Countdown To Pitchers And Catchers: #34 Joe Charboneau
Today continues our countdown to the start of Indians pitchers and catchers reporting to Goodyear, Arizona on February 20. We’ll count down the days, profiling a former Indian who wore the corresponding number. Some players will be memorable, others just our favorites and some, the only one we could find who wore that number. Today, we remember the short career of Joe Charboneau.
By Craig Gifford
With the city’s last major sports championship coming in 1964, Cleveland is generally thought to be the most cursed sports town in America. The three major teams (Indians, Browns and Cavs) have all found unique ways to get oh-so-close and then break the hearts of their fans over the past 48 years.
The individual athlete in Cleveland sports history who perhaps best personify “The Curse,” is former Tribe outfielder, and number 34, Joe Charboneau.
Charboneau entered the majors in 1980 and took baseball by storm that year. He won the American League Rookie of the Year award and for good reason. At the age of 25, he hit 23 home runs with 87 RBI and batted .289. He did this in 131 games after making his Major League debut on April 11.
With a home run in that initial game against the Californial Angels, Charboneau was not a secret for very long. The Indians from that point through the end of his rookie year, appeared to have a future superstar and perhaps the guy to lead them out of perennially losing seasons.
However, it was not to be. In spring trainging of 1981, Charboneau injured his back sliding into second base and was never the same. He played 48 games that year and only 22 in 1982, fighting through persistent back problems. After several surgeries, the writing was sadly on the wall and “Super Joe” was forced to retired way too soon.
So much unrealized potential went unnoticed, much like has happeded to numerous teams on the shores of Lake Erie.
Charboneau never left the game, however. Using his hitting prowess and knowledge he has served as hitting instructor over the years for numerous minor league organizations and has made appearances in past years at Cleveland’s spring training camps.
A player that had a chance to go down in history instead went down as a footnote. However, that one season still made him one of the more popular players in recent Indians’ history and the guy most fans think of when the miserable 1970s and 80s teams are remembered.