By the time he arrived in Anniston, Alabama, to manage the woebegone Rams, Charlie Letchas’ Major League career was already over. Four times he made it to The Show. Four times he got sent down or released. And then he landed with the worst Rams teams of all Rams teams, the 1950 outfit that was so putrid it didn’t even finish the season.
Neither did Letchas, for that matter.
Letchas, then 34 years old, managed the Rams for 56 games — a 17-39 record. And then he quit, on June 14, 1950, after the Rams dropped a doubleheader against Vicksburg. Letchas’ reasoning was blunt. He quit, The Anniston Star newspaper reported, because “the club isn’t going good and the strain of managing is affecting my playing.” And with that, Letchas returned to the Chattanooga Lookouts, one of his longtime landing spots.
The whole affair was typical of the Rams’ final years. When Letchas quit and Lou Bevil, a longtime Anniston player, was named temporary manager, it marked the team’s ninth manager change in five seasons. The Rams didn’t buy stability in bulk.
Charlie Letchas was the son of Greek immigrants. His father, George Letchas, immigrated to the United States in 1904 and seven years later opened the Greek-American Restaurant in Thomasville, Georgia. Location matters. By the time Charlie was born in 1915, Thomasville had already become a frequent spring training host for Major League and minor-league teams, which surely fostered the Letchas boys’ attraction to the game.
School got in baseball’s way, so Letchas quit going and turned pro, starting the inevitable long slog through the minor leagues. He debuted as a 19-year-old infielder for his hometown Thomasville Class D team in 1935 and bounced back-and-forth between that squad, Chattanooga and St. Augustine throughout the later 1930s.
Late in the 1939 season, the National League’s Philadelphia Phillies brought Letchas up from Chattanooga. His MLB debut at Chicago’s Wrigley Field on Sept. 16 was inauspicious. He went 0 for 1 (he pinch hit in the eighth) and grounded into an inning-ending double play. And the Phils lost, 8-2.
His first start came the following afternoon in a 7-3 win in Pittsburgh. Letchas, then 23, started at second base and hit leadoff, going 1 for 5. His first MLB hit came in the top of the third — a leadoff single to right off Pirates rookie Johnny Gee. And then he was promptly thrown out trying to steal second base.
In a portend of what his MLB career would become, Letchas hit .227 in 12 games for the ’39 Phillies and then played in only two big-league games over the next four seasons. He was, truth be told, a light-hitting infielder with a decent glove. And it showed.
In 1940 he played one game for Baltimore (then an International League team) and virtually the entire season with Chattanooga, hitting .261. In 1941 he played 153 games with Chattanooga before the American League’s Washington Senators added him to their roster at season’s end.
He played like an Anniston Ram.
On Sept. 15 of that season he started at second against Detroit and went 1 for 4 with an RBI, a walk and a strikeout. A week later, in a 6-2 win against the Philadelphia Athletics, he started again at second base and went 0 for 4 — and made two errors.
He’d never again play in an AL game. His career AL line: 1 for 8 in nine plate appearances, a .125 batting average, two errors in 10 fielding chances.
In 1942 he moved to Atlanta of the Southeastern League. The following year he was promoted to Toronto of the International League, hitting an uninspiring .258.
By 1944 — the penultimate year of World War II — MLB teams had no choice but to fill the gaps in their rosters with minor-leaguers and former big-league players. That gave Letchas the only real break of his career.
He spent that entire season with the Philadelphia Phillies, starting 102 games and playing overall in 116 at second, third and shortstop. He hit what he normally hit — .237 — with 33 RBI. How fitting it was, then, that the Phillies were terrible (61-92) and enraged their fans by using a blue jay logo and preferring to be called — wait for it — the Blue Jays, a nickname experiment that lasted only a few seasons.
Letchas didn’t play professional baseball in 1945; instead, he enlisted in the U.S. Army on March 24 and was sent to Fort McPherson in Atlanta. He was released on Aug. 10, 1946.
As for the Phillies, they were no better that season, either. So they brought Letchas back for the schedule’s last five weeks. He played in six games, made two starts, went 3 for 13 with a walk, a strikeout and a .231 average. Those would be his final appearances in the Major Leagues.
Charlie Letchas played his last MLB game on Sept, 29, 1946, a 3-1 Phillies loss to the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds. Letchas went 0 for 4. He struck out in his final at-bat.
His career MLB batting average: .234.
But he was undeterred, so on his barnstorming went. Chattanooga in 1947. Indianapolis and New Orleans in 1948. Chattanooga in 1949. And then, in 1950, Letchas spent a few months at Anniston’s Johnston Field, managing the Rams and playing most nights on the infield.
When he quit the Rams that summer, he was hitting .342. (And yet, he said managing was hampering his on-field play.) Truth is, the Rams were awful and Letchas surely wanted an escape — and found one in Chattanooga, his comfortable former team.
He played 85 games for the Lookouts after heading north, hitting .289. The Birmingham Barons signed him in 1951; he split time between Chattanooga and Little Rock in 1952; and he spent his final minor-league season of 1953 as a player-manager in Richmond. He was 37.
Charlie Letchas coached a bit more in the following decade and ended up in Tampa, Florida, where he worked and retired. He died in 1995.