#436 Charlie Neal
This is one of just a few cards in the 1964 set that features a player who didn’t actually play in 1964. Being a semi-high #, one wonders why Topps released this card when Neal was released by the Reds after spring training. It’s nice, though, that Topps did issue the card because it’s the only card featuring Neal in a Reds uniform. The front of the card lists him generically as an infielder, but the back lists him as a third baseman, which was his primary position in 1963 after being a second baseman for most of his career.
My example would probably be VG-EX if not for the authentic 1964 pen markings on the back. Surprisingly, “Theisen” is not the answer to the trivia question. Actually, two teams have stolen 8 bases in an inning: Washington in 1915 and the Phillies in 1919.
Charlie Neal only played 8 seasons, and he unfortunately isn’t a guy you hear much about when people talk about the Dodgers in the late ’50s. He was originally signed by Brooklyn in 1950 but didn’t really have any room to play because he was a shortstop and second baseman and a couple of guys named Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese were manning those positions at the time.
After a couple of decent years in AAA, he finally got a chance with the Dodgers in 1956. He played decently in a backup role, then got his chance to start in 1957 at shortstop. In his first full season, he posted .270/.356/.411 with 12 homers — not bad for a position that rarely saw those kind of offensive numbers.
With Robinson retired, Neal moved to second in 1958 when the Dodgers brought in Don Zimmer to play short. In that first year in L.A., he hit a career-high 22 home runs.
But it was 1959 when Neal would really make his mark on the Dodgers. He was an All-Star in ’59, and even finished 8th in the MVP balloting when he posted a .287/.337/.464 line with 19 homers, 83 RBI, 103 runs and a league-leading 11 triples. Again, these were big numbers for a middle infielder. He followed that up by hitting .370 with 2 homers in a 6-game World Series win over the White Sox (both HR came in Game 2, a 4-3 Brooklyn win).
But in 1960, he regressed from an .802 OPS down to .684, but was still chosen as an All-Star. He got even worse in ’61, when his OBP dipped to .297 and he slugged just .346. He was traded after the season to the expansion Mets for utility man Lee Walls.
Neal was the first second baseman in Mets history, starting the first game and actually hitting a home run. He was the second Met to hit a homer, as his came an inning later than one hit by Gil Hodges. He had a respectable season (11 HR, 9 3B, 92 OPS+) on an awful team.
He slumped in 1963 after a move to third base, and the Mets shipped him to Cincinnati in July for catcher Jesse Gonder, who would go on to be the Mets’ primary backstop in 1964. He went just 10-for-64 with no homers in a backup role with the Reds for the rest of the season, then didn’t make the team the next year. Neal was out of baseball at age 33.
Charlie died of heart failure in 1996 at the age of 65.