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Charlie Metro

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Charles Metro
born Charles Moreskonich

  • Bats Right, Throws Right
  • Height 5' 11½", Weight 178 lb.

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Contents

[edit] Biographical Information

Charlie Metro was involved in baseball in various capacities for almost 50 years, beginning as a player in the lower minor leagues during the Great Depression, when he was barely out of high school, all the way to brief stints at the helm of the Chicago Cubs and Kansas City Royals. While he epitomized the old-school baseball man, who has done everything in his career and knows every facet of the game, he was also an innovator and the author of a very entertaining autobiography.

[edit] Early Playing Experience

Charlie Metro was born Charles Moreskonich in Nanty Glo, Pennsylvania, in 1918. His father, Metro Moreskonich, was a Ukrainian immigrant who worked in the coal mines of Western Pennsylvania. His father's first name became his nickname, "Little Metro", and eventually his baseball last name because it would fit more easily in the boxscores. In 1937, while still in high school, he attended a tryout camp run by the St. Louis Browns in Johnstown, Pennsylvania and was one of the few lucky participants to be offered a minor league contract by former Major League first baseman Jack Fournier. It was the start of a 47-year career in professional baseball.

Charlie Metro began his voyage through the depths of organized baseball by being released by the Easton Browns of the Class D Eastern Shore League after 23 games of hitting .203, but, after returning to the coal mines for a few months, he convinced the Browns to give him another try. In 1938, he played for the Pennington Gap Lee Bears of the Appalachian League, as a good fielding but light-hitting center fielder. He found his hitting stroke next year for the Mayfield Browns of the Class D Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League where he hit 14 home runs and drove in 75 runs as the team’s lead-off hitter. His roommate that year was future Browns star Vern Stephens. He moved to the Palestine Pals of the Class C East Texas League in 1940, but was released after a few games because the team’s owner did not appreciate his working part-time as a Fuller Brush salesman to make ends meet. He was picked up by the Texarkana Liners, an independent team in the same league, and had a fine season. When the Detroit Tigers added the team as an affiliate after the season, Metro found himself part of that organization and had another fine year for Texarkana in 1941, which had moved to the Cotton States League in the meantime. He prided himself in the amount of ground he could cover in center field in those days: he once caught a fly ball in foul territory from center field, and another time tagged a runner out at home plate at the end of a rundown. In 1942, he moved up to the Beaumont Exporters of the Texas League, managed by Steve O'Neill. This was only a step away from the major leagues and his teammates included future Tiger stars such as Dick Wakefield, Hoot Evers, Johnny Lipon and pitcher Stubby Overmire. He could not find regular playing time on that strong team, so was a substitute all over the field.

[edit] The Major Leagues

Metro went to spring training with the Detroit Tigers in 1943; it was held in Evansville, Indiana because of war-time travel restrictions. He had received a deferment from military service because he had been caught in a gas explosion in his coal mining days and army doctors considered that he faced a risk of future complications. He made the team, helped by the fact that O'Neill had been named the Tigers' manager, and spent the season as a pinch runner and occasional substitute in the outfield, using his time on the bench to observe O'Neill and to chart pitches, developing skills that would serve him after his playing days. He took part in 46 games that year, but only went to bat 40 times, with a .200 average. He was released by the Tigers early in the 1944 season, in part because he was trying to organize players into a union, and in larger part because he was barely hitting. He was immediately picked up by the Philadelphia Athletics, however, where he played for the legendary Connie Mack and learned more about managing from the Tall Tactician. He won the Athletics’ regular centerfield job in spring training in 1945, but could not hold on to it as he failed to hit, and ended up playing mostly left field, batting .210 in 200 at bats that year for the last-place team. He did hit his only three Major League home runs that summer, but towards the end of the season, he was traded along with two teammates to the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League for shortstop Jake Caulfield, who failed to become a regular.

[edit] Managing in the Minor Leagues

That was the end of Metro’s career as a major league ballplayer, but he still had plenty of baseball left in him. In Oakland, he played for another managing legend, Casey Stengel, and befriended a young Billy Martin, who was a bat-boy with the club. Before the start of the 1947 season, he was let go by Seattle and was down on his luck, almost penniless with a young family to support and out of prospects as a player. Luckily, he landed a job as a player-manager in the New York Yankees organization, beginning with the Bisbee Yanks of the Class C Arizona-Texas League. He then moved on to the Twin Falls Cowboys of the Pioneer League for two years, before moving to the St. Louis Cardinals organization to manage in Montgomery of the Class B Southeastern League for four seasons.

