International League (1971-1983)
Born: 1971 – The Columbus Jets relocate to Charleston, WV.
Died: 1983 – The Charlies relocate to Old Orchard Beach, ME.
Stadium: Watt Powell Park
The Charleston Charlies were a colorful (at times, blindingly so) Class AAA ballclub that made their home in West Virginia from 1971 through 1983. From 1971 through 1976, the Charlies were the top farm club for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who were a National League power at the time. Many of the great stars of Pittsburgh’s 1970′s World Series teams came through Charleston, including Bruce Kison, Omar Morena, Dave Parker, Rennie Stennett, Kent Tekulve and Richie Zisk. Other top Charlies during the Pirates era included Tony Armas, Gene Garber, Art Howe and Willie Randolph.
Although the Pirates farm system was laden with future stars, the Charlies never won an International League title until the Houston Astros took over the parent club affiliation in 1977. The Charlies won the Governor’s Cup for the first and only time that summer, sweeping the Pawtucket Red Sox in a best-of-seven championship series.
With the arrival of the Astros came fantastic (or grotesque, depending on your worldview) rainbow jerseys, modeled on Houston’s garish horizontal stripes of the late 1970′s/early 1980′s. (See the photo of pitcher Mike Mendoza, circa 1979, above right). The jerseys also featured a chest patch of the Charlies’ logo of a cigar-chomping baseball sporting a bowler hat.
Houston pulled out of town after the 1979 season and the early 1980′s were a time of turmoil and decline for the Charlies franchise. By this time, Charleston (pop. 50,000) was the smallest Class AAA city in the country. The Texas Rangers took over the affiliation in 1980 but stayed for just one season. Then the Cleveland Indians were the parent club from 1981 to 1983. Neither Texas nor Cleveland boasted particularly strong farm systems and their reigns in Charleston produced neither future Major League stars nor winning minor league ball clubs.
Behind the scenes, the Charlies long-time owner Bob Levine decided to sell the club after the 1981 season. Levine, a junkyard owner, originally brought the team to town from Columbus, Ohio in 1971 and named it in honor of his father Charlie. A stock drive to convert the Charlies to a community-owned club fell short, but the team’s long-time General Manager Carl Steinfeldt cobbled together enough backing to keep the team going in Charleston for the 1982 season. But the team continued to lose money and Steinfeldt sold the Charlies to Maine attorney Jordan Kobritz at the 1982 Baseball Winter Meetings.
The Charlies played what amount to a lame duck season in Charleston in 1983 and then Kobritz moved the club to Maine in 1984 where it became known as the Maine Guides (1984-1987). After several subsequent moves and re-brandings, the franchise once known as the Charleston Charlies plays on today as the Scranton/Wilkes Barre RailRiders.