Life is good for ‘Su­per Joe’ Char­boneau

The News Herald (Willoughby, OH) - - Sports - By Jeff Schudel [email protected]­ald.com @JSProIn­sider on Twit­ter

Joe Char­boneau is 63 years old now, nearly 40 years re­moved from when he 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.

Char­boneau

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