Life is good for Charboneau
Joe Charboneau is 63 years old now, nearly 40 years removed from when he was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1980 as a slugging left fielder with the Indians. Charboneau leads a comfortable life residing in Berea. He hasn’t heard the home crowd cheer one of his mammoth home runs for close to four decades, and the days of being tagged “Super Joe Charboneau” are faint echoes in Indians history.
But he is not far from the game he ruled for one — just one — magical summer. “I’m an ambassador of baseball, so I still work for the Tribe,” Charboneau said on Feb. 9 at Quicken Loans Arena as one of the Cleveland Sports Legends hosted by the Cleveland Monsters. “They’ve been great to me. It’s a treat to do every year and hang out with the Tribe, go to the ballpark and do all the fun stuff I do around baseball with them. “I coach baseball at Notre Dame College with (former Indians pitcher) Len Barker. Otherwise, that’s about it. I have my baseball pension, my social security. I’m just relaxing and enjoying life.” Charboneau has gotten over any bitterness he felt about being cheated out of a long career because back surgeries limited him to 201 games in the major leagues. Yet as he reflects on his too short time under bright lights, he can’t help but wonder what might have happened if presentday medical procedures were available to him in 1981. Would he have enjoyed a long career? Might he, Joe Carter, Cory Snyder and Andre Thornton have powered the Indians to a World Series title in the mid-80s? “They didn’t have the scope then. So I had the big, long, evasive scars,” Charboneau said. “They cut through the muscle, pulling out the disc, sewing up the muscle so it could heal. Now they just go in with a scope and clean it up. “I was disappointed for about a year, but I knew I had to get over that. I’ve seen players get to the big leagues and get hurt or get to Triple-A and get hurt on the verge of the big leagues and they couldn’t handle it. But you can’t stay bitter. It doesn’t do you any good.” Colorful doesn’t begin to describe Charboneau. Legend has it he can open beer bottles with an eye socket — not something one puts on a resume’ — that he can drink beer with a straw through his nose and that he once took care of an aching tooth by extracting it with pliers. He allegedly used the same instrument to straighten a broken nose. While playing in an exhibition game on March 8, 1980, in Mexico City, a rabid fan stabbed Charboneau with a pen-knife. The wound was four inches deep, but a month later Charboneau was in the Indians’ opening day lineup in place of Thornton, who was out with a knee injury. The man who assaulted Charboneau was arrested and fined 50 pesos. Charboneau at the time joked 50 pesos converted to $2.27. Charboneau hit .210 in 48 games with four home runs and 18 RBI with the Indians in 1981 after hitting .289 with 23 home runs and 87 RBI in his monster season of 1980. He became the first player in history to win Rookie of the Year one year and then be sent back to the minors the next. Back surgery in the offseason before playing in 1982 did not help. He hit .214 in 22 games and was sent back to Charleston, the Indians Triple-A team at the time. The Pirates took a chance on Charboneau after the Indians released him, but he never made it back to the majors. He thought he was finished with baseball. But then another former teammate, Kevin Rhomberg, convinced Charboneau to manage the Lorain County Ironmen in the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League. “I said, ‘Quit calling me! There’s no way I’m getting back in,’” Charboneau said, smiling at the recollection. “He talked me into it and I loved it. It was a great time. You get kids from all over the United States and play summer baseball with them.” That gig ended and now baseball players at Notre Dame College get to learn from him. It must be a delight to sit around and listen to him tell stories during rain delays.