Music icon and Rangers mainstay Pride dies

December 13th, 2020

ARLINGTON -- Charley Pride, a country music legend who has been a part of the Rangers family since the club arrived in Texas in 1972, died Saturday in Dallas from complications of COVID-19, according to a news release from his publicist. Pride was 86.

Born in 1934, Pride was the son of a Mississippi sharecropper and played baseball in the Negro Leagues and Minor Leagues before becoming a pioneer in country music. He made his home in the Dallas area and made an eagerly anticipated visit to Spring Training every year to work out with the Rangers. His stay always included an annual morning concert in the clubhouse for players, coaches and the rest of the staff.

Pride was part of the Ray Davis-Bob Simpson ownership group that bought the Rangers at auction in 2010. When Globe Life Field opened for its inaugural season on July 25, Pride sang "The Star-Spangled Banner," as he did so many times at Arlington Stadium and the Ballpark in Arlington.

“He always answered the call whenever we needed him to sing the national anthem at a World Series game or a postseason game,” Rangers executive vice president Chuck Morgan said. “He was always a pleasure to talk to, whether it was country music or the Negro Leagues. For him to be an owner and be a part of the organization -- just a great all-around guy.

“He was still performing. When he did the national anthem on Opening Day, he did a fantastic job. He worked out in Spring Training -- there was nothing wrong. I hate to hear this, terrible news. A great guy, and it was great to have him be a part of the Rangers family.”

The Rangers will fly flags at half-staff at Globe Life Field and Globe Life Park on Sunday and Monday in Pride’s memory.

“The Texas Rangers join the country music world in mourning the loss of Charley Pride,” a club statement said. “While Mr. Pride was a legendary performer who entertained millions of fans in the United States and around the world, we will remember him as a true friend to this franchise.

“Mr. Pride’s first love was baseball. He pitched professionally in the Negro and Minor Leagues throughout the 1950s before embarking on his Hall of Fame singing career of more than 60 years. Mr. Pride then became a regular participant at Texas Rangers Spring Training camps in Pompano Beach and Port Charlotte, Fla., and Surprise, Ariz., working out with the team and staging an annual clubhouse concert for players and staff, a tradition that continued through this past spring.

“Mr. Pride was a true gentleman, and we will never forget the lasting contributions he has made to the Texas Rangers organization. We express our deepest sympathies to Mr. Pride’s family and friends on this sad day.”

Pride pitched for the Memphis Red Sox in 1952 in the Negro American League and dreamed of pitching in the Majors. He did have a brief career in the Minor Leagues, but an arm injury ended that dream and opened the door to a legendary music career. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000.

"Charley was just fun to be around. He remembered details about everyone, things you said in the past, stories you might have told. He'd give us trade ideas and want to talk shop," Rangers president of baseball operations Jon Daniels said. "I was always drawn to the varied experiences he had all over the world, the people he'd met, the things he'd seen. What an amazing life."

Former Rangers outfielder Tom Grieve, who was born and raised in Massachusetts, didn’t know much about country music when he moved to Texas with the team in 1972. But he learned quickly about Charley Pride, who showed up to work out with the team in Spring Training even as he was emerging as an international superstar in the 1970s with hits like “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’.”

“He took it seriously,” said Grieve, now a Rangers TV broadcaster. “He wasn’t just some celebrity out there running around. He worked hard, just like the rest of us, and did all the same drills.”

Former Rangers manager Billy Martin was a huge country music fan and one day decided to let Pride be in the starting lineup for a Spring Training game against the Orioles. This was when the Rangers were training in Pompano Beach, Fla. Future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer was pitching for the Orioles.

“The Orioles got off the bus, and Jim Palmer was pitching. He walked by our batting cage and saw Charley taking batting practice,” Grieve said. “Charley was hitting with the regulars because he was in the lineup. Jim calls out, ‘Hey, Charley, I’m going to throw the same fastball to you as I throw to everybody else, but I won’t throw you any breaking balls.’

“Charley said, ‘Hey, Jim, do what you have to do. Throw whatever you want.’ First time up, Charley hits a hard ground ball to second base. The second time up, base hit up the middle. Then Billy Martin takes him out of the game. He goes 1-for-2 off Jim Palmer. Everybody was impressed. Country music may have been Charley’s No. 1 love, but baseball was a close second.”