Charlie Metro got his first shot at managing in AAA in 1956, but it was not a pleasant experience. The Tigers had put him at the helm of the Charleston Senators of the American Association and expected the club to be in contention for the championship; however, he was saddled with a bunch of over-the-hill players mixed in with a few raw rookies like Jim Bunning and got off to a terrible start; he was fired at the end of April with a 5-17 record and was sent down to Terre Haute, Indiana, where the club folded by the end of June. He finished the year in Idaho Falls of the Pioneer League, his third managerial stop of the season. His big break came the next year however, when Cedric Tallis, who knew him from his days in Montgomery, offered him the manager's job with the Vancouver Mounties of the Pacific Coast League, for whom Tallis was the General Manager. The Mounties were an independent team but received most of their players from the Baltimore Orioles, which gave Metro a chance to manage future Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson for a season, and future major league pitching coaches George Bamberger and Wes Stock. Things were so good for him in the PCL that he turned down a job to coach for Mayo Smith of the Cincinnati Reds, as it would have meant a significant pay cut. In 1960, he took over the Denver Bears of the American Association.

[edit] Return to the Major Leagues

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After leading the Bears to the American Association playoffs twice in two years, Charlie Metro returned to the Major Leagues in 1962 as one member of the Chicago Cubs' experimental College of Coaches. Under that arrangement, the Cubs were rotating their managers and coaches throughout the year, then sending them out to their minor league affiliates. Metro was to be the third manager that season, after El Tappe and Lou Klein, while beginning the year as the third base coach. When his time to manage was up, he convinced management to ditch the whole idea and stick with one set of personnel, and he remained at the helm of the team until the end of the year. The team, however, was pretty wretched, despite the presence of future Hall of Famers Ernie Banks at 1B, Billy Williams in LF and Lou Brock in CF, and Metro could only muster a 43-69 record out of his troops, and only the presence of the historically bad expansion New York Mets kept the Cubs out of the National League cellar that year.

Metro was not retained by the Cubs after that initial season. He then landed a job as a coach and advance scout for the Chicago White Sox, working under the supervision of another future Hall of Fame manager, Al Lopez. One of his principal jobs was to recommend players for trades, and among his first catches were Hoyt Wilhelm, Ron Hansen, Dave Nicholson and Pete Ward, obtained in a trade from the Baltimore Orioles for shortstop Luis Aparicio on January 14, 1963. That trade was instrumental in making the White Sox a contender over the next four years. He kept the job until 1966, when he returned to managing with the Tulsa Oilers of the Pacific Coast League. Among his players that season was pitcher Steve Carlton and future major league outfielders Alex Johnson, Bobby Tolan and Walt Williams, and he led the team to the League finals, losing in seven games to the Seattle Rainiers. After that season, a landed a job as a major league scout for the Cincinnati Reds.

[edit] An Expansion Franchise

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In late 1968, Cedric Tallis, who had been Metro's General Manager in Montgomery and Vancouver, was chosen as the General Manager of the new Kansas City Royals franchise. He quickly hired Metro to be his director of player procurement, in time for the expansion draft. His strategy for the draft was to focus on younger players whom he had seen in the minor leagues, while the Seattle Pilots, who were drafting from the same pool, went for experience. After the draft, he focussed on building the Royals' minor league system from scratch and in creating an instructional book for the organization, that would be used by every player in the system and would ensure that every player knew the proper way to do things. He also started the team's training complex in Florida, but was not enamored with the concept of a "Baseball Academy", which other executives of the Royals launched at that time. His major issue with the idea was that the coaches brought in to teach the young recruits were not former major league players and did not impart proper technique, reducing the value of the whole enterprise. Finally, he was responsible for putting together the Royals’ network of scouts and to supervise the team's participation in the 1969 amateur draft.

Joe Gordon, the former Yankees second baseman, got the Royals' managing job in their inaugural season, leading the team to fourth place in the AL West, but decided at the end of the season that he did not like managing anymore. Metro replaced him to begin 1970. This second experience at the helm of a major league team was not a happy one. He had been suffering from ulcers which reduced his usual vitality, and then ran into problems on the field, as the team did not maintain the high level of play of its initial season. He was fired after 54 games with the team in last place with a 19-35 record; his replacement, Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Lemon, who had managed against him in the Pacific Coast League, righted the ship and guided the team to a fourth-place finish, and then to second place in 1971. Metro stayed on as a scout for the Royals for the remainder of his contract, leaving after the 1971 season. In spite of his lack of success in the dugout, he could be proud of having instilled some basic principles in the organization which led it to be one of the most successful in the majors for its first two decades.

