Charley Pride is an American singer, musician, guitarist, business owner and former professional baseball player….whose greatest musical success came in the early to mid-1970’s….when he became the best-selling performer for RCA Records since Elvis Presley. During the peak years of his recording career from 1966 to 1987, he garnered 52 top-10 hits on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart …..of which 30 made it to # 1.
Pride is one of the few African-Americans to have enjoyed considerable success in the country music industry….and one of only three….along with DeFord Bailey and Darius Rucker….to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry. In 2010, Pride became a special investor and minority owner of the Texas Rangers Major League Baseball club. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000….and since he was a former professional baseball player….we here at ImaSportsphile just have to tell his sports story.
When Pride was 14, his mother purchased his first guitar….and he taught himself to play….and though he loved music….one of Pride’s lifelong dreams was to become a professional baseball player. In 1952, he pitched for the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro American League….then in 1953, he signed a contract with the Boise Yankees….who were the Class C farm team of the New York Yankees….when during that season an injury caused him to lose the “mustard” on his fastball….and he was sent to the Yankees’ Class D team in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Later that season, while in the Negro Leagues with the Louisville Clippers, another player, Jesse Mitchell and he were traded to the Birmingham Black Barons for a team bus….to which Charley said…“Jesse and I may have the distinction of being the only players in history to be traded for a used motor vehicle.”
Pride pitched for several other minor league teams, his hopes of making it to the big leagues still alive, but the Army derailed this….wherein he served for two years from 1956 to 1958….and when he was discharged….that’s when he rejoined the Memphis Red Sox….while still trying to follow his lifetime dream ….as he tried to return to baseball although hindered by an injury to his throwing arm. Pride played three games for the Missoula Timberjacks of the Pioneer League (a farm club of the Cincinnati Reds) in 1960….and had tryouts with the California Angels in 1961….and the New York Mets in 1962….but was not picked up by either team.
When he was laid off by the Timberjacks, he moved to work construction in Helena, Montana, in 1960. He was recruited to pitch for the local semipro baseball team, the East Helena Smelterites, and the team manager helped him get a job at the local Asarco lead smelter. The lead smelter kept 18 jobs open specifically for baseball players…..and arranged their shifts so they could play as a team. Pride batted .444 his first year.
Pride’s singing ability soon came to the attention of the team manager….who also paid him to sing for 15 minutes before each game….which increased attendance and earned Pride another $10 on top of the $10 he earned for each game. He also played gigs in the local area, both solo and with a band called the Night Hawks, and Asarco asked him to sing at company picnics. His job at the smelter was dangerous and difficult…where he once broke his ankle. He routinely unloaded coal from railroad cars, shoveling it into a 2,400 °F furnace while keeping clear of slag….a task which frequently gave him burns. In a 2014 interview, Pride explained, “I would work at the smelter, work the swing shift and then play music,” said Pride. “I’d work 11-7. Drive. Play Friday. Punch in. Drive. Polson. Philipsburg.”
Between his smelter job and his music, he made a good living in the Helena area. He moved his wife and son to join him and they lived in Helena until 1967….while purchasing their first home there, and with their children Dion and Angela being born at the local hospital. The Pride family moved to Great Falls, Montana, in 1967….cuz Pride’s music career was taking off and he required quicker access to an airport. The family ultimately left Montana and moved to Texas in 1969….and from the soul of a true Texas….that was the best move he ever made….by osmosis if for no other reason.
On June 5, 2008, Pride and his brother Mack “The Knife” Pride and 28 other living former Negro League players were “drafted” by each of the 30 Major League Baseball teams in a recognition of the on-field achievements and historical relevance of 30 mostly forgotten, Negro-League stars. Pride was picked by the Texas Rangers, with whom he has had a long affiliation….and the Colorado Rockies took his brother.
Not only are we happy to tell Charley Pride’s sports story….cuz we are also “tickled pink” to have this live performance of his on stage at Austin City Limits…..cuz performance makes Charley a “home boy”