God bless Bob Lemke, he makes the coolest baseball cards, including his latest, which is more accurately a country and western singer card. I was and remain today a big Charley Pride fan going back precisely 40 years, and so seeing Lemke’s spectacular creation gave me a real kick. It also sent me to Charley Pride’s website, which I feel a little embarrassed about not visiting sooner.
Anyway, as you can see, Bob’s ersatz 1954 Bowman of Pride is nothing short of sensational. If I were one of Charley Pride’s people – and you know he has people – I’d put that image up on the website. Negro leaguers got the short end of the stick in so many ways; among the most aggravating decades after the “leagues” folded is the fact that darn few decent photographs exist even of the more prominent Negro leaguers. Pride was hardly that, but the stories of him playing guitar on the Memphis Red Sox team bus (or getting traded to another team in exchange for a used bus) make for great fodder in conjunction with a pretty decent second career that he picked up once he hung up the spikes.
Having grown up in New York, embracing a country and western singer was hardly a natural evolution for me. Technically, I got onto Charley Pride from a Filipino band that performed his music. I listened to Louis DeCastro and his Countrymen perform Pride’s top hits in Olongapo City in the Philippines in 1969. I came home on leave after almost two years in the Philippines as a full-fledged Charley Pride fan (and Johnny Cash, too), to the complete bewilderment of my father, whose only familiarity with country and western music revolved around some hideously sequined yahoos that played on an Albany, N.Y., local television station on Saturday afternoons.
I am sure it will startle younger folks, but Charley Pride was arguably the brightest light in country music in the 1970s. In the fall of 1970 I went to a concert of his at the Oakland Coliseum, and it was sold out. Charley was the headliner and Anne Murray was his warm-up. When I visited his website, I saw that he’ll be performing on Sept. 12 in Wisconsin Dells. Gotta admit I’m tempted.
I also got a kick out of the biography page on his website that noted Pride’s biggest thrill in baseball was getting a double off Warren Spahn. I got to be friends with Spahn a bit for a couple of years before he died in 2003, and I would have loved to have asked him about that one.