Clair: Meet Joe Charboneau: The Indians’ larger-than-life cult hero of the 1980s

From SABR member Michael Clair at MLB Cut4 on February 2, 2017:

Entering the 1980 season, 20th century baseball fans had likely never seen a player quite like Joe Charboneau. Honestly, we haven’t seen one since.

It all started from his first Major League game on Opening Day in 1980. The Indians hadn’t been within 10 games of first place since 1959, but here came a glimmer of joy in the madcap adventures of the curly-haired rookie.

In a recent phone call with, Charboneau pictured the day vividly. He remembered the family and friends who made the eight-hour drive from central California to be in attendance at Angel Stadium. He remembered being calmed by the presence of Carney Lansford, a player he had regularly competed against in high school. He even remembered that the right-field grandstand at Anaheim Stadium was being remodeled. 

With one out in the top of the fifth, Angels starter Dave Frost threw him a slider, low and away. “I was a low-ball hitter, so I had to hit it,” Charboneau said. “In Spring Training, I had done real well against the Angels, which gives you confidence.” One swing later and Charboneau had his first big league hit and homer. 

Of course, nerves had gotten to the rookie. “I think I lost my breakfast on deck. One of my teammates had a towel right there, because he figured something like that was going to happen.”


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Originally published: February 2, 2017. Last Updated: February 2, 2017.