[edit] Back to Scouting

Charlie Metro's next job was as a scout for the Detroit Tigers in 1972 and 1973, after which he became the first employee of the Major League Scouting Bureau in 1974, acting as a national cross-checker. Two years later, he was hired by Los Angeles Dodgers General Manager Al Campanis to be his right-hand man, as a scout and talent evaluator. He accompanied the Dodgers on three trips to the World Series, in 1977, 1978 and 1981. After the Dodgers won the 1981 World Series, Metro left the organization to put on a uniform for one final year, as a coach for Billy Martin's Oakland Athletics. It was Martin's third season at the helm, and he had wowed observers by taking a destitute team that had lost 108 games in 1979 to contention in 1980, and to the playoffs in 1981, through the use of Billy Ball, a blend of aggressive baseball and heavy reliance on starting pitchers. That third season would prove more difficult, as his overworked pitchers started to lose effectiveness and Martin began to clash with higher management, being dismissed at the end of the year. Metro had recommended coach Jackie Moore to succeed Martin at the team’s helm, but it was Montreal Expos coach Steve Boros who was chosen for the position instead. Even if Metro had managed Boros at Denver two decades earlier, it was not enough to keep Metro on staff. In any case, he had completed the necessary year in uniform to earn his full Major League pension, so he was happy to return to scouting for another year. He then worked for the Dodgers in 1984, but was dismissed in the off-season, and failing to land another job, decided to retire to his ranch outside Denver where he raised quarter-horses and eventually wrote his memoirs.

[edit] Personality

Charlie Metro was always looking for an edge, as a player and a manager, and looking to try new methods and new approaches to the game. That is what led him to invent the first batting tee during his days working the Pennsylvania mines. He picked up stray pieces of rubber tubing and fashioned them into a stand on which to hold a baseball. The contraption was a great aid in refining his swing, and a few years later he tried to get it patented, but did not complete the paperwork. He also tried to use graphology as the Cubs' manager, using a professional to analyze the signatures of his National League managerial rivals in order to gain insight on their tendencies. He also was interested in conditioning, designing a program of running for his pitchers, and bringing in a track coach to help his players improve their running times to first base. But behind this interest in innovation, he was a traditionalist at heart, valuing the wisdom of elders, and having great respect for the way things were done in the major leagues. He was a demanding man, but also much respected by his players, and with a great record of success in the minor leagues, even if his opportunities in the majors came in less than ideal circumstances. As a manager, he was always ready to have a good argument with an umpire, often as a way to stir up the crowd and build interest in his team, using theatrical gestures such as throwing bats on the field or taking away a base to emphasize his point (one can see that Lou Piniella, who played for him in Kansas City, was one of his pupils).


Preceded by
Lou Klein
Chicago Cubs Manager
1962
Succeeded by
Bob Kennedy
Preceded by
Joe Gordon
Kansas City Royals Manager
1970
Succeeded by
Bob Lemon

[edit] Year-By-Year Managerial Record

Year Team League Record Finish Organization Playoffs Notes
1947 Bisbee Yanks Arizona-Texas League 74-59 3rd New York Yankees Lost in 1st round
1948 Twin Falls Cowboys Pioneer League 75-51 2nd New York Yankees League Champs
1949 Twin Falls Cowboys Pioneer League 78-47 1st New York Yankees Lost 1st round
1950 Montgomery Rebels Southeastern League 77-54 3rd St. Louis Cardinals Lost in 1st round
1951 Montgomery Rebels South Atlantic League 85-55 1st none League Champs
1952 Montgomery Grays South Atlantic League 86-68 3rd none League Champs
1953 Montgomery Grays South Atlantic League 50-90 8th Detroit Tigers
1954 Durham Bulls Carolina League 70-68 4th Detroit Tigers Lost in 1st round
1955 Augusta Tigers South Atlantic League 76-64 3rd Detroit Tigers League Champs
1956 Charleston Senators American Association 5-17 -- Detroit Tigers replaced by Frank Skaff (69-62) on May 11
Terre Haute Tigers Three-I League 28-23 2nd Detroit Tigers replaced Bill Norman (12-3) on May 14; team disbanded on July 3
Idaho Falls Russets Pioneer League 39-26 4th Detroit Tigers replaced Stan Wasiak (30-37) on July 7
1957 Vancouver Mounties Pacific Coast League 97-70 2nd Baltimore Orioles none
1958 Vancouver Mounties Pacific Coast League 79-73 3rd Baltimore Orioles none
1959 Vancouver Mounties Pacific Coast League 82-69 2nd Baltimore Orioles none
1960 Denver Bears American Association 88-66 1st Detroit Tigers Lost league finals
1961 Denver Bears American Association 75-73 3rd Detroit Tigers Lost in 1st round
1962 Chicago Cubs National League 43-69 9th Chicago Cubs replaced El Tappe (4-16) and Lou Klein (12-18) on June 5
1966 Tulsa Oilers Pacific Coast League 85-62 1st St. Louis Cardinals Lost league finals
1970 Kansas City Royals American League 19-33 -- Kansas City Royals replaced by Bob Lemon on June 9

[edit] Further Reading

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  • Charlie Metro and Tom Altherr: Safe by a Mile, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE, 2002.
  • Larry Stone: "Those were the most wonderful days I believe I ever had", in Mark Armour, ed.: Rain Check: Baseball in the Pacific Northwest, Society for American Baseball Research, Cleveland, OH, 2006, pp. 105-106.


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