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|Left fielder / Designated hitter|
June 17, 1955 |
|April 11, 1980, for the Cleveland Indians|
|Last MLB appearance|
|June 1, 1982, for the Cleveland Indians|
|Runs batted in||114|
|Career highlights and awards|
Joseph Charboneau (born June 17, 1955) is a former Major League Baseball player for the Cleveland Indians in the early 1980s. Bursting on the scene in 1980, Charboneau captured Cleveland's imagination, not just with his production but also his eccentricities. Charboneau had a tendency to dye his hair unnatural colors, as well as open beer bottles with his eye socket and drink beer with a straw through his nose.
After winning the AL Rookie of the Year award in 1980, Charboneau's career quickly flamed out amidst injuries. He is one of the most oft-cited examples of baseball's fabled sophomore jinx, holding the record for the fewest career games played in the Major Leagues by a Rookie of the Year, with 201.
The 21-year-old Charboneau was originally drafted in the sixth round of the June 1976 draft by the Minnesota Twins, but he did not sign with them; when the Philadelphia Phillies made him their second-round pick in the December supplementary draft, Charboneau was sent to the Class A Western Carolina League, where he hit .298 in 43 games.
In 1977 Charboneau suddenly quit the Phillies' Carolina League affiliate after fighting with management, and went home to Belvidere to play softball. The following year, Minnesota, the team that originally drafted Charboneau, gave him another chance, and assigned him to Visalia of the California League. He responded with a .350 average, fourth-best in the league. At season's end, though, after participating in a barroom brawl, Charboneau was traded to the Cleveland Indians organization for major-league pitcher Cardell Camper.
Charboneau broke out in 1979 with a .352 average for the Indians' AA team in Chattanooga, pacing the Southern League.
In 1980, it looked like Charboneau was headed up to AAA Charleston—until Indians' slugger Andre Thornton was felled by a knee injury, giving Charboneau his shot at the big leagues.
Trouble continued to follow him; while in Mexico for an exhibition game on March 8, a crazed fan stuck Charboneau with a pen knife. The knife penetrated four inches and hit a rib, but Charboneau played his first regular-season game just over a month later, on April 11. (The assailant was duly arrested and fined 50 pesos. "That's $2.27 for stabbing a person," Charboneau said.)
Charboneau soon became a fan favorite. Long before Dennis Rodman came on the scene, Charboneau became known for dyeing his hair, as well as his unusual way of consuming beer. Other stories emerged about how he did his own dental work and fixed a broken nose with a pair of pliers and a few shots of Jack Daniel's whiskey, stood out; by mid-season, Charboneau was the subject of a song, "Go Joe Charboneau", that reached #3 on the local charts.
Despite a few nagging injures late in the season, Charboneau played 131 games in 1980, splitting time between left field and designated hitter. His.289 average coupled with 23 home runs and 87 RBI (leading the team in both categories) earned Charboneau the American League Rookie of the Year award, the first Indian to claim the award since Chris Chambliss in 1971.
Charboneau injured his back in a headfirst slide in spring training the following year. He tried to play through the pain but was hitting only .208 at the time of the 1981 Major League Baseball strike that interrupted the season. Just after the players came back in early August, though, Charboneau was sent to AAA Charleston, making him the first Rookie-of-the-Year to be returned the minors the following season. After 18 games with the Charlies (where he hit just .217), he returned to the big club on August 28. His final big-league numbers for 1981: .210 average, just four homers and 18 RBI in 138 at-bats. Charboneau underwent back surgery over the winter.
Things did not improve for Charboneau in 1982: after only 22 games with the Indians, Charboneau and his .214 average were shipped back to Charleston, then to AA Chattanooga again. Playing in the same league he had torn apart three years earlier, he could only manage a dismal .207 mark. Charboneau endured another back surgery after the season, but seemingly nothing could allow him to regain his timing at the plate. Finally, in 1983, when batting .200 for AA Buffalo, Charboneau gave jeering fans an obscene gesture, leading to his quick release.
However, the Pittsburgh Pirates took a flyer on him in 1984, and he managed a .289 average in the Carolina League (though at 29, he was easily the oldest player in the loop). A shot with the Pirates AAA team in Hawaii ended after 15 games, and "Super Joe" retired from the game. (Charboneau did make one more appearance in a baseball uniform that year, but only on celluloid: he was an extra in the film The Natural, playing one of Roy Hobbs' teammates.)
Charboneau dabbled in sports management after his retirement, and even hosted his own radio show for a time. He returned to baseball in 1999 with the Canton Crocodiles of the Frontier League, serving as hitting instructor, first base coach, and director of baseball operations through 2001. (He even stepped in as a pinch-hitter in 2000, singling in his only at-bat.) He later worked for several other Frontier League teams in Washington, Windy City, Richmond and Chillicothe.
Today, Charboneau is the manager of the Lorain County Ironmen, a team that plays in the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League, a wood bat league that allows college players to play competitive baseball in the off-season. Charboneau was hired to manage the Ironmen by close friend and fellow former Cleveland Indian Kevin Rhomberg, who owns the team. Prior to managing the Ironmen, Charboneau spent the 2014 baseball season as the hitting coach for the Lake Erie Crushers of the independent Frontier League.
- Wulf, Steve. "Super Joe: A Legend In His Own Time," Sports Illustrated, September 8, 1980.
- Bloss, Bob (2005). Rookies of the Year. United States: Temple University Press. p. 211. ISBN 9781592131648.
- Fogarty, Steve. "No charges to be filed in Charboneau bar incident," The Chronicle-Telegram (Jan. 20, 2010).