This article was originally published on March 28, 2007.
Charlie Metro was manager of the Royals during the 1970 season, and he also managed the Chicago Cubs in 1962. As a player, Metro appeared in portions of three seasons at the Major League level, logging stints with the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Athletics from 1943-1945. A former outfielder, Metro logged a 47-year career in professional baseball, also serving as a coach in several organizations and among other things, overseeing the Royals 1969 Expansion Draft as “Director of Player Procurement.”
Royals Corner: Good to talk with you, Charlie. Before we get into baseball, you were actually born with the name of Charles Moreskonich but changed your last name to Metro, which legend says is because you wanted it to be able to fit into baseball box scores. Is that the real reason for the switch, and where and when did you come up with the name of “Metro”?
Charlie Metro: Well, like you said, my full name is Moreskonich, but my father had the first name of Metro. And yes, since they wouldn’t be able to put it in the box scores, they started to call me Little Metro, and then when I started to play, I mentioned it, and it’s been around ever since. I also later officially changed it.
RC: You were born in Nanty Glo, Pennsylvania in 1918 and grew up there. Your father worked in the coal mines of Western Pennsylvania and is described as “extremely hard working” by those who knew him. Did you help out much in the coal mines and how did that shape you as a person?
CM: I worked in the mines during the summers. I actually survived a gas explosion, and you know what they told the boss for me, don’t you?
RC: No, what?
CM: Take this job and shove it, and they wrote a song about it (Laughs). No, I survived a blast that killed seven men. And I said, “The heck with it” after that.
RC: Since virtually nobody reading this will have memories of watching you play, tell us what kind of player you were?
CM: I was always very aggressive; I loved to run when I was a kid, I ran all the time. I worked out in the summer on the farms and was always very active. I played on a town team when I was a freshman in high school, actually.
RC: Speaking of your times in high school, you invented the first batting tee while working in the coal mines. Tell us about that, where the idea came from, and how you did it?
CM: This is Nanty Glo, Pennsylvania in high school. Here’s how it happened; we had some bushes that were hollow and two inches around. And they were like a shoot. I’d cut those down and stick them in the ground and put the baseball on top, and hit it into an old mattress, and that went on and on like that. And then when I started playing professionally and became a manager, I said, “Heck, I’m gonna teach hitting like this.” So I designed the batting tee and the original one.
RC: Really? Do you still have it?
CM: Oh yes. And the story goes with tees, I had a patent pending, but I was in between jobs, so I didn’t have the money to cover it. And then a couple of guys claimed they invented it, but I was using it before they were born.
RC: That’s rough. While still in high school in 1937, you attended a tryout camp run by the St. Louis Browns in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and were ultimately offered a contract by former major leaguer Jack Fournier. Were you surprised to be signed at the camp?
CM: There were 1,000 guys and it was the last four days of my high school, and I stood out from the races. I won every foot race that we had there. They’d run 10 guys, and I’d run and beat them. I could run and I could catch a fly ball, so he signed me. Do you know the signing legend, the story?
RC: No, what’s that?
CM: Well, he gave me a contract for $60 per month. I took it home and showed it to my Dad, and he was absolutely elated because he loved baseball. I had five sisters and thome runsee brothers, and I watched my mother washing the clothes on a washboard. And gosh, she’s watching them for all of those kids, so I took the contract back unsigned. And Jack said, “Kid, you didn’t sign it, don’t you want to play?” I said “Yes, but I want $100 dollars.” He says, “What, what for?” And I said, “I want to buy my mother a washing machine.” He says, “Are you kidding me?” I say, “No sir, I don’t want to see her scrubbing on the board anymore.” He said, “How much?” And I said, “I want $100.” And he said to his business manager, “Go to the bank and get this guy $100.”
So they bring me a check, but after thinking it over a minute, I take it back to them and he says, “Kid, don’t you want to play ball?” And I said, “Yes.” He says, “Then sign the check,” and I said, “I want the money in cash, I’ve never seen a check.” So he sent the guy back and got me 100 one-dollar bills, and I took the cash home and got her a washing machine.
RC: (Laughs) Scott Boras could learn a thing or two from you. If someone had told you that day that the signing would be the start of 47 years in baseball, could you ever have imagined that?
CM: No, but throughout the way, I turned down an awful lot of outstanding jobs to stay in baseball. I had a lot of jobs in the off-season, but I wouldn’t give up baseball for a job.
RC: You started your playing career with the Easton Browns in the minor leagues, but were released after hitting .203 in just 23 games. You then returned to the coal mines for a few months, but ultimately got yourself back into baseball by asking the Browns for another chance. How did you go about doing that?
CM: Well, Jack Fournier, who originally signed me, was the manager of the Johnstown Johnnies, right there close to my home. And I came back and he said, “Kid, what are you doing here?” And I said, “They released me.” He said, “They did?” And I said, “Yes.” And he signed me to another contract.
RC: Once again, the negotiation skills (Laughs). In 1938 you played for the Pennington Gap Lee Bears in the Appalachian League, and then 1939 found you with the Mayfield Browns in the Class-D Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League, where you hit 14 home runs and drove in 75 runs. You also roomed with future Browns star Vern Stephens. What was Vern like and what do you remember about rooming with him?
