Born in December 1937 to Charles and Lucille James, Charlie eventually emerged as a 6-foot-1, 195-pound halfback at Webster Groves High School. He earned a scholarship to Mizzou and, as a sophomore in 1956, hauled in 30 catches for 362 yards receiving and a touchdown.
Little did anyone know that his junior year would be his last on campus. James signed with the Cardinals in January 1958, surprising his coaches. After all, he played only 41 college baseball games after three high school and American Legion seasons.
A football thigh injury in 1957 had led James to think long and hard about the sport he truly loved.
“I wanted to give baseball a shot before I got hurt seriously in football,” James said. “So that winter, I let it be known I was interested in signing. You didn’t have a draft back then.”
A Webster Groves High School graduate who went on to earn two electrical engineering degrees, James played six seasons in the big leagues (1960-1965) and was a member of the Cardinals’ 1964 World Series team that beat the New York Yankees in seven games.
James in 1958 signed for $15,000 with the Cardinals as an amateur and made his big-league debut with St. Louis on Aug. 2, 1960. Overall, he played in 510 games and hit a career .255 with 172 RBI, 29 home runs, 56 doubles and nine triples. His final season was with the Cincinnati Reds.
“There were a lot of good guys on that (’64) team,” James said. “I remember Stan, he was good at talking to the young guys. If you had a good question like, ‘What does Warren Spahn throw?’ or ‘How does his fastball move?’ he would offer insight.”
His key break came in spring training 1958, when the Cardinals directed James to the Double-A club’s camp in Daytona Beach.
James’ original contract was with Class D Billings (Mont.), but he impressed the one guy he needed to — Double-A Houston manager Harry Walker. Walker’s voice carried much influence, as it was his winning single in Game 7 of the 1946 World Series that set off Enos Slaughter’s Mad Dash.
In his Double-A season, James hit 19 home runs and had 104 RBI.
“Harry Walker put his faith in me that I’d do a good job in Double-A, and it happened,” James said.
Ultimately, it led to James:
- Playing in outfields that included Musial, Curt Flood, Mike Shannon and, in mid-1964, Lou Brock.
- Hitting a grand slam in the Cardinals’ 1962 home opener and a three-run homer in 1964, both against Dodgers great Sandy Koufax.
- From 1961 to 1963, combining for 289 hits (including 107 in 1962), 46 doubles, eight triples, 22 home runs and 148 RBI.
- Seeing action in three games in the ‘64 World Series.
What an awesome day of excitement it was for Charlie James and his family.