Mets fan” moment. Some pitching coach in the great beyond is currently instructing his pitcher not to throw a slider to The Glider. RIP.

  • RB

    I was only a year and a half old in October 1969, but I grew up with that picture of Ed airborne next to the mound. I’ve been looking at that picture a lot this morning.

    39 years later, I was lucky enough to meet Ed and get to know him a little bit when he and Buzz Capra coached my team at Mets fantasy camp.

    In a week full of amazin’ memories, one of my fondest is the picture I took with Ed, with me wearing his world series ring.

    Such a kind and classy gentleman. I was honored to know him, even if only for a week.

    Godspeed, Glider.

  • Pete In Iowa

    As I recall, the Glider had a base hit and came around to score the winning run in the ninth inning of Game 2. Pretty heady stuff for any member of the Mets family.
    Rest in peace Mr. Charles. You will live on forever in Mets history and with Mets fans everywhere.

  • Tim H

    On Sept. 24, 1969, before the gates opened at Shea Stadium, I saw Ed Charles, in uniform, walking up a ramp — cleats and all. I was a 17-year-old vendor waiting for the crowd to file in. I caught Ed’s eye, smiled, and said, “Hey, Ed, it’s a long way from Kansas City, right?” Ed, reflecting on his earlier career with the lowly KC Athletics, smiled back and said, “Yeah, man, it sure is!” A few hours later, he hit a home run off Cardinals ace Steve Carlton, and the Mets clinched the NL East title on their way to the World Championship.

    Rest in peace, Ed, and thank you for everything.

  • There is crying in baseball today.

    Thanks for this, Greg, it explains a lot.

  • Argman

    Beautifully done as always Greg. As a young Mets fan I used to write to members of the team asking for an autographed picture. They all sent them, although most of the autographs appeared to be stamps. Not from Ed Charles. Signed in ballpoint pen, and personally addressed to me. And as a “throw-in,” two of his poems, printed on cards and also signed. I seem to have lost one, but I still have “An Athelete’s Prayer.” Fifty years later, I still treasure it. I don’t like to say things like this, but they don’t make them like Ed Charles anymore.

  • Mr. Positive

    Lovely (as usual)!

    Is there a picture of yourself and Ed dressed to the nines on the dais? That would be something to behold.

  • Bill Slocum

    Cool that Tim H. was there to see the Glider have perhaps his biggest day as a Met. Going by the stats, he was kind of running on fumes that season, knowing his late-blooming career in the majors was coming to a sudden end, but he sure made his time count that day. He was a journeyman whose journeys led him to spend his prime years in the minors and on the Yankees’ Quad-A farm team Kansas City. I’m betting he got a special joy out of looking up at the scoreboard when it was all over that early autumn day and seeing “Look Who’s Number One!”

  • Roger Tusiani-Eng

    Greg. What a wonderful tribute to a wonderful man. RIP Glider. You will not be forgotten. Total class.

  • Beautiful tribute. Such memories.

  • metsfaninparadise

    He may not have been a great ballplayer but he was a great man

  • Will in Central NJ

    Thanks for sharing this fine tribute to one of the Miracle Mets. I met Mr. Charles once at Shea in 2003. He was every bit as gracious as you indicated. Godspeed, Glider!