CM: (Laughs) He was one of the greatest ballplayers I’ve ever seen. Boy, he was a wild one. I’d appreciate if you wouldn’t say anything bad about him, and I’ll have to tell you some classic stories off-record. But he was one of the greatest players ever. He lived the life -- the fast life -- let me put it that way. And I talked to Ted Williams in the last 20 years or so, and I asked him about Vern Stephens, who was traded to the Red Sox. And he says, “Charlie, he was the toughest hitter that I ever saw in my career. He was the toughest guy – he held a record for shortstops for runs batted in.” But he was a wild one, in a nice sort of way.
RC: In 1940, you played with the Palestine Pals of the Class-C East Texas League, but were soon released because the owner didn’t like you working part-time as a salesman. What did the owner say to you and what were they paying you per week to play baseball?
CM: That was the St. Louis Browns’ farm club, so I was making $100 per month at the time, and I had the hots for a sweetheart from Mayfield, Kentucky, which incidentally, I married a year later, and we’re still married today for 66 years. I needed money for a ring and I was making just $100 per month. So a guy came by the ballpark and offered me a job as a salesman that year. And he showed me everything and gave me a pep talk for an hour, and then he gave me the samples and he says, “Here, here’s a list of what they cost.” Boy, I sold the hell out of them, made more money in two weeks than I was making in a month playing ball. So I go to this big residential two story house one day and knocked on the door, and a woman says, “Come in, come in, we haven’t had a salesman come by.”
So, I sat there and did a hell of a sale for $40 or $50. While I’m on my hands and knees going over my samples, the door opens in the back and a guy walks in, he looks at me and says, “Don’t I know you?” And I folded my sample thing up and told the lady thank you, and backed out of the door. That was the owner of the ball club. He released me on account of that, and he said, “I don’t want people thinking I’m too damn cheap where my ballplayers have to get a job.” So, that’s what happened.
RC: (Laughs) After being released by the Pals, you were picked up by the Texarkana Liners, who were an independent team in the same league. The year after that, the Tigers added the Liners as an affiliate, so all of a sudden, you were back with an organization. Was that release by the Pals the year before one of the best breaks you ever got in baseball, and a true blessing in disguise?
CM: Yeah, it was. I went over to Texarkana and they were independent. And they sold my contract to Beaumont and I had a hell of a year. I hit .285 or .290 and drove in 90 some runs, hit 20 home runs, made the All-Star team. The Beaumont Tigers bought my contract. I played there for Steve O’Neill but couldn’t break in there. All of our best hitters and the best in the league were outfielders, and I couldn’t break in so I played everywhere. I played second base, first, third, caught, pitched -- I played everything and Steve O’Neill took me to the big leagues later on.
RC: Yeah, we’ll get to that in a few minutes. First, it is said that you were an amazing defensive outfielder, and that you once caught a foul ball while playing center. Is that true?
CM: Yes, that’s true. I was in Texarkana and the wind was blowing across from right field toward the left field foul line. We had a left fielder that couldn’t move out of his steps, and I moved way over, almost in line with the shortstop in left-center, and the guy hit a high foul ball to left field. The wind took it, so I started after it and outran him to the foul line and caught the foul ball.
RC: It has been said that about that time, you got a contract from the Tigers for $1,800 but asked why it was so low and not for $3,600 since you were, “Soon going to be in the majors.” Tell that story and what the GM said back.
CM: Yes, I was offered $1,800 by Jack Zeller, GM of the Tigers, because Steve O’Neill wanted me after what I’d done for him in the minors. So he sent the contract to me, and by this time I was married and living in Kentucky and had a good job at a plant making quarter-millimeter shells. I was making $200 or $300 a week, because I was working 24 hours straight sometimes and overtime. He sent me the contract and I sent back a note, and these were my exact words: “Hey Jack, got your contract but their must be some mistake. I thought Detroit was in the Big Leagues, and you sent me a minor league contract.”
I got a letter back, and I lost it in a fire that we had in our home once, but it said, “Here’s your contract. Sign it. $3600 is what it’s for. I hope you’re half as good as you think you are you smart son of a bitch.” (Laughs) Right there in writing.
RC: (Laughs) Speaking of the Tigers and playing there, you played under Steve O’Neill, who like we talked about, managed you in the minors, too. What was he like?
CM: He was great. In fact, I was so crazy about him that I named one of my sons, Steve, after him. He was managing the Phillies at that time, and I had my little guy and I was managing Montgomery, and Steve was there and we were playing him so I said, “Steve, here’s something to show you. Here’s little Steve,” and I thought he was going to cry.
RC: In 1943, you went to Spring Training with the Tigers and made the Opening Day roster for O’Neill, who had managed you one year earlier in the minors. How exciting of a moment was that, and what do you remember about that first game?
CM: Well, I didn’t play Opening Day, but I played in the Opening Day at St. Louis against the Browns. My first time at bat I stood up there, took three strikes and didn’t even swing the bat. I came back and Steve said, “Charlie, you weren’t scared, were you?” And I said, “Yeah, a little bit.” He said go up there and swing, and next time I hit a double up the left field line. Al Hollingsworth was the pitcher.
RC: It has been said that you really became a true “baseball mind” that year from charting pitches and soaking up everything that Steve O’Neill knew. How much did you learn that first year in the majors?
CM: Well, I sat on the bench a lot, and I would sit there with a scorecard and count pitches. I’d count the pitches, balls or strikes, and then we’d know whether they are fastballs or curveballs, and I’d count and total them up at the end of the inning. One of the wise guys on the team says, “What in the hell are you doing writing on the damn scorecard, why don’t you just watch the game?” And Steve (the manager) says, “Charlie, come here.” He looked at the wise guy and me and then said, “You keep doing that.”
