Charlie Metro was born Charles Moreskonich in Nanty Glo, Pennsylvania. He took his name from his father, Metro Moreskonich, a Ukrainian immigrant. Like many ballplayers from that part of Pennsylvania, Metro did some work in the coal mines and played ball to escape the mines.
As a player, Metro was a light-hitting utility man, primarily an outfielder. He was an excellent fielder but swung a light stick. He spent parts of four years with the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Athletics and ended with a career batting average of .193. Metro was a smart man. He knew his days as a player were limited so he soaked up information from two legends of the game, his manager in Philadelphia, Connie Mack, and one of his minor league managers, Casey Stengel.
When he was traded from the Tigers to the Athletics, Metro said to Mack, “I have something I should tell you. My name is not really Metro, it’s Moreskonich.” Mr. Mack smiled and said, “Oh, that’s all right. My real name is McGillicuddy.”
After his playing career ended, Metro embarked on a wild and wonderful journey as a scout, executive and manager. In 1957 Metro was offered the manager’s job with the Vancouver Mounties of the Pacific Coast League. The general manager of the Mounties was future Royals General Manager Cedric Tallis. During this stint, Metro managed Brooks Robinson and future major league pitching coaches, George Bamberger and Wes Stock.
Metro got his first major league managerial job in 1962 as part of the Chicago Cubs “College of Coaches” experiment. Despite having three future Hall of Famers on the roster in Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Lou Brock, Metro was only able to squeeze a 43-69 record out of the Cubs.
After bouncing around for a few seasons, Metro was hired in late 1968 by, you guessed it, Cedric Tallis, to be the expansion Royals Director of Player Procurement. Metro worked hand-in-hand with Tallis on the expansion draft, then turned his focus into building the Royals’ farm system from scratch, and hiring the teams’ network of scouts.
One interesting tidbit that Metro later disclosed about the expansion draft was that the Yankees had left aging star Mickey Mantle unprotected. Each team could protect 15 players. The Yankees sent telegrams to both the Royals and Pilots asking them to not draft Mantle. Mantle himself sent a step further and contacted both teams telling them that he would not report, and retire, should they pick him. The Yankees, being the Yankees, also stretched the rules by getting American League President Joe Cronin to exempt players who were in current military service. This allowed them to pull back Bobby Mercer and Jerry Kenny, two players Metro had targeted prior to the draft. So, in effect, the Yankees were able to protect 18 players, since they convinced everyone that Mantle should retire a Yankee, even though he was on the list of draftable players.
The Pilots went along with the scheme, but Metro, Ewing Kauffman and Cedric Tallis were furious. Kauffman was prepared to pick Mantle with the #1 pick and offer him a two-year, $200,000 contract. At the last minute, Kauffman had a change of heart and told Metro to forget about Mantle. The whole debate ended being a moot point as the broken-down Mantle retired anyway on March 1, 1969. Given the Kansas City Athletics history with New York and the Royals later heated rivalry with the Gotham crew, wouldn’t drafting the Mick away from New York been a sweet way to stoke the fires?
Metro also created an instructional book for the organization that was used by every player in the system. The book, most likely based on a similar tome from the Baltimore Orioles (of whom Tallis once worked), ensured that every player knew the proper way to do things. You could call it “The Royal Way”.
Metro and Tallis assembled the team’s spring training complex and the groundbreaking Baseball Academy in Florida. Metro was not a fan of the Academy. His issue was that the coaches of the academy were not former major league players and did not impart proper technique to the students. Makes sense.
After Royals manager Joe Gordon resigned after just one season, Tallis turned to Metro, who agreed to take over the managerial duties for the 1970 season.
Metro was his usual enthusiastic self in spring training. He said the Royals’ outfield of Pat Kelly in right, Amos Otis in center, and Lou Piniella in left would be one of the club’s strongest features. “I’m expecting good things from our outfield. One of our biggest jobs is to keep Otis motivated and convince him to play baseball the major league way instead of his way.”
Often in sports we witness a cultural divide: old school vs. new school. Nowhere in early Royals history was this more evident than between old school Charlie Metro and new school icon Amos Otis. Otis of course, did to it his way, the one-handed catches, the easy loping strides that were so often misunderstood in his early days as lack of hustle. Amos made everything look easy, all of the great ones do. Otis would end his career, and still stands by many measures, as the second-greatest Royal of all-time.
Here’s another Metro pearl from spring training that illustrates the cultural divide: “You can’t browbeat players the way you could when I was playing. When I played for Steve O’Neill, he would physically snatch you up and shake you. He was a big, tough Irishman and I loved the guy. I even named our first son after him. But you can’t do the things today that he did.”
More Metro, “I think some of these young players look sharp the way they dress today. If they want to wear bell-bottom pants, that’s fine. I see nothing wrong with double-breasted coats and ascot ties. I think they’re great. I have no objection to sideburns, but I will ask that they be within reasonable limits. I won’t accept long hair,” he said with firmness.
The intense Metro was plagued by stomach ulcers, which tapped his once legendary energy. The Royals took a step back in 1970 and it cost Metro his job after a 19-35 start. Kauffman replaced him with former Cleveland Indians great Bob Lemon. Always the loyal soldier, Metro stayed on as a scout through the remainder of his contract, leaving the Royals after the 1971 season. One of Lemon’s first moves as manager was to do away with pre-game calisthenics, which had become a source of irritation to Royal players. “I just decided we’d let each guy loosen up on his own. A lot of guys didn’t like the calisthenics and weren’t getting much benefit out of them,” said Lemon.
Through the 1970s, Metro worked as a scout, coach and talent evaluator for the Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Oakland Athletics. The manager of that Oakland A’s team was Billy Martin, who had been a bat boy for the 1947 Oakland Oaks that Metro played on (and was managed by Stengel). This is an interesting coaching tree story.
Metro’s last year in organized baseball was 1984, spent scouting for the Dodgers. Metro was ahead of his time in many ways. He first invented the batting tee using stray pieces of rubber tubing he found while working in the Pennsylvania mines. In later years, he tried to get the tee patented, but never finished the paperwork. He was also ahead of the curve in conditioning and even brought in a track coach to help his baserunners improve their technique.
When he started with the Royals, he encouraged the team to install a batting cage underneath the Municipal Stadium seats, so that players entering a game could take a few swings to loosen up. The cage was the first in organized baseball. Today every team has a cage and video equipment. Metro also advocated sinking the bases into the infield ground to eliminate injuries from sliding into the elevated bases. That idea never really gained any traction with the league.
As a manager, he was quick to argue with the umpires, often to stir up the crowd or fire up his team. He often employed theatrical gestures like taking away a base or throwing bats on the field. His influence as a manager can be seen with the managerial style of Lou Piniella, who played for Metro on that 1970 Royals team.
Metro died on March 18, 2011 at the age of 92 from mesothelioma. His influence on the early development of the Royals is vastly underappreciated. Most Royal fans believe that Cedric Tallis should be in the Royals Hall of Fame. You could make a strong argument for Metro as well.