Fun Fact #54: Which Slabtown grade school student became the invisible Dodger?

Guild's Lake Jr. Fire squad at University Park. Five young Black youths aiming a fire hose.
At the front of the hose, from left to right, are James Peterson and James McDowell, at the rear are James Green (in hat) and Captain James Neal, Charles Neal is watching in the background. Image Courtesy City of Portland Archives A2001-025.245 Guild’s Lake Jr. Fire Squad 1944

Charles Lenard Neal, a former student at Guild’s Lake School and member of the Guild’s Lake Fire Brigade, became the spidery speedster and batting star of the 1959 World Series. This fun fact was inspired by the Portland Diamond Project’s event celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Negro League.  While Charley is most identified with Texas, he lived briefly in WWII housing in Slabtown and grew up to play in the World Series. His parents were passionate about baseball. He began his career in the Negro Leagues with the Atlanta Black Crackers. Signed by the Dodgers in 1950, Charlie spent six years on the Dodgers’ minor league farm team, reaching the major leagues with the Dodgers in the 1956 season. In the majors he was mentored by Jim Gilliam and Jackie Robinson. He ended his profession baseball career playing for the NY Mets. He died in 1996, at age 85. For more  on Charlie Neal’s career I recommend a piece by Warren Corbett. Corbett coined the term the invisible Dodger because of the overall talent on the team during his career: “He was still invisible; several of his Topps baseball cards printed his name as “Charley” even though his autograph on the same card said “Charlie.” 

Image of 1959 World Series winning team. Courtesy Monroe Morning World, October 3, 1959, Page 11-A


1957 Topps-Baseball 242 With the miss spelling of Charlie-Neal’s 2nd Baseman for the Dodgers

I knew that Charlie—a Texan at heart—spent time in Slabtown, but I’ve found had no other evidence besides the single image taken by the Housing Authority of Portland,. He was not included in any of the Guild’s Lake School quarterlies, nor do his parents (Houston & Verdell Neal) appear in any Portland City Directories. The 1940 census lists four siblings: James (age 10), Charles (age 9), Harlod (age 6), and baby Vivian—all living in a home owned by their parents in Longview, Texas.

The Dodger of 1956 at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn Charles Neal is on the second row five in from the left his mentor Jackie Robinson is four more down. Courtesy Marty Lederhandler/Associated Press