The same thing happened with Philadelphia when I was playing for Mr. (Connie) Mack. Al Simmons says one day, “What in the hell are you doing you bush!?!” And he looked at Mr. Mack, and he said, “He’s writing during the game.” And Mr. Mack asks, “Son, what are you doing?” And I said, “I’m counting the pitches.” He says, “Why are you doing that?” I said, “I’m watching every pitch thrown and seeing where each ball is hit.” He asked me where I learned that, and I told him I did it for Steve. He says, “You keep doing it,” and he gave Al Simmons hell. He says, “Al, you leave that boy alone.” And I did that all through my scouting years.
RC: Were you the first one to do that?
CM: I was the first to do that to my knowledge, yes.
RC: For the season with Detroit in 1943, you appeared in 40 games and the team went 78-76. Talk about some of the great players you played with?
CM: Rudy York, Doc Cramer, Pinky Higgins, Jimmy Bloodworth, and Paul Richards was the catcher. Paul really thought a lot of me because he knew what I was doing on the bench. Dizzy Trout and Hal Newhouser were great pitchers. Virgil Trucks was great too.
RC: In 1944, you played for Detroit again, but were released after just 38 games. Is there truth to the rumor that you were released partly because you were trying to organize a players union?
CM: Well, I wasn’t trying to organize it but I’d been through the union centers in coal mines, so I was very knowledgeable about them. So a guy came around and asked me if I knew anything about that. And he said, “You’re the man here in Detroit.” So I talked up the union to the players, and Jack Zeller got word of it and released me outright.
Then, Kramer called Connie Mack and told him about me, and Mr. Mack called and offered me $5,500 a year, where I was only making $3600 in Detroit, and he said, “I’ll give you $2,500 if your report right away.” I was on the train the next dawgun day, because my family was back in Mayfield, Kentucky where my wife was from. I told her I was released and she was going to drive to Detroit to join me, but I said, “Will you join me in Philadelphia?” And she did.
RC: Like you said, after the Tigers released you, you were immediately picked up by the Philadelphia A’s, and played in 24 games for Connie Mack. What was it like playing for him?
CM: He was a superb baseball tactician. He never was in uniform; rather, he was always in a suit, coat and tie. He was very proper in the dugout with his scorecard. When I played in left field he’d wave me around, and a story I love about him is I was in left field and we were playing Detroit, and I had played with Doc Kramer, so I knew he was a left field hitter. So, I move over that way and I look over, and Mack’s got his scorecard and is waving me to the foul line. So, I move over to the foul line and am almost there, and he kept waving me over, and I’m only 10 feet away. He gave me the okay with a scorecard. They made one pitch to Kramer, and I didn’t even move and caught the ball. I never doubted his moves anymore after that (Laughs).
RC: How much about managing and baseball did he teach you?
CM: I learned quite a bit, both from him and Steve O’Neill, but I learned most of my stuff myself. I expected the players to hustle at all times, be on time, and they said I was very stern and very tough, and I guess I was; I was very demanding. You had to be on time and do everything right, as in hustle day in and day out, be on time, and in the lower leagues, I had a strict midnight curfew, so I was very stern and very demanding. I didn’t take any foolishness and I always backed my ballplayers - I backed them to the limit.
Actually, I got a certain player out of a lot of troubles that nobody ever knew about. You protect them from the organization, too, so that it didn’t get back to the front office.
RC: Can you tell us more about that story?
CM: (Laughs) Well, I bailed him out of jail in Triple-A, and he was a great ballplayer and a man who will remain nameless. But, he came to the ballpark drunk and couldn’t even put on his uniform, so he finally put it on and kept pestering me the whole ballgame to let him hit (Laughs). And he couldn’t even stand. So finally, the last batter in the bottom of the 9th and we’re behind, and since it didn’t matter, I sent him up to hit. And he swung at 3 wild pitches 2 feet outside, and he came back and said,” You got a lot of guts to put me in against a guy with that kind of control.” (Laughs) I loved him – I always protected my ballplayers.
RC: Getting back to your playing days, in 1945 you won the starting centerfield spot for Philadelphia and played in 65 games before being traded to the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League. In 1945, you hit your only Major League home runs. Do you remember who the pitchers were?
CM: One was off of Jim Wilson in Philadelphia, and it hit the upper deck. I hit the other two against Jim Turner and another guy with the Yankees that I can’t remember right now… Hank Borowy, that was his name. And the story with Hank goes that they sent him to Chicago after that, and I thought they traded him because I hit a home run off of him (Laughs). I’ve had a great life.
RC: Did you get to keep the ball from the first homer you hit off of Jim Wilson?
CM: No, I never got the ball – you couldn’t keep a ball then. The only guy that could keep a ball was the guy that would make the last out. You weren’t allowed to keep a ball, holy cow. And you weren’t allowed to give a ball away, either.
In fact, here’s a story on a giveaway. I was with Detroit and we were in Philadelphia, and I‘m out in left field shagging fly balls during batting practice. It’s just about over, and one of our guys hits one down the left field line. It was in the gutter, a rain gutter down the left field line, and I picked it up. There was a kid standing there and looked at me with his big eyes, and he’s probably 10 years old, and I say, “Here, have the ball kid?” I gave him the baseball and he turned around and said, “Daddy, Daddy” and his father was standing up.
