"This is fun Bernie, this is what the World Series is about!"
The Passover and Easter holidays are always one of the signs that Spring is about to deliver a high hard one to winter as we look forward to another summer of action on diamonds across America.
Today we feature one of the stars of the 1975 World Series and apropos for this Holy Day, he credits religion for saving his life.
Popular Red Sox star Bernie Carbo, who was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame in 2004, joins us for this week’s edition of Spitballin’.
The image of Carlton Fisk waving at his home run in the 12th inning of Game 6 of the 1975 World Series is one of the iconic scenes in the game’s history. But, as Rico Petrocelli said in a previous edition of Spitballin’, that moment wouldn’t have been possible without Bernie Carbo’s heroics four innings earlier.
Carbo belted a two-strike, three-run homer to tie the game in the eighth, setting the stage for Fisk’s heroics. It was his second pinch homer of the series.
A tremendous scholastic athlete, Carbo was the 16th overall draft pick in Major League Baseball’s first ever draft in 1965, the first ever for the Reds and one round ahead of Johnny Bench.
Carbo played 11 seasons in the Majors and will be the first to tell you that he struggled with his demons throughout. He speaks of his past honestly and credits finding Jesus Christ during a hospital stay as the turning point in his life.
Fans love Carbo for his place in baseball history, his personality and supremely positive attitude. He gives back to society through Diamond Club Ministry, a Christian organization he founded 28 years ago.
One of the highlights of the year is his fantasy camp, which is held at Hank Aaron Stadium in Mobile, Alabama.
Carbo also remains active teaching hitting lessons to youngsters during which, he also educates them about baseball history.
What better way to spend this Easter weekend on BallNine than with a tale of redemption about one of the stars of arguably the greatest World Series ever played.
No matter if you’re a Red Sox fan or not, it’s great to see how he has turned his life around, so let’s go Spitballin’ with Bernie Carbo.
“When I do my hitting instruction, I talk about guys like Pete Rose, Lou Brock, Johnny Bench and Roberto Clemente. I’m glad you guys are doing what you’re doing, interviewing old ballplayers like myself to keep those stories going.”
NEW YORK - CIRCA 1975: Bernie Carbo #1 of the Boston Red Sox bats against the New York Yankees during an Major League Baseball game circa 1975 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. Carbo played for the Red Sox from 1974-76. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)<br />
Thanks for joining us this week, Mr. Carbo. I may have been just two years old for the 1976 World Series, but I feel like I was there considering how many times I’ve seen replays of all the great plays from that Series, your homers included. Before we get to that, let’s start at the beginning. Did you have a favorite baseball team or players growing up?
Being from Detroit, my favorite team of course was the Tigers. They had a great team back then with guys like Willie Horton, Norm Cash, Al Kaline, Denny McClain and Mickey Lolich. But I was also a Yankees fan too.
Whenever we played “strikeout” as kids, I was always the Yankees lineup because they had a lot of lefties and I was a left-handed batter. Like everyone else, I loved Mickey Mantle. We all pretended to be Big Leaguers playing with our friends. I had a friend who pretended to be Willie Mays. He wore his uniform like him and made basket catches like him.
That was a great time to watch baseball as a kid and then you ended up playing with and against some of those guys.
I have a funny story about Willie Mays. It was 1970 and we were playing in San Francisco. I was on the field and nobody was in the Giants dugout, so I went over to the bat rack and snuffed a Willie Mays bat. My first time up I busted it though. After the game was over, I’m in the clubhouse and I hear “Where’s Carbo? Where’s Carbo?”
I look up and say, “Mr. Willie Mays!” He looked at me and said, “Where’s my game bat?” I just came up from the minor leagues, I had no idea what a game bat was. We bought our bats at a hardware store or Sears-Roebuck. I picked the bat up and said, “Right here! It’s broken. Can you sign it for me?”
I am guessing he didn’t sign it for you.
