Stephen F. Austin State University

Charlie Neal Was A Hit With the Dodgers (November 2015)

Charlie Neal Was A Hit With the Dodgers

By Van Craddock

Like many East Texas youngsters in the early 1940s, Charlie Neal dreamed of playing Major League baseball one day. He had the God-given talent to play the game but the Majors were still segregated.

Fortunately, that changed with Jackie Robinson in 1947. In a rags-to-riches fairy tale, Longview's Charlie Neal became a World Series star for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Charles Lenard Neal was born Jan. 30, 1931, in Longview. He attended South Side Elementary School and Longview Colored High School, which later became Mary C. Womack High.

While still in school, his father put together an amateur baseball team that included Charlie and his older brother. The club traveled to area communities to compete against other teams.

Soon, scouts were showing up to watch young Charlie play ball. He was drafted by the Brooklyn Dodgers while still in high school.

Like most professional players, Charlie spent several years in the minor leagues. For a brief time he was on the roster of the Atlanta Black Crackers of the Negro Southern League. From 1950 to 1955 he played with Dodgers' farm clubs: Lancaster, Elmira, Newport News, St. Paul and Montreal, where he was named the team's most valuable player.

Finally, in 1956, the 25-year-old Charlie was called up to the Brooklyn Dodgers. His Major League debut was April 17, playing second base against the Philadelphia Phillies. Among those in the Dodger lineup that day were Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Don Newcomb and Don Drysdale.

There was another Dodger playing that day: Jackie Robinson, the man who had broken the color barrier and paved the way for Charlie and other African Americans.

Neal had a good initial season with the Dodgers, hitting .287. The Dodgers also were impressed with his speed and ability to turn a double play. One sportswriter noted Charlie had the "speed of a gazelle."

In 1958, the Dodgers left Brooklyn for the West Coast sun of Los Angeles. The following year, Charlie had the best season of eight he would experience in the Major Leagues.

He earned a Gold Glove award for his fielding, hit a solid .287 again and was named an American League All-Star. The Dodgers won the National League pennant and faced the Chicago White Sox, the American League champs, in the 1959 World Series.

The Sox easily beat L.A. 11-0 in the first Series game and were ahead 2-0 in the second game when Charlie came to bat in the fifth inning. Neal hit a home run, tying the game. Then, in the seventh inning, Charlie hit his second homer of the game to give the Dodgers the lead 4-3.

Charlie was the toast of L.A. with his two-homer game.

The Dodgers went on to win the World Series four games to two. Charlie had a great Series with a .370 batting average, two homers, two doubles and six runs batted in.

Charlie played two more years with L.A., again being named an All-Star in 1960. He then was traded to the new expansion team, the New York Mets, whose manager was the legendary Casey Stengel.

Neal's baseball career ended in 1963. The eight years had been quite an adventure. Charlie even appeared in a 1958 Jerry Lewis movie, "The Geisha Boy." He played (surprise!) a baseball player.

Charlie Neal, the 1959 World Series hero, was 65 when he died on Nov. 18, 1996.