Anyway, I ran into the dugout and the next morning, we’re staying in the Warwick Hotel and playing a day game, and at 7 AM, a guy calls my room and is talking to me and says, “Charlie Metro, my name is so and so and I’m down in the lobby. Would you have
breakfast with me?” I said, “Yes.” And he said, “I’m the boy’s Daddy you gave the ball to.” And so he bought me breakfast. And you know who he was?
CM: He was a purchaser for Montgomery Ward and was the Vice President, and I can’t recall his name, but he says, “My son slept with that ball and won’t let it out of his site.” He says, “What do you do?” I said, “I live in Mayfield, Kentucky and I’m married.” And he asks me what I do for fun and I tell him that I love quail hunting in Mayfield. And he says, “What kind of a gun do you shoot?” I said, “I have a sharp 12-gauge shotgun.” He says, “Don’t you have an automatic?” I said, “Yes, but someone stole it from my garage.” He said, “What was it?” and I told him it was a type of Browning. He says, “You have any others?” And, I told him that I used to shoot a 16- and 20-gauge, and he took all this down.
So anyway, the season was over, and I’m in Mayfield, and in September I get a call from the railroad depot and they say, “Charlie, we’ve got a package for you. What do we do with it? It’s a big box. It must be 4X4, 4 square foot all the way around.” And he says, “What is it? We can’t lift it, we have to lift it with a forklift” So I asked them to deliver it, and they did.
Turns out, it was a box of shotgun shells of every gauge -- box after box after box -- and I don’t know how many shotgun shells were in that big box, but the box looked like it was 4 or 5 feet square. I didn’t have a job that winter yet, so I sold those shotgun shells for $20 apiece and didn’t have to work (Laughs). And then later on, here comes a shotgun, a Browning automatic.
RC: (Laughs) Nice. While you were in Oakland with the Oaks, you played under Casey Stengel. What did you learn from him and what kind of man was he?
CM: He was fantastic. I played everywhere for him and he thought I was amazing. But then they started getting guys with connections to the Big Leagues and I was out. So he said, “Kid, we’re going to release you, but I won’t tell them we’re releasing you and I’ll sell you to Seattle. Don’t tell them you were released.” So he gave me $2,500 for the sale.
RC: Billy Martin was a bat boy at the time for your team in Oakland, and you two became friends. What do you remember about him as a kid?
CM: I mentored him, Dave, I mentored him. My family didn’t come out in August to Oakland, and he was one of these kids who hovered around the ballpark. And the trainer befriended him to keep him out of trouble. He was always there when I’d go out at 3 PM for a night game, and one day he said, “Hey Big Leaguer!” And I look at him and say, “Kid, what do you want?” He said, “Big Leaguer, throw me some batting practice.” And Red Adams was the trainer, so I went in and got the bag of balls from him.
So anyway, he said, ”You throw to me, then I’ll throw to you.” And I think he was 15 or so, early teens. I threw the whole bag of balls, he hit them all over, and then I said, “Okay kid, now it’s my turn.” The balls were all scattered all over the outfield, and he pauses before saying, “Oh, Red is calling me and I have to go in and shine shoes.” (Laughs)
Anyway, I managed to see him later when he was in C-League and we had a chance to meet again after years and years. He was managing the Oakland A’s later in my career, too and I needed one year for my pension, so he says, “Charlie, don’t you have a pension?” I said, “Heck no, I only have 3 years.” He said, “You need another year? You’ll get it.” And he released one of his coaches and gave me the coaching job, which has made it very, very easy for me now. That was in 1983.
RC: Your playing career ultimately ended just before the 1947 season, but that’s when you began your career in minor league coaching and managing. Your first Triple-A managing job came in 1956 for the Charleston Senators of the American Association, but the team got off to a bad start. What do you remember about that team?
CM: Oh heck. I was working for John McHale; he was a Southerner who knew everything, but hell, he didn’t know nothing (Laughs). We called him a “big, high ass guy” because he couldn’t do anything. He came down with Spike Briggs (former owner of the Tigers) for Opening Day, and Jim Bunning was pitching with 100 victories in each league. He was my pitcher, but when they came down to you, you had a hell of a time straightening them out. He was pitching for me Opening Day, and Spike Briggs came down in his private plane for the opener, and Bunning has a 9-2 lead. So I went out and said, “What’s the matter, are you tired? And he said, “No, I can finish it.”
They started clobbering him and I went back when it was 9-8 with the bases loaded and the winning run was at second base with two outs. I walked out and he had told me “to get my ass in the dugout” the previous time. So he says, “What are you doing out here Charlie?” I say, “It looks like you’re in trouble.” He says, “You get your ass out of here” and I said, “Fine, it’s your game. You got us here and it’s your ballgame, so I don’t want to hear another word out of you. Strike ‘em out.” So the guy hits a line shot and the outfielder comes over and makes a tumbling catch for the third out. I said, “Nice job” and he says, “Thank you, Skip.”
So anyway, Spike comes in after the game and into the clubhouse, and he says, “You almost blew the damn the thing.” He’s with John McHale, and I looked at him and said, “Move your ass, we won the game didn’t we?”
And Dave, my days were numbered there after that (Laughs).
RC: (Laughs) Your big managing break came in 1948, when GM Cedric Tallis, an old friend of yours, offered you the managing job with the Vancouver Mounties of the Pacific Coast League. While in Vancouver, you got a chance to manage a young Brooks Robinson. Could you tell at that time that he’d be as good as he ended up being?
