CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Bob Levine died at his home in Boca Raton, Fla., on Sunday at the age of 87.In addition to being a prominent member of the Jewish community here, Levine is remembered as the man who brought minor league baseball back to Charleston in 1971.He purchased the AAA franchise as a gift for his father, Charles, who was an avid baseball fan and cigar smoker and seldom could be seen without his derby hat.The younger Levine paid tribute to his father by naming the team the Charlies, and he created a logo of a smiley-faced baseball donning a bowler hat with "CHARLIES" written on the front.The mouth on that baseball, positioned between the horizontal seams, was of course clinched around a stogie."Baseball always sort of floundered here and he put a face on the program," said Cal Bailey, West Virginia State's baseball coach and a player on that inaugural Charleston Charlies team."His dad was the mascot, always there in his wheelchair, and you saw how important it was to take care of his dad."You saw how much he wanted to see his dad happy and that made a lot of difference to the players. That empathy for his own dad, I think, spilled over to the players and was kind of the underlying thing of how we related to playing ball, related to him and what it meant to play baseball here in Charleston."Levine's first fingerprints on the franchise, which occurred 40 years ago, remain a part of Charleston baseball today.The current team, the West Virginia Power, is in its third season as an affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates and uses a hybrid logo of Levine's creation.The derby hat remains, but the cigar is gone. A bandana, eye patch and earrings were added as accessories to blend the past, which Levine was such a large part of as the Charlies' owner for 10 years, and the present-day Pirates affiliation."Obviously he's a legend in baseball here," said Andy Milovich, the Power's executive vice president and general manager."You can look at our logo and what we've done with Chuck (the mascot) and the whole updated version of Charlie and it's obvious he's had a lasting impact."Charleston Mayor Danny Jones said he knew the Levine family well. Jones watched his hometown baseball team flirt with leaving several times before it finally did in 1964.Seven years later, Levine engineered its return and witnessed two league titles (1973 and '78), the first as a farm team of the Pirates and the second with the Houston Astros organization."I started going to games in 1958," Jones said. "I watched the whole history, how it unfolded, and watched baseball almost leave several times before it finally did. Because of Bob and his dad we had baseball in this town for years, which we never would have had. They lost a tremendous amount of money keeping baseball in Charleston."Bailey played a portion of the '71 season in the AA Eastern League in Waterbury, Conn., but returned home that fall for school. He recalled meeting Levine for the first time and being offered a spot on the Charlies' roster."He put his arm around my shoulder and said 'It's good to have a West Virginia boy on the team,'" Bailey said. "That made me feel really good. I was the 25th man on a 25-man roster, but he made me feel like I was just as equal to the rest of the team even though I knew I wasn't."The Charlies' manager that year, Joe Morgan, remembered Levine as a sophisticated, cordial man who socialized at the Daniel Boone Hotel with family, friends and ballplayers."He was a great guy to me, good to work for and I had lots of good times with him," said Morgan, who is now 80 and resides in Massachusetts. "He never bothered to tell me how to run the club or any of that stuff. We had a lot of good clubs together.""Poor" Charlie Levine - he was a scrap-metal dealer and referred to himself with that nickname - died in 1981. Bob Levine decided to sell the franchise after his father's passing.The Charlies' decade-long run under Levine is remembered fondly by those who were a part of it and those who came long after."Bob played a tremendous role in Charleston baseball history," said Milovich, who started working here in 2004. "We've worked tirelessly to recapture the magic and enthusiasm he brought to Charleston."Added Bailey: "He was Mr. Baseball here for quite a while."Contact sportswriter Chuck McGill at email@example.com or 304-348-1712.
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