From Anniston, he went to MLB — and Cuba, too

Charlie Harris with the Philadelphia Athletics

Barely a thousand people have ever lived at any given time in the west Alabama town of Sulligent. But it was home to Charlie “Bubba” Harris, a right-handed pitcher of some merit whose meager beginnings didn’t prevent him from playing professional baseball in three countries and playing for the legendary Connie Mack. The game even allowed him a front-row view of the Cuban revolution.

The Anniston Rams? They’re hardly worth mentioning.

Nevertheless, the Rams claim Harris as one of theirs, though his brief time in the Southeastern League team — 18 games in their championship season of 1946 — doesn’t overshadow his four stints in the Major Leagues or his three seasons pitching for the Havana Sugar Kings.

What Anniston does represent on Harris’ resume is a league title and a bridge between his wartime service in the U.S. Navy and his ascension to the Majors Leagues. Had he not pitched well enough in Anniston in 1946, it’s reasonable to assume his opening with the 1948 Philadelphia Athletics might never have occurred.

Getting to Anniston, though, required a lengthy wait. He broke into professional baseball as a 17-year-old with the Class D Hornell (N.Y.) Maples of the Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League, rose to Class B Roanoke Red Sox of the Piedmont League, and then joined the Navy, becoming one of the innumerable players whose careers were delayed by the war. It would be another 21 months before a discharge allowed him to restart his career ambition.

A 1946 clipping from The Anniston Star.

In the summer of 1946, the Rams’ front office frantically attempted to bolster the team’s roster. That was common for SEL teams, but this version of Anniston’s longest-running minor league team was inconsistent yet talented enough to contend for the title.

Sportswriter Jack Scott of The Anniston Star newspaper gushed over the Rams’ roster moves while admitting the team was a frustrating work in progress.

“Yep, they’ve been unpredictable all season, up-and-downers most of the way, but the fence straddlers are ready to lay odds-on money that the Westmen are ready to roll,” Scott wrote.

“This week the results of some high-class front office work paid dividends. New pitching power arrived and the last ingredient plus new-found plate strength in Neb Wilson gave the Rams a three-game sweep over Selma.”

Harris, only 20 years old, was one of the Rams’ June imports.

“Ram officials said Harris should be a useful addition to the Anniston pitching staff,” The Star reported.

And, he was. In relief, he won his Rams debut on June 24 in an 11-5 win at Selma. He pitched a complete-game victory over Montgomery on July 2. As a starter or reliever, he boosted Manager Tommie West’s pitching options as the Rams’ run to the second spot in the SEL standings. After wining seven of his 11 starts during the regular season, he split two decisions in the playoffs.

In October, just days after Anniston beat Vicksburg for the league championship, the Southern League’s Birmingham Barons — who owned his rights — recalled several Rams, including Harris. He spent the first month of the following season with the Barons, who sold him to the Class A Lincoln Athletics of the Western League in May. In Nebraska he quickly became the ace of his team’s staff, winning 10 games, completing 14 and posting an ERA of 3.36.

That performance earned him an invitation to Philadelphia’s spring training the following spring. He nearly made the squad when the A’s headed north, but Mack optioned him back to Lincoln. 

A 1948 clipping from the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal.

Harris wasn’t overwrought by the demotion because the Class A Athletics wielded a loaded roster. He’d won a championship in ‘46 in Anniston, and he thought Lincoln could do the same in ‘48. But less than a week into the American League season, Philadelphia suffered what one Nebraska newspaper called “an epidemic of sore arms” and recalled Harris to the big leagues.

This time, Harris wasn’t as calm. Oddly, he would have welcomed a stay in the minors.

“All that batting power would be nice behind me,” he said. “… I would like to be with a winner in Lincoln. Those people deserve it.”

Lincoln’s front office wasn’t joyous, either.

“We hope to get Harris back and we have Mr. Mack’s word that he will return unless he sticks with the Philadelphia club,” Lincoln Manager Jimmy DeShong told the Nebraska State Journal. “His loss is a big blow.”

Harris never returned to Lincoln. Mack announced in mid-April that Harris was staying in Philadelphia. In fact, he spent all of the 1948 and 1949 seasons with the A’s, pitching in a combined 82 games. He spent the following season in Class AAA Buffalo, but returned to the Major Leagues in 1951, splitting time between the A’s and the Cleveland Indians. He was 25 when he made his last big league appearance.

A 1954 clipping from the Tampa Bay Times.

But his career wasn’t through.

Meandering through stints with San Diego, Toronto, Indianapolis and West Palm Beach, Harris in 1954 wound up in Havana, a 28-year-old American and U.S. Navy veteran pitching in Cuba just after the beginning of that nation’s revolution. Sulligent, Alabama, it wasn’t.

He won 11 games in his first season in Cuba, then won eight more the following summer. At 30, though, his arm tired and he made only seven appearances for his Cuban team.

Professional baseball was through with Charlie Harris. In 13 seasons and myriad levels he won 91 games. His MLB record: 6-3 with a 4.84 ERA and eight saves.

Harris found work as an electrician and served as president of his labor union. Though his first name was Charlie, friends commonly called him Bubba, his childhood nickname. He died in Nobleton, Florida, in 2013, at age 86.

Charlie Harris’ 1945 baseball questionaire. (Ancestry.com)
Charlie Harris’ World War II draft registration card. (Ancestry.com)

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