CM: Oh yes, oh yes, with that glove, definitely. It seemed like the ball had eyes into his glove when he was fielding. He was fantastic, one of the greatest I’d ever seen. I saved his career, you know that?
RC: How so?
CM: Well, in Vancouver, he was playing third base, and we had a rain delay and it was slippery. And the dugout over by third where he was playing was waist high, and we had a screen of wire so you could duck down. And they took the wire down but they forgot to take the hook off the railing, just above where you could see out of the dugout. A foul ball comes over and Brooks coming running over for it and I’m saying, “Look out, look out” and he slips and grabs for the railing and gets the right arm right at the elbow – it sliced open about three or four inches, and his tendons were hanging over. I grabbed his arm and caught it and said, ”Don’t fall, don’t fall.” The Doctor said that if those wires would have snapped, his baseball days would have been over.
So if you ever see Brooksie, ask to see his right arm and see that scar.
RC: Wow. You managed the Denver Bears of the American Association to the playoffs in both 1960 and 1961, as we talked about a bit earlier. What do you remember about that?
CM: Well, I broke the color line for the black ballplayer in the American Association when I was with Denver. I had Bubba Morton, Jake Wood and Ozzie Virgil, and they all went to the Big Leagues. We were playing Indianapolis and about to head to Louisville. The game was over at midnight and we were on the road by 1:00 AM. So we got in at 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning, and we’re checking into the hotel. I always got the keys and gave them to the players. I gave them to Ozzie and I said, “Hey, you guys stay in one room.” And then all of a sudden, the guy behind the counter at the hotel says, “No, we don’t allow those [n-word] in our hotel.”
This is at the Sheraton in Louisville, Kentucky at 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning, and I grabbed [the clerk] by the necktie and was pulling him over the desk in the hotel, and the son of a gun had a button underneath and had pushed it. Before I turned him loose, two cops came in and grabbed me, and they said, “You’re gone.”
So, they took me to jail and I said, “I didn’t assault the guy, he just wouldn’t let my black guys in the hotel. What the hell is this?” And one of the cops said, “Really?” I took a look at him and he was as light skinned black guy (Laughs). And they put me in jail and kept me until the morning, but they brought me breakfast.
So anyway, I came back to the hotel, gave him the money and got my key, and I was furious mad and got dressed. Jake Wood come down and I said, “Where are you going, you’re going with me” And he said, “No, no” because he saw what they did to me the night before. So I told him he’s coming anyway, and I told him if he didn’t come I’d fine him. He knew they wouldn’t serve him, so I said, “Tell me what you want, whatever you want,” and I ordered two of that, which ended up being bacon, sausage, eggs, toast, juice, coffee and milk; everything (Laughs). The waitress looks at me and I said, “That’s what I am, hungry.” Jake was sitting with me and I said, “Jake, eat quick, before the police come.” (Laughs)
So I broke the color line for the black ballplayers at that level.
RC: Wow – that’s amazing stuff. After your times in Denver, which were obviously very memorable for many reasons, you ultimately returned to the majors in 1962 as a member of the Chicago Cubs’ “college of coaches.” Before we talk more about that, explain the concept of “college of coaches” and what it meant?
CM: Well, they picked out three guys that were going to manage the club. Lou Klein was one, El Tappe was another, and then there was me. I think Tappe was the first one, and he managed them for the first three weeks. Then Klein managed it, and the three of us were going to be the dual coaches. When you were done with your time managing, you were supposed to go down to the minor leagues.
Anyway, about June or so it was my turn, so I took over the club and I had them playing real well. We didn’t have any pitching but still had a pretty good ball club. So we’re in 7th place, and Mr. Wrigley called me and said, “Son, we’ve got you going to Fondalak” or some place down at Class-B League. I said, “Where?” He says, “Fondalak. We’ve got you scheduled.” I said, “I’ll go, but I sure goddamn hell won’t like it.” He looked at me with a puzzled look because nobody ever talked to him like that, and he said, “You mean that?” I said, “Damn right I mean it. I’m not going to no damn Indy League.” I started to tell him to take his job and shove it, but I didn’t, and he said, “All right son, you can manage the rest of the season.” So I did.
RC: (Laughs) That’s hilarious.
CM: (Laughs) We didn’t have a good ball club but they were playing good – we’d get beat by one or two runs, but I had them playing. I had Ron Santo, Lou Brock, Billy Williams, and Ernie Banks. But no pitching.
RC: You were always looking for edges and to be an innovator, and while with Chicago, had each rival manager’s handwriting examined to look for tendencies and edges for when you faced their teams. Where did that idea come from and do you believe the graphology helped?
CM: Oh yes, I do. I had a handwriting expert give me ideas. You didn’t know the guy at all in the other dugout. Hell, I hardly knew those guys or who they were. And he gave it to me, the results that is, and it was remarkable. He’d tell you how they’d act, whether they were gamblers or strong, and all about their intellect. God, I never told anybody about that. But I read those guys like a book.
RC: Following the 1962 season, you were let go by the Cubs, and spent the next four years (1962-1966) as a coach and advance scout for the White Sox. You helped the Sox acquire Hoyt Wilhelm, Ron Hansen, Dave Nicholson and Pete Ward in exchange for Luis Aparicio, which ultimately helped the Sox become a power for several years. Is that one of your more proud accomplishments in baseball?
CM: Yes. I was also instrumental in Tommy John coming over, too. There was no pension for that job, though, so that was difficult.
