Awesome Men Throughout History: Joe Charboneau
In honor of baseball season starting up again, I thought I’d profile another ball player for this week’s Awesome Men Throughout History. As we’ve seen, baseball attracts some pretty weird personalities, and because of the comparatively lenient physical demands of the sport (especially when held against football, basketball, and soccer), it attracts some legendary drinkers as well. This week’s subject, former Cleveland Indian Joe Charboneau, was as famous for his accomplishments in the bar as he was for his time on the field.
Born in Belvidere, IL, Charboneau was a draft pick for both the Minnesota Twins and the Philadelphia Phillies when he was 21 years old. He decided to go with Philly, but left abruptly after a squabble with management and went home to play softball. That lasted a year, then Minnesota gave him another chance in their developmental league until he got into a bar fight and they traded him to Cleveland.
Bar fights are a running theme in Charboneau’s career. Hell, he was in one three years ago that left him with seven staples in his head.
Charboneau was also probably one of the toughest ball players ever. Before his baseball career took off, he would bare-knuckle box in unsanctioned fights for extra money, and had his nose broken three times. He reset his nose with a pair of pliers, and could drink beer through his nose after a doctor removed a lot of the cartilage from it. He also closed a stab wound from a crazed Mexican baseball fan with fishing line, and yanked out a problematic tooth with vise grips.
He was also a fan of opening beer bottles with his eye socket, although I don’t think that habit was born from injuries or attempting Civil War field medicine on himself.
As a baseball player, Charboneau was a left fielder and designated hitter who was so good at one time that a local rock band wrote a song about him (cleverly titled “Go Joe Charboneau”) that reached #3 on local radio charts. Such adoration was earned; in his first year with the Indians, Joe hit 23 homers, drove in 87 runs, and hit .289, winning Rookie of the Year for his efforts.
Unfortunately, his career slump would happen just as quickly. A back injury and two subsequent surgeries pretty much ruined him for major league ball, and he was sent back to the Indians’ AA Buffalo affiliate, then fired shortly afterward for flipping off a group of rowdy fans.
Isn’t that something? Johnny Cash took out a full-page ad of his middle finger just to stick it to the Grand Old Opry, and they still let him in, but a sport full of chaw-spitting alpha males will fire someone for it.
These days, Joe Charboneau does public appearances and works as a hitting coach, and I’m guessing he can probably still drink beer through his nose if he’s getting into bar fights at his age. I’ll leave you with this Sports Illustrated fluff piece on Charboneau from 1980, in recognition of the fact that he was awesome at baseball too, if only for a short while.
About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.