“Super” Joe Charboneau may have made the biggest splash of any athlete in Cleveland sports history.

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Joseph Charboneau [SHAR-bin-oh] burst onto the major league baseball scene in 1980, seemingly out of nowhere.  A former softball player who dyed his hair, opened beer bottles with his eye socket, and once fixed a broken nose—after a few shots of Jack Daniels–with a pair of pliers, Charboneau was named American League Rookie of the Year in 1980.  Two years later, he was out of baseball for good.

Webster’s defines “flash in the pan” as a thing or person whose sudden but brief success is not repeated or repeatable.  Joe Charboneau played less than three seasons in the big leagues and set the record for fewest career games played [201] by a Rookie of the Year.  A unique physical specimen, Charboneau could hit a booming homer then celebrate after the game by drinking beer with a straw—through his nose.

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Born June 17, 1955, in Belvidere, Illinois—about 75 miles northwest of Chicago, Charboneau was originally selected in the sixth round of the major league amateur draft by the Minnesota Twins in June 1976, but did not sign.  Philadelphia picked him in the supplemental draft in December of that year and sent him to their Class-A affiliate in the Western Carolina League.  He quit after fighting with team management and returned to Belvidere to play softball.  Minnesota gave him another chance the following year, where he hit .350 while playing in 130 games with the Single-A Visalia Oaks.  After getting into a barroom brawl at season’s end, Charboneau was traded to the Cleveland Indians.  The slugging outfielder hit .352 in the AA Southern League in 1979 and was headed to Triple-A Charleston when Andre Thornton injured a knee, giving Charboneau a shot with the big league club.  While in Mexico for an exhibition game on March 8, 1980, a crazed fan stabbed Charboneau with a pen knife, which penetrated four inches and hit a rib.  The assailant was arrested and fined 50 pesos, prompting Charboneau to observe, “That’s $ 2.27 for stabbing a person.”  One month later, Charboneau set the baseball world on its ear.

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Charboneau made his major league debut in Anaheim on April 11, 1980, homering off of the California Angels’ David Frost in his second big league at-bat.  In Cleveland’s home opener eight days later, he singled, doubled and belted a three run-homer before more than 60,000 fans at Municipal Stadium.  He became an overnight sensation. “Super” Joe Charboneau was born.  Cleveland fans embraced their charismatic slugger and, as the legend grew, a song about him was penned.  Go Joe Charboneau reached number three on the local charts as Super Joe continued to tear through American League pitching.  Splitting time between playing the outfield and designated hitter, Charboneau played in 131 games.  Despite missing the final six weeks of the season with an injured pelvis, he batted .289 and led the Tribe in home runs [23] and RBI [87] to earn AL Rookie of the Year honors in a landslide, becoming the first Cleveland player to win that award since Chris Chambliss in 1971.

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In baseball, the sophomore jinx is a superstition that says a rookie standout’s second year will be a bad one—that he gets injured, plays poorly or the team falls apart on account of his playing style.  The curse casts a spell upon the second season such that it fails to live up to the standards of the first one.

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Super Joe injured his neck while sliding headfirst during spring training in 1981.  His season got off to a sluggish start and he was hitting only .208 when major league players went on strike June 11.  When the players came back two months later, Charboneau was sent to Triple A, making him the first Rookie of the Year to be returned to the minors the season after winning the award.  He returned to the big league club in late August, finishing the 1981 season with 4 home runs, 18 RBI and a .210 batting average while playing in only 48 games.  Chardoneau underwent back surgery over the winter.  He started the 1982 season with the Indians, only to be sent to Triple-A after 22 games.  His decline continued, as he was shipped to AA Chattanooga, where he hit a dismal .208.  After enduring a second offseason back surgery in 1983, Chardoneau was batting .200 for Buffalo in the AA Eastern League when he gave jeering fans an obscene gesture and was quickly released.  The Pittsburgh Pirates took a flyer on him in 1984, but after playing 15 games with their Triple-A team in Hawaii, Super Joe retired from the game.

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Super Joe Charboneau broke into the major leagues at 24 and was gone before his 27th birthday.  While his rise was meteoric and magical, his crash was devastating.  In the summer of 1980, Super Joe captured Cleveland’s imagination.  Playing in cavernous Municipal Stadium, he crushed baseballs.  His talent, coupled with his eccentricities, restored Cleveland’s love of the Tribe, who had not won a title since 1948 and had not been to a World Series in nearly three decades.  Charboneau made $ 21,000 as a rookie.  He signed for $ 75,000 the following year but only pocketed about $ 40,000 due to the players strike.  That’s the most he ever earned in baseball.  Charboneau played his last big league game June 1, 1982.  Over a decade later, he played one of Roy Hobbs’ teammates in the 1984 film, The Natural.

 

Who’s the newest guy in town?  Go Joe Charboneau.

Turns the ballpark upside down.  Go Joe Charboneau.

Who do we appreciate?  Go Joe Charboneau.

Fits right in with the other eight?  Go Joe Charboneau.

Who’s the one to keep our hopes alive?  Go Joe Charboneau.

Straight from seventh to the pennant drive?  Go Joe Charboneau.

Raise your glass, let out a cheer.  Go Joe Charboneau.

For Cleveland’s Rookie of the Year!  Go Joe Charboneau.


Comments

  1. 1990, It was a Wednesday night about 9:00, we had just finished working out and we went to Harvey’s Wineburger at 16th St and Camelback for beer and burgers. We walked in and I went to the counter to get a few pitchers. I looked in the back at the guy making Hamburgers and saw Joe Charbonau!! I asked the person taking my order if it was him and she said yes. Kinda Shocked!!

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