/Remembering the great Charley Pride and a most memorable day in Hattiesburg

Remembering the great Charley Pride and a most memorable day in Hattiesburg

It was April 1983’s first week, and this meant that a number of celebrities and pro golfers were making their way to Hattiesburg Country Club to play in the Magnolia Classic pro-am. Pride was 45 years old and was seated with some journalists and TV reporters in the green tent that served as the tournament’s media headquarters. Two minutes in to the interview, we were still laughing at Pride’s first answer when an old, senile south Mississippi sports reporter asked this question: “Charley. Can you tell us how it was playing baseball in the old, n— leagues?” Nobody said anything for a split second. Pride quickly lost his smile and became a blank stare. I can still remember wanting to climb under the chair. Pride must have felt. He was at the peak of his success with 21 No. 1 hits and 14 gold albums. 1 hits. He was named the Country Music Entertainer Of The Year. He was back in his state and needed to hear this. The interview seemed to be over before it even started. Pride smiled and continued to smile. He reverted to his charm. “Let’s tell you about my baseball . He began, and he continued, enticed us with story after story, mostly baseball. Who would have thought? The son of sharecroppers, the Delta town of Sledge, who sang soothing songs such as “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin” and “Is Anyone Going to San Antone?” also pitched against Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. Pride stated that he doesn’t believe Aaron ever hit me but that he could not get Mays out. Pride said that he hit him everywhere, except on the bottom of his foot. Pride also told us that he learned baseball in a Sledge cow pasture where he picked cotton and later a guitar. He bought his first guitar at 14 using the money he had saved from cotton picking. It was an old Sears & Roebuck Silvertone. He was able to play quickly and efficiently. He had his first professional gig at age 15. Pride stated that a man from the next street gave him three dollars so that he could come and play at his dance. Pride said, “That was my beginning.” However, Pride’s musical career was secondary to his desire to earn a living from baseball for many years. He told us that he was both a pitcher, and an outfielder. I had a hummer and a hook, as well as a change. I had everything a pitcher could need until I broke the old hose. I then tried a knuckleball. It didn’t work, but I was still able to hit. Pride came to Hattiesburg from Pompano Beach in Fla. where he had attended spring training. One game was covered by Sports Illustrated. Celebrities were allowed to participate in spring training games back then. Pride struck out twice in just two at-bats. Pride chuckled, “They wrote Charley Pride hits in three ways: left-handed, right-handed, and rarely.” “But they don’t tell you last year that I went one-for-two against Jim Palmer. Pride played in the middle of the 1950s for the Memphis Red Sox. Pride looked at the older sports writer, who had earlier chimed in. Pride replied “That was in old Negro American League.” “I suppose they’d call them the Black American League now. We used to barnstorm after the season, and the best players of our league would play Willie Mays All-Stars (Major Leagues).” Pride pitched not only against Aaron and Mays but also against established Major League stars such as Elston Howard, Junior Gilliam, and Ernie Banks. Pride said, “I nearly beat the Mays All-Stars at Albany, Ga. in 1956.” I struck out 12, and they won 1-0 in the ninth. They scored two more runs and beat me by 2-1. “I cried. Pride quit organized baseball in 1961. But not because of country music. He was then asked why. Pride smiled, appearing to be trying to conceal a smile. Pride replied that it was the opinion of several major league clubs that I was too old. Pride said that although it wasn’t his opinion, they believed it. He told us that the highest he made in baseball was $200 per month and $2 per day in meal money. He said with twinkling eyes, “I do a little better now.” He was right. Pride’s achievements include 36 No.1 hits, 31 gold albums (four platinum albums), four platinum albums, and one quadruple-platinum album. He was a RCA Records recording artist and ranked second in record sales, behind Elvis Presley from Mississippi. Although he never achieved his goal to play Major League Baseball, he did become part-owner of the Texas Rangers Major League Team. He sang the National Anthem in front of a World Series game. Pride said that he was frequently asked how a Black man from Sledge could become one of the most prominent stars in country music. This industry is dominated by white artists. He said, “It was the music that I liked on the radio.” It doesn’t have anything unusual to me. Everyone has to grow up. “I grew up in Sledge,”