They made a striking couple, especially in photos in which they are dressed for winter, Oscar in a topcoat and fedora, Janie with a cloche pulled snug over her ears. She was pretty and petite, barely five feet tall but hardly shy. "She'd set anybody straight," Overton says. One of the few secrets Janie shared was that she took Oscar to Sunday school, much to the amusement of his teammates. Not that they saw much of her. "She didn't mix well," Double Duty Radcliffe said. But she was with Charleston in Harrisburg for four seasons, and she accompanied him to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cuba and even a managing job in Toledo, until her father died in 1942 and she went home to care for her mother, home for good.
Janie never had children, and once she returned to Harrisburg, though she and Oscar didn't divorce, there was no husband by her side. How much she saw of him thereafter is lost to time, but when he died of a heart attack in Philadelphia on Oct. 5, 1954, nine days shy of 58, there was one last sign that he had never stopped loving her: He willed her all his earthly possessions. And she turned right around and gave them to his sister, who had cared for him at the end.
It was an act of integrity, just as Oscar's had been. To think anything else would be as wrong as to assume the worst because Janie never set out pictures of him. "You want pictures to last," her niece says, "you keep them in the dark."
Restless, always restless. At the plate he kept wagging that big bat until he found a pitch to demolish. Everywhere else he just kept moving. He worked security at Philadelphia's Quartermaster Depot during World War II and ran the depot's mixed-race ball club. He helped Branch Rickey seek out black talent for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and legend says it was Charleston who steered Roy Campanella their way. He tossed baggage for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and he umpired too. Unable or maybe plain unwilling to slow down, he signed up for a second season of managing the Indianapolis Clowns weeks before he died. When the guys who had played for him on the Philadelphia Stars went to his viewing in South Philly's biggest hall, what they saw, Glenn says, was pure Charlie: "He looked like he was going to jump out of there and say hello to you."
To this day, the last of the Stars can hear him barking at their best lefthander for throwing a "balloony pitch" and bitching at hitters who didn't take every extra base in sight. They remember, too, a morning departure for a road trip when Charlie ordered whoever was driving the bus to pull out just as the lefthander ambled around the corner.
"But you said we were leaving at eight," the players said. "It's only five till."
"Next time he'll be early," Charlie said.
There was only one way in Charlie's world: his way. Time and again he let the Stars know it, but never so memorably as the night he picked up a bat to pinch-hit in an exhibition game. He was past 50, and the lights in the park barely deserved the name, but he still bludgeoned a shot to right centerfield. "It would have been [an inside-the-park] home run for anybody else," Mahlon Duckett says. "Charlie fell out at third base." And there the Stars assumed he would stay until somebody got a hit. But when the next batter flied to center, Charlie tagged up and broke for home, just as in the old days. "I said, 'What's he doing?'" Duckett recalls.
He was doing what he always did when a throw beat him by 10 feet. He was lowering his head and plowing into the catcher, and he wasn't worrying that the catcher still had his mask on. Hell, Charlie probably relished it, even when his head hit the mask. The catcher dropped as if he'd been shot, and the ball skittered away, and the man who had risked his bull neck for a single run in a game that meant nothing left a message for all who would follow unaware: Tell them Oscar Charleston was here.