Charley Pride was a star on the field and at the mic
But as one of the most successful singers in country music history, Pride inspired millions of fans – and found his way to Cooperstown.
Pride, who passed away on Dec. 12, 2020, at the age of 86, performed at the 2006 National Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.
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“The chief scout of the St. Louis Cardinals was there. I threw a curveball and cracked my elbow,” Pride said. “I was really humming that night, having struck out the side the inning before, and I believe had I not cracked my elbow that it would have been Bob Gibson and Charley Pride with the Cardinals. I would have been picked up that night.
“My fastball was in the 90s, and I had all three pitches – the hummer, the hook and the change. And I could get you out with all three. Plus I played outfielder for four days and then I’d take my turn pitching.”
After a successful season with Memphis, he was asked to barnstorm in the offseason on a team that would play against the Willie Mays All-Stars, which included such stars as Hank Aaron, Monte Irvin and Elston Howard.
“I held them for four innings, shutout ball, in a game in Victoria, Texas. “I’ve got that clipping. I love it and I pass it around all the time.”
But after a number of baseball stops, music finally took hold. By the mid-1960s, he was a success – often called the first successful Black country and western singer. But he always envisioned himself getting hits with a bat instead of a vinyl record.
Pride did get his chance in the big leagues, however, when the Texas Rangers played him at designated hitter in a Spring Training game on March 18, 1974. Pride went 1-for-2 with a single off future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer.
“I never felt at any time that I’d be where I am today, just be doing something I love to do, and that was sing. I was preparing myself to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but instead I’m in the Country Music Hall of Fame,” Pride said. “I’m glad to be there, and it’s wonderful, but my idea was always to do it in Cooperstown.”
After Pride attended the 2005 Induction Weekend, he was asked to perform the national anthems in 2006.
And while he says he has no regrets in the way his life turned out, there are those occasions where he wonders what might have happened.
“The way I look at it right now I’ve got the best of both worlds because I can still go out and work out with the guys and still feel that little ting of happiness that I used to get when I went out on the field, hitting and throwing and playing,” Pride said. “All in all I’m a very blessed and a very lucky person. I would have loved to have been one of those names called (on the Induction stage), but I do get a thrill just being around those guys. Baseball is something I always loved.”
Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum