We have the Charlotte Knights in the center city now, so baseball is alive and well in uptown Charlotte.
But it would be fun to travel in Marty McFly’s modified DeLorean back to April 1957, when in a period of nine days there were four major-league exhibitions played in the Queen City.
Teams often stopped in Charlotte on their way back from spring training in Florida in those days. The most memorable of the four games involved Ted Williams, who was then 38 years old and already a baseball legend. He could still play, too – Williams would hit .388 that season.
Williams’ presence was highly anticipated, getting good coverage in The Charlotte Observer and The Charlotte News. It wasn’t front-page news, though. On the day of the game, The Charlotte News instead carried a story on 1A by Charles Kuralt about the plight of unwanted Easter ducks. Also before the game, The News published a story in which Williams called future home-run king Roger Maris a “dumpy little guy.”
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“Maris is real fast, has a good arm and looks like a good fielder,” Williams said. “But I don’t know about his hitting.”
Williams was making $100,000 a year for the Boston Red Sox in 1957. That’s equivalent to $835,000 in 2015, which wouldn’t get you a reserve infielder these days. Teddy Ballgame was the star attraction in the 1:30 p.m. game between the Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies.
A crowd of 4,761 showed up on a warm, clear day in Charlotte’s Griffith Park, which was in the Dilworth area (and would burn down 28 years later, in 1985).
Williams didn’t get a hit in his first two at-bats.
But in the seventh inning, with one out, he came up one last time. With his smooth left-handed swing, Williams blasted a pitch from Phillies rookie Jack Sanford toward the right-field wall.
The ball curved dangerously toward the foul pole, but stayed just fair. The fans yelled.
Williams had his home run – Boston’s only run in a 7-1 Philadelphia win.
A local man who was there that day 59 years ago wrote to me about that game once. He said he was sitting close enough to the field that he could hear Sanford, the rookie pitcher, say two syllables right when he let go of the pitch that Williams knocked into the pine trees.
Those two syllables?