By Kary Booher, Media Relations, Missouri Sports Hall of Fame
He lived the dream that so many couldn’t. Of reaching the big leagues with none other than the St. Louis Cardinals. Of playing outfield alongside Stan “The Man” Musial. And, years later in 1964, of experiencing the ultimate pinnacle by winning a World Series.
Indeed, Charlie James has so many stories from his athletic days that you could start almost anywhere. Perhaps even at Mizzou, where James played football and set a single-season school record – pass receptions by a halfback – that stood for 34 years.
Combined, his career proved to be a remarkable one for a kid from a Missouri high school, leading the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame to proudly honor James with induction on Nov. 15 in Columbia.
“I remember when I went into high school, my counselor asked me what I wanted to be,” James said with a laugh. “I knew I always wanted to be a ball player. To make it with the Cardinals, that was even better.”
A Webster Groves High School graduate who went on to earn two electrical engineering degrees, James played six seasons in the big leagues (1960-1965) and was a member of the Cardinals’ 1964 World Series team that beat the New York Yankees in seven games.
James in 1958 signed for $15,000 with the Cardinals as an amateur and made his big-league debut with St. Louis on Aug. 2, 1960. Overall, he played in 510 games and hit a career .255 with 172 RBI, 29 home runs, 56 doubles and nine triples. His final season was with the Cincinnati Reds.
“There were a lot of good guys on that (’64) team,” James said. “I remember Stan, he was good at talking to the young guys. If you had a good question like, ‘What does Warren Spahn throw?’ or ‘How does his fastball move?’ he would offer insight.”
James attended Mizzou from 1955-1957, when he played halfback for the football team for three seasons. He also spent springs on the baseball team, but his shift full-time to baseball proved significant.
He earned the call to the big leagues after playing only 2 ½ seasons in the minor leagues.
His key break came in spring training 1958, when the Cardinals directed James to the Double-A club’s camp in Daytona Beach.
James’ original contract was with Class D Billings (Mont.), but he impressed the one guy he needed to — Double-A Houston manager Harry Walker. Walker’s voice carried much influence, as it was his winning single in Game 7 of the 1946 World Series that set off Enos Slaughter’s Mad Dash.
In his Double-A season, James hit 19 home runs and had 104 RBI.
“Harry Walker put his faith in me that I’d do a good job in Double-A, and it happened,” James said.
Ultimately, it led to James:
- Playing in outfields that included Musial, Curt Flood, Mike Shannon and, in mid-1964, Lou Brock.
- Hitting a grand slam in the Cardinals’ 1962 home opener and a three-run homer in 1964, both against Dodgers great Sandy Koufax.
- From 1961 to 1963, combining for 289 hits (including 107 in 1962), 46 doubles, eight triples, 22 home runs and 148 RBI.
- Seeing action in three games in the ‘64 World Series.
Born in December 1937 to Charles and Lucille James, Charlie eventually emerged as a 6-foot-1, 195-pound halfback at Webster Groves High School. He earned a scholarship to Mizzou and, as a sophomore in 1956, hauled in 30 catches for 362 yards receiving and a touchdown.
Little did anyone know that his junior year would be his last on campus. James signed with the Cardinals in January 1958, surprising his coaches. After all, he played only 41 college baseball games after three high school and American Legion seasons.
A football thigh injury in 1957 had led James to think long and hard about the sport he truly loved.
“I wanted to give baseball a shot before I got hurt seriously in football,” James said. “So that winter, I let it be known I was interested in signing. You didn’t have a draft back then.”
After retiring before the 1966 season, James eventually became CEO of Fulton-based Central Electric Company, a power equipment manufacturing company. While with the Cardinals, he had finished a bachelor’s degree and earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering at nearby Washington University.
Fulton became home for James and his wife, Jo, in 1972 as they raised their children, Shari and Sammy. They now have five grandchildren and one great-grandson. Always active in the Fulton community, James has been a member of William Woods Board of Trustees since 1990 and is a past president.
James acknowledges that he sometimes sits back and wonders if he did really accomplish his baseball dream.
“That kind of makes you think,” James said. “It’s just a thrill to have made it to the major leagues and to have competed with the best.”