RC: In 1966, you managed the Tulsa Oilers of the Pacific Coast League. One of your players was Steve Carlton. Later, you spent 1968 as a major league scout for the Cincinnati Reds, and at the end of 1968, your old friend Cedric Tallis was named GM of the new Kansas City Royals. You were named “Director of Player Procurement,” and were mainly in charge of the expansion draft. First of all, how exciting was it to have such a hand in the creation of a new franchise?
CM: Well, I had worked for Cedric before, and he knew everything about baseball. He wanted me real bad, so I went with him, and he was a different guy than what I’d worked for previously. So he promised me that I’d get to manage the Royals. He said, “You select the ballplayers and you’ll manage them.” I said, “I’d like to have that in writing” and he said, “You have my word on it.”
So anyway, I scouted every ballplayer that was selected in 1969, all 30 of them that we took, and I was supposed to get the job as manager afterward. But early that spring in February, I had bleeding and an ulcer and hell, I went from 185 to 160 pounds, lost all that weight. And they wouldn’t let me manage; he gave it to Bob Lemon. I was mad as heck at him, but I still worked as Director of Player Procurement, did the scouting and everything else.
RC: The Seattle Pilots were the other expansion team that year, and they decided to draft the veteran players, while you decided to go with an emphasis on younger players that you’d seen in the minor leagues. What made you decide on that philosophy?
CM: Well, I knew we were going to have a chance to grow, and I knew that I was good with young ballplayers and thought I would be managing the club, so I was selecting ballplayers that I thought I could help improve. And as it turns out, they did.
I remember that I told Ewing Kauffman when we selected, “Ewing, we’ll win the pennant in seven years.” He looked at me real funny and says, “What?” And I said, “Yes, in seven years.” In seven years I was gone, and Dave, that was a terrible thing that they did to me, but what the heck, those things happen.
RC: Can you tell us more about the now extinct title of Director of Player Procurement and what exactly it entailed?
CM: I selected all the scouts in the organization, I scouted every single player drafted in the expansion draft, I selected all the managers in the minor leagues, and one of my best moves was to put Jack McKeon down in the B-League. I selected everything: the spring training site, Ewing Kauffman’s Baseball College Academy, everything. There wasn’t anything that I didn’t do for them.
I also gave a lot of information on the new stadium. If you’ve sat down the left field or right field line at Kauffman Stadium, you’ve probably noticed that the seats turn toward home plate instead of toward the outfield. That was my idea that I gave the guys that designed the stadium. I had a lot of input on that.
I was also the first guy to have a batting cage inside the ballpark in the old ballpark in Kansas City. It warmed up my pinch hitters – nobody had ever heard of that.
RC: Stepping back a bit, what do you remember about the day of the Expansion Draft?
CM: Well, I was going to select Mickey Mantle. There is something that has never been written or known until now. And the Yankees had him available through three picks, leaving him unprotected, and I was going to select him, but then word got out. I don’t know who the hell told, but I got the word that if you select him, you’re to get fired.
RC: What?!? Mickey Mantle was almost a Royal?
CM: Yes. The Royals told me if I picked Mantle, who was unprotected for three picks, that I would be fired. I was going to take him and offer him $200,000 per year for three years because we had that brief moment to get him. I talked to Ewing and I told him I wanted to select Mantle, and just before he said, “Charles, don’t do it, don’t do it.” He’s the owner, so I didn’t to it, and he said if I had selected him he was going to fire me. I said, “Ewing, can you pay him $200,000 for two years at the very least?” He said no.
With Mantle, you’d have had everyone out in Oklahoma pulling for you, and with Kansas City being close, more fans. He had a bad leg at that point but I thought he could pitch hit, pinch run, and sit up on the radio and TV and everything else, as well as being my right hand man as player-coach, all that. We’d beat the hell out of everybody. But I didn’t get it done.
RC: Wow. Outside of Mantle, did you get all the players you wanted?
CM: The Yankees hid quite a bit of their players, so I didn’t do real good with them. I wanted to get Bobby Murcer and Jerry Kenney, as the Yankees didn’t have them on their roster or protected list. Both were in the military some place and I had researched all of these guys. But like a damn fool, I mentioned it and the word got around. And for all that hard work, your friends in Kansas City later fired me.
RC: After the draft was over, you were next instructed to start the Royals Farm System from scratch. Describe that process and how it went?
CM: We had some extra players, and we made some deals and got more. We made a deal with Pittsburgh and got Freddie Patek, Bruce Del Canton and Jerry May, and we filled our Triple-A roster. We did the same thing with Houston – we got some players. We filled in some players and I demanded two or three ballplayers in almost every trade – I didn’t care where they were, but I got them because we had to field rosters. Some of them didn’t turn out good but some did, like Amos Otis.
Actually, I saw Amos playing third base in St. Petersburg, Florida when I was down there scouting spring training games. I saw him and didn’t like him at third base; he was tall and lanky, and I called him over and said, “Aren’t you an outfielder?” He said, “Yes sir.” And I said, “What are the Mets doing?” He said, “I don’t like third base.” And that’s all the conversation we had, so I got him as an outfielder.
RC: You made an “instructional book” for each player in the organization to help develop “The Royal Way.” What was in that book and where did you get that idea from?
CM: Well, I got that idea a long time ago. Way back, I don’t know when, but I was with Al Campanis, who was an assistant something or other with the Dodgers. I asked, “Are you writing a book?” And he said, “I’m going to try.” I said, “What are you going to write?” And he said, “I’m going to write about teaching.”
