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Black History Month: Fond du Lac Remembers Charley Pride

Black History Month: Fond du Lac Remembers Charley Pride

In celebration of Black History Month, the Fond du Lac Dock Spiders wanted to look back at an African-American alumnus of Fond du Lac Baseball who made his mark in the world outside of baseball.

Charley Pride was a pitcher in the Negro Leagues during the early 1950’s – after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947.  Pride appeared for the Memphis Red Sox and Birmingham Black Barons before signing with the New York Yankees for the 1953  season.

The Yankees started Pride in Boise, Idaho, but he was sent to Fond du Lac for a few games after an injury.  He pitched a pair of games for the Panthers as the Fond du Lac Reporter notes in their obituary for Pride, who died in December of 2020.

Pride made his Panthers debut on May 14, 1953 as the starting pitcher against the Appleton Braves at Goodland Field.  He allowed five runs in the first three innings – seven total – in the game and took the loss as he pitched a complete game.

He was the starter again on May 18 in a home game against the Braves.  He fared better this time around as he had a 5-1 lead in the fifth inning.  However, a walk with the bases loaded and one out spelled the end for Pride in the game and he would not be involved in the decision.

That game would also spell the end for Pride’s career in Fond du Lac.  The injury that sidelined him would end his time in the Yankees system.  He did go back to the Negro Leagues and would pitch in Mexico and in semi-pro leagues.

It is a bit of a novelty for a lot of our guests when they discover that Pride played in the Negro Leagues,” Bob Kendrick, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum president said.  “Not only did he play in the Negro Leagues, he was a good pitcher who made his way into the Yankees organization before he hurt his arm.  To the surprise of many, it was after he hurt his arm that he fell back on a pioneering country and western music career.  I always tell our guests, ‘We should all have a fallback career like Charley Pride.’”

That fallback career started as he performed before games of the East Helena Smelterites and his first public performance was in Helena in 1964.

According to Pride’s website:

Between 1967 and 1987, Pride delivered 52 Top 10 country hits, won Grammy awards, and became RCA Records’ top-selling country artist.

He was the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year in 1971, Male Vocalist of the year in 1971, and 1972, became a member of the Grand Ole Opry, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Baseball remained a part of Pride’s life after he hit it big in Country music.  He went to Texas Rangers Spring Training every year to work out with the team.  Pride sang the National Anthem before Game Five of the 2010 World Series in Texas.  The Rangers even named one of their diamonds at their Spring Training Complex in Surprise, Arizona “Charley Pride Field”.

He was also a board member of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and was the 2013 recipient of the Museum’s Jackie Robinson Lifetime Achievement Award.

Fond du Lac is proud to be a small part of Pride’s lifelong love of baseball and his amazing life.