Charlie Neal: Original 1962 Mets Infielder (1962-1963)
Charles Leonard Neal was born on January 30, 1931 in Longview Texas. Neal began his career in the Negro Leagues with the Atlanta Black Crackers. The five foot ten, right hand hitter was signed as an infielder by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1950.
It took him six years to crack the big league Dodgers squad with such a talented infield of Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson & Jim Gilliam. In his minor league years he hit over .300 three times & hit below the .270 mark just once.
Neal debuted in the majors with Brooklyn in 1956 in another Dodgers NL pennant season. He appeared in 62 games, batting .287 (136 at bats) with two HRs, five doubles & 14 RBIs. He got to play in his first World Series against the AL New York club in the last year of the subway series matchup between the two clubs. Neal was 0-4 as a pinch hitter in the Series.
1957 would be the Dodgers final season in Brooklyn, as they finished in third place. Neal took over as the Dodgers main short stop, when Pee Wee Reese moved over to third base. Neal batted .270 with 12 HRs 13 doubles 11 stolen bases (9th most in the NL) & 62 RBIs.
In 1958 at the Dodgers moved west, Neal then moved over to play second base. Long time second baseman Jim Gilliam moved to play the outfield & Don Zimmer took over at short stop.
Neal posted a .976 fielding % (5th in the NL) making 343 assists (5th in the NL) with 334 out outs (3rd in the NL) making 17 errors (3rd most in the NL).
At bat he had his most productive year in HRs with a career high 22, also belting nine doubles, six triples, drawing 61 walks 65 RBIs while posting a .341 on base % & batting .254.
In 1959 the Dodgers won their first Championship on the West Coast. Neal led the league in triples (11) & sacrifice hits (21). That season he hit 19 HRs, scored 103 runs (6th in the league) and had career highs with 83 RBIs, 30 doubles (9th in the NL) 60 extra base hits & 17 stolen bases (7th in the NL) .
He was such a good all around player, he received 20% of the MVP voting. He was such a valyable player, even with team mates like Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Wally Moon, Jim Gilliam, Don Demeter & John Roseboro.
Defensively Neal led the NL second baseman in fielding (.989) double plays (110) & put outs (386) which won him a gold glove.
Post Season- 1959 World Series: In Game #2 of the 1959 World Series against the Chicago White Sox, he hit a pair of HRs off pitcher Bob Shaw. He drove in three runs that day in the game at Comiskey Park, leading the Dodgers to a 4-3 win.
In Game #3, the first World Series game on the West Coast, he drove in Maury Wills in the bottom of the 8th inning with an insurance run in the Dodger 3-1 win.
Overall he had a big World series, hitting .370 (10-27) second only to Gil Hodges with players who had more than four at bats. He hit two HRs driving in six runs, with two doubles and four runs scored in the Series.
After hitting only .235 with 10 HRs 6 doubles 48 RBIs& a .297 on base % in 1961 he was traded to the expansion New York Mets for $100,000 & a veteran named Lee Walls.
Neal was an original Met, playing second base and batting third in the first game in Mets history on April 11, 1962 in St. Louis. St. Louis. In the 3rd inning of that game, he singled and drove in the first run in Mets history, scoring Ritchie Ashburn. In the top of the 5th, he hit the second HR in Mets history, it came off pitcher Larry Jackson. He had a great day going 3-4, driving in two runs & scoring a run.
On April 28th at the Polo Grounds he hit two HRs against the Philadelphia Phillies helping the Mets to their second win an 8-6 victory against ten losses.
In the month of April Neal hit three HRs drove in nine runs & batted .310 leading the team as one of their top hitters. On May 15th 1962, he salvaged a rare Mets comeback with a 10th inning base hit off the Cubs Don Elston, tying up the game 5-5. The Mets would have a rare win on a Hobie Landrith bases loaded walk off future Met Cal Koonce.
On May 20th he hit the first of three Mets HRs in the top of the 7th inning against the Milwaukee Braves. Earlier he had a two run double helping the Mets to a 9-6 win.
On June 8th his sac fly in the top of the 9th inning was a Mets game winner, 4-3 over the Chicago Cubs. Two days later he hit a HR in the first game of a double header at Wrigley, helping Roger Craig to a 2-1 win over the Cubs. In that stretch in mid June he drove in runs in five of seven games. From July 6th through August 6th he hit six HRs, including back to back games at the start of the month.
In the first week of August had six RBIs, which was productive on a the poor team. In the month drove in 17 runs with nine multi hit games. In September he would hit safely in ten of all eleven games he played in that month. His season ended a bit early by September 15th.
Neal would play in 136 games for the first year 1962 Mets, leading the team with nine triples & nine sacrifice hits. He batted .260 with a 11 HRs, 14 doubles, 9 triples, a .330 on base % & 58 RBIs.
He primarily played second (85 games), but also had time at third & short. By far he was their best defensive infielder posting a .970 fielding %.
In 1963 he struggled at the start not getting to the .200 mark until May. He hit his first HR that month then two more in June, but after 72 games he was batting .225 with just 18 RBIs. The Mets traded him to the Cincinnati Reds along with Sammy Taylor for catcher Jesse Gonder.
Neal finished out his career that year, posting the leagues fourth best fielding % as a third baseman (.955) batting just .211.
In his eight season career he hit .259 with 858 hits 87 HRs 113 doubles 461 runs scored 38 triples 48 stolen bases a .329 on base % & 391 RBIs. The versatile Neal, played 663 games at second, 162 games at short & 120 games at third.
Passing: In 1996 Neal passed away from heart failure in Dallas, Texas at age 65.