It was Spokane, Washington, I’m up there scouting and he’s there. So he spent three days with me and was absolutely amazed. I had done this in Bisbee, Arizona my first year as manager, and I had drew a big field on paper. I never got it completed but I showed it to Campanis years later in Spokane and he said, “Charlie, we’re working on something like that.” So they made every play in the book, every ball hit in the outfield, down the line, a man on first base, where to throw the ball, where to run, everything, every situation. Black was the fielder, red was the runner, or maybe it was vice versa. But I don’t take credit for that at all – he did that.
So he ultimately sent me one, and I asked permission to get 200 for the Kansas City Royals organization and then sent it to all the players in the system, then got fired.
RC: What do you remember about the 54 games you were manager in 1970?
CM: Like I told you, I had that ulcer operation, and I was gaining my strength and got it back, and we played the hell out of it - I never gave in to anybody. Cedric was friendly with Bob Lemon, who he’d associated with in California with the Angels, and he hired Lemon as a coach without my knowledge when I took over. And he also hired Joe Schultz and George Strickland without my knowledge, and I only had one chance with one coach, a guy I knew way back in the Detroit organization, Danny Carnevale, an all-time great baseball guy.
RC: You were always described as extremely colorful and used to get into huge arguments with umpires and use tactics such as throwing bats on the field to prove your point. Many also say that you did this just to be entertaining. Is that true?
CM: Well, first of all, I had to make sure that I was right before I did something. And then after awhile, I put it on for show. I’d put it on, and I’ll tell you one story from managing and my favorite. I was managing the Tulsa Oilers and we were playing here in Denver, where I’d also managed before. I was thrown out of a few games but I don’t like to talk about it in front of my wife because she raises hell with me (Laughs).
Anyway, we have a play at home plate, and I thought the guy was safe, but the umpire called him out. My first baseman and next hitter was jumping up and down and screaming, and I didn’t want him thrown out. So I lowered the boom on the umpire. Questioned his ancestry and asked him if he had a mother and father, said he was blind, and I was thrown out (Laughs). But my ballplayers stayed in and turned the ball club over to my coaches.
Finally, as I was going by second base to head to the clubhouse, which was in right field, I knew it was going to cost me either way, so I just picked up the bag which was on a stake and headed on. Right after, here comes the groundskeeper pounding on the clubhouse door, which I locked, and he said, “You’ve got to give it to me or you’ll get fined.” So, after 30 minutes, I gave him the bag – they played with three bases for 30 minutes (Laughs). I was the oldest guy in baseball to steal second base without a tag (Laughs). That little deal cost me $100.
RC: So did Lou Piniella learn from the best while he watched you as a player (Laughs)?
CM: I don’t know that he ever saw me or not (Laughs). But I made the trade for him, and I recognized right away that he was a pretty good ballplayer. I knew all about him and I liked everything about him, but he had a lazy attitude, so I inherited that. One day he loafed, and I didn’t say anything. The next day he loafed again, and finally, he was playing defense when a guy hit a line shot to left field, one hop, and Lou bobbled it, picked it up, and the guy got a double. I took him out of the lineup the next day and he was furious, because he was being honored as the Rookie of the Year and I didn’t have him in the lineup; he never forgave me (Laughs).
The end of that story, I’m scouting and he’s managing Seattle years and years later, and I go to the ballpark in Arizona, and he’s not there – they said he was at the dentist or something. Then he comes up as I was leaving and says, “Charlie, how are you?” He blasted me in the USA Today years earlier; he said all kinds of ugly words that I can’t repeat (Laughs). Now this was in the upper right hand corner of the USA Today on the front page, so I read it. The guy called me, the sports guy, and I told him, “Lou is a good ballplayer. He could catch a ball, but he wouldn’t. He could throw, but he wouldn’t. He could hustle, but he wouldn’t.” The answers were on the front page of the USA Today, and I see him in spring training and he sees me years later, and he told me that he was sorry. And I said, “What are you sorry about?”
I asked him if I could have a coke in the clubhouse, and he to have whatever. He gave me a sweat jacket and told them to “give me anything I wanted.” He cried on my shoulder that day and wanted forgiveness.
I told him, “Look Lou, I was just trying to wake you up,” and I think that eventually, I helped in doing that, although most of it was when I was gone. He was a hell of a ballplayer.
RC: Talk about some of your favorite players on that 1970 team?
CM: Bob Oliver, Buck Martinez. But see, we were kind of low on the totem poll. A lot of guys didn’t want to play there (in Kansas City) – we were kind of a new ball club and had no history. But then they got the idea
RC: What was it like playing in the old Municipal Stadium?
CM: It was an old ballpark – old and run down. Right field had a big bang in the fence, left field I think had a screen. It was a nice ballpark, but it was old, it went way back. Clubhouses were very small, the seating was not very good, and I think the neighborhood wasn’t very good.
RC: Was it actually a relief to be replaced by Bob Lemon after the 54 game mark of the 1970 season?
CM: No, I was terribly upset. And then to be treated like that – and I’m not mad at it, I just say it with a tone I guess.
RC: After managing the Royals, you went back to scouting and finished out your contract, which ran through the end of 1971. When you look back, how proud are you of the job you did with the Royals?
