On a mission
Fans will soon be streaming into Fenway Park wearing pink hats, staring at their iPhones and singing Sweet Caroline. It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when the women and children were advised to stay home, when a blue-gray cloud of tobacco smoke hung over the ballpark and beer flowed straight through till the final out.
It was a crazy time, and nobody was crazier than Bernie Carbo, who had traded by the Reds to Boston prior to the start of the 1974 season. Carbo was fond of his stuffed monkey, Mighty Joe Young, and belonged to the team’s rebellious Buffalo Heads Club.
A few years ago, Carbo was in Florida with his friend and former teammate Pete Rose. “What’s that on your shirt?” asked Rose.
“That’s Jesus Christ,” replied Carbo.
Rose chuckled. “Yeah, you need Jesus Christ.”
“Pete had often told people that I was the craziest person he’d ever played with,” Carbo explains in his book “Saving Bernie Carbo.”
Carbo spent parts of five seasons with the Red Sox during the 1970s and became part of team’s folklore after his pinch-hit, three-run home run set the stage for Carlton Fisk’s 12th-inning homer in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. Afterward he went home and drank himself into a blackout.
His tell-all book was co-written by Dr. Peter Hantzis, a clinical psychologist from Chelmsford and a one-time New England college batting champion at Northeastern. They collaborated a year ago and the result is a 274-page chronicle of Carbo’s life from his horrendous childhood to his finding Jesus and getting sober.
It’s not for everyone. Many will find the proselytizing tone a turn-off, but there’s a good share of storytelling about what it was like behind the scenes in the Red Sox clubhouse.
Soon after he’d been traded to Boston, Carbo handed a clubhouse attendant $20 to fetch him a cheeseburger and fries. The person was actually Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey, who somewhat bemused went out and performed the task. Carbo recounts the time Carl Yastrzemski nailed Luis Tiant’s $300 shoes to the clubhouse floor, and of sideswiping a hot dog stand while peeling out of the Red Sox parking lot. “I had to put the windshield wipers on to get the mustard off.”
During the 1975 World Series, Carbo’s former teammate Clay Carroll gave him an 8 x 10 picture signed, “Good luck in the World Series. Your roommate, Clay Carroll.”
Carbo subsequently homered off Carroll, who stormed into the Red Sox locker room during the game and tore the picture into shreds. “What was I supposed to do, strike out? My stuff was all over the place. The clubhouse man just said, ‘Nobody was going to try to stop him.’”
Five years after his historic home run against Cincinnati, the Pittsburgh Pirates released Carbo. He was out of baseball at age 33, a career .264 hitter and classic underachiever whose talent had been compromised by booze and drugs.
He writes of waking up in a gutter, of being fired from jobs as a bartender and housepainter, and of playing baseball in Mexico where fans snuck him drinks during games. “By the late innings I was hammered … My teammate called me ‘Loco.’ I didn’t take it badly. I was “loco” and I knew it.”
His mother drank draining fluid and died a gruesome death. His father died shortly afterward, never having expressed any love for his only child. Tired of buying cocaine by the ounce, using crystal meth and drinking regularly, he closed the garage door and decided to commit suicide. The motor was running when, “I came in for one last beer and a smoke and the phone rang …”
It was his former Red Sox teammate Bill Lee. “Merry Christmas,” said the Spaceman.
The phone call was Carbo’s reprieve. He spent three months in rehab, and though he relapsed twice he today runs his own ministry with his third wife, Tammy. “I no longer automatically think of great athletes as being heroes,” he writes. “It depends who they are as people. I wasn’t a hero to anyone. I didn’t earn it, because it can’t be earned by hitting home runs.”
And amen to that.
Emily Field finished tied for 17th in the nation in scoring this season for the Boston College women’s ice hockey team. A sophomore, Field is the youngest daughter of Mathew Field, who played in the Franklin County Hockey Association. Her grandfather, Fred Field, played for the semi-pro Greenfield Mohawks and the Lunt Silver Blades at the Collins-Moylan Arena. His granddaughter was the third-leading scorer for the Eagles with 16 goals and 29 assists.
Former Recorder staffer Mike “Ace” Kelley covered UMass hoops when John Calipari’s teams made the NCAA tourney in five of his eight seasons in Amherst. During the ensuing 15 years four different coaches have tried and failed to make the tournament — Bruiser Flint, Steve Lappas, Travis Ford and now Derek Kellogg.
“Compared to the teams I covered, this year’s team looked horrible,” said Kelley. “I just think Cal was a winner and got more out of his players than anyone else could.”
Of the 16 schools that hosted a first-round NIT game, UMass drew the third-smallest crowd with 2,173 watching Stony Brook beat the Minutemen by double digits at the Mullins Center. In the Mile High City, only 2,094 watched Denver beat Ohio at Magness Arena, and a scant gathering of 1,057 convened at Maples Pavilion to see Stanford beat Stephen F. Austin. Only in Iowa City was there a big crowd as 15,400 showed up to see Iowa beat Indiana at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The Red Sox aren’t on the top of anyone’s list to make the postseason but good pitching and the presence of Jackie Bradley and Jose Iglesias will help them win the AL Wild Card behind AL East winner Toronto. Cleveland will win the other Wild Card while Detroit takes the Central and the Angels the West. The Washington Nationals will win the World Series, beating those perennial also-rans the Detroit Tigers in six games.
Opening Day is the Great American Sports Event. “It’s like Christmas,” said Pete Rose, “except it’s warmer.”
Added Early Wynn of the first game excitement: “You know that when you win the first one, you can’t lose
Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.