CM: Everybody complimented me. They said it was the greatest job anybody had ever done with an expansion team. I built the scouting department. I was signing guys who were making $5,500 a year scouting and driving their own family cars. I hired the scouts, and started them out at $10,000-$12,000. I never started anyone less than that – I prided myself on scouting and taking care of them. I talked Ewing Kauffman into giving them a new car. I said, “Why don’t we give them Cadillacs and put the Royals insignia on the side?” Cedric turned that down, but I got them all brand new Pontiacs. We got them gas cards, I got them a pension started, and I don’t know how it ever went. I never asked.
RC: What are you most proud of during your times with the Royals?
CM: The fact that I selected a baseball academy and selected Fort Myers as our spring training home – made them put in an extra diamond there, too. We had three places where you could train. I guess that part of the Royals was my favorite.
I hold no animosity, Dave. I’m just going back and repeating some stuff when I was mad.
RC: Some close to the Royals organization believe you never got enough credit for what you did for the franchise and shaping the way it was run. What do you say to that?
CM: I never saw that - I never knew that they gave me credit for that. They never gave me credit for anything there; it was others outside who did.
RC: After your times in Kansas City and the end of 1971, you ended up staying in baseball until 1984, with stints as a scout, coach and talent evaluator. Where were you at?
CM: Well, let’s see. I was a scout for the Dodgers, I was a scout at the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau, I was a scout for the White Sox, and I coached a time or two to get me qualified for my pension.
RC: What made you decide to retire at the end of 1984?
CM: My wife had been alone too much as it was, so I didn’t want to leave her alone anymore. So I quit and stayed at home. and we just celebrated our 66th anniversary. When that comes up, I say, “I’m perfect in her presence.”
RC: When you look back, do you consider yourself a member of one organization?
CM: I was a member of baseball. My timing was terrible in a lot of places. They changed business managers, scouting directors, general managers, everything in the book. I’d be caught in that thing. The most disappointing thing I had was with the Dodgers – I did a hell of a job for them, made trades for them and everything, advanced scouting, everything for seven years. One more year and I’d have been qualified for a big pension, and they released me. That was tough to take.
And then, after a year off, they re-hired me, but it didn’t count, because it had to be consecutive, so I think I got a couple of hundred dollars a month in pension from that. But I don’t gripe. Just like when I managed and lost a game, I didn’t dwell on it.
RC: When you look at the game today, and the overall health of baseball, what do you think?
CM: Well, I’m not going to question the salaries, but the thing that has gotten completely out of hand is with the agents. I think they are good and bad – they’re running things and disrupting clubs. And then, the changing of the rules, where you can be up with a club and become a free agent. I think at some point it kills the nucleus of a ball club. You have to give a guy a long contract, like Todd Helton here in Denver, and they can’t release him, although they shouldn’t because he’s a hell of a ballplayer.
But the thing about the agents, I think they overstep their bounds and they’re controlling outcomes of ball clubs by having their clients hold out, demanding trades, giving a list of clubs he’ll go to and a list he won’t, and I don’t think that’s good. But, they’re there and they are powerful, and you’ve got to live with it.
RC: Do you still follow the Royals at all?
CM: Yes, I die with them and I’m dying with them right now. They’re in last place and way back, and I’m not a fan of Buddy Bell. He was a loser here (in Colorado), and he is there.
But you never lose your love for a club, just like I root for the Cubbies now that Lou is there and he’s going to turn them around.
Oh and yes, I loved the 1985 World Series.
RC: What would you call the proudest accomplishment of your baseball career?
CM: The association with the ballplayers and all the years I was in it. I wanted to stay longer but my wife said no, you’ve had enough. But I had from 1937-1984.
RC: Buck O’Neill always had tremendous things to say about you. What would you say about him and the kind of man he was?
CM: I had one regret in my baseball career and with Buck. He was one of the best baseball minds I’d ever met, just really sharp, and he’d been a manager, a coach, everything. I was thrown out of a game in Chicago while I was managing the Cubs, and Buck was my bench coach, and I regret one thing – not making him a field coach on either first or third base. He would have been the first black coach to coach a base, and I dwell on that a lot, the fact that I didn’t do that. I told him that, and he said, “Charlie, don’t worry about it.”
RC: Before we get to what you’re doing today, you’ve written a fantastic book called Safe By a Mile, which is available through the University of Nebraska Press. Tell us about that book and what we’ll find inside of it?
CM: Well, you’ll see a lifetime of baseball from the time I was a little batboy for the town team all the way to the end. The way it came out was Professor Tom Altherr at Metro State was a baseball guy there, and I’d made a lot of speeches for him. Finally, after the tenth one, he said, “Charlie, you’ve never repeated the same thing twice. Let’s write a book.” We started taping and taped 100 hours, and I love the guy, he became a very close friend. He says, “Now I know why you were thrown out of so many games, you never stopped talking.” (Laughs)
RC: (Laughs) Finally, what is Charlie Metro up to today, and what have you been doing since 1984?
CM: Honey Do’s. Like “honey do this, honey do that.” (Laughs) My God, I can hear it in my sleep (Laughs).
I tell you what, I go to games and I give a lot of speeches; I don’t charge for them. I think I’m the oldest or one of the oldest Philadelphia Athletics players still living, and I think I’m pretty close to being one of the oldest Detroit Tigers.
RC: Thanks so much for your time, Charlie. I think I speak for all Royals fans when I tell you that we’re proud of the organization you helped build and can’t wait to get it back to that again someday.
CM: Thank you Dave. I enjoyed it very much.