Well, about 40 years later Hank Aaron had his childhood home moved over to Hank Aaron Stadium in Mobile, Alabama. They invited a lot of players like Willie McCovey, Dick Williams, Willie Mays, Reggie Jackson and a couple of other ballplayers. Willie Mays looked at me and said, “I know who you are, you’re that left-handed hitter that took my game bat!” I said, “Come on Willie, you were my favorite.” He said, “Yeah, but you took my game bat.” He never signed it for me.
That’s amazing he remembered all those years later and really great you got to have that relationship with the guys who looked up to as a kid.
I really enjoyed all those baseball players when I was growing up. I really liked to collect their baseball cards and imitating all of them. Can you imagine we used to take all those baseball cards and put them in our bike spokes and play flip card with them? The Mantle rookie sells for over $1 million, and I had it in my bike spokes. We never thought they’d be worth anything.
I had a great time as a kid with baseball, but you know, I never went to a single Tigers game as a kid. The first game I ever went to was when Denny McLain won his 30th game in 1968. Reggie Jackson hit one on the roof too. I was real excited to see Denny McLain win that game.
October 19, 1970 Sports Illustrated via Getty Images Cover, Baseball: World Series, Cincinnati Reds Lee May (23), Tony Perez (24), and Bernie Carbo (25) vs Baltimore Orioles Boog Powell (26), Ellie Hendricks (10), and Brooks Robinson (5), Baltimore, MD - Cincinnati, OH 10/10/1970--10/15/1970 (Photo by SI Cover/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images/Getty Images)
Wow! That’s a historic game and I doubt anyone will ever win 30 again. You were around a lot of the legends of the sport coming up in the late 1960s. As someone that loves baseball history like yourself, that mut have been great to experience.
When I played with the Cardinals one of the great players I loved very much was Stan Musial. He would stand around the batting cage with a sport coat on smiling. One time I asked him, “Hey Stan, I’m having a hard time hitting that slider. How do I hit the slider?” He took my bat and got in his batting stance and said, “Bernie, you see it, then you hit it.”
I got traded to the Red Sox and had Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr as hitting instructors. One day I said, “Ted, what made you such a good hitter?” He said, “I saw the ball, got a good pitch and hit it hard.” I thought about the conversation with Musial and thought to myself, well there’s the two greatest hitters I know, and they just make it simple.
When you have the natural ability of those guys, I guess the simpler they made it, the better off they were.
I’ve been doing hitting instruction for 26 years and I talk about these old ballplayers. Guys like Stan Musial, Ted Williams and Willie Mays and most kids don’t even know who they are. Some of the guys I coached made it to the Majors and a lot of them don’t know that when I played, we went on strike and that helped the guys make the money they do today. I look at my career and I made $476,000 over 17 years. The average salary was about $35,000 and if you were a superstar you made over $100,000, but we went on strike to make it better for these kids today.
You have guys today making $30-$40 million a year to play the greatest game ever played and I love it. I love the game of baseball, but guys need to know about the history. When I do my hitting instruction, I talk about guys like Pete Rose, Lou Brock, Johnny Bench and Roberto Clemente. I’m glad you guys are doing what you’re doing, interviewing old ballplayers like myself to keep those stories going.
That’s a huge compliment and I love helping players share their stories. Everyone I talk to has these incredible stories about some of the all-time legends in the game’s history.
There’s so many of them too. How about a guy like Jimmy Piersall? We had an Old Timer’s Game in Boston and I was sitting next to Jimmy Piersall and he said, “Bernie Carbo. You know, nobody would know who you were if you didn’t hit that home run.” I said, “Yeah, but you know what Jimmy, I hit it!”
Amazing. I am sure you answer so many questions about the 1975 Series. Where does that fit in with the great moments of your career?
People always ask me what my career highlights were. Of course, being the Reds number one draft pick in 1965, the first year of the draft is one of them. My first hit in the Big Leagues was a home run against Joe Sparma and I tell people it was the longest home run in baseball history. Old Crosley Field had I-75 running behind the fence and the ball landed in a truck going south and went 1,700 miles all the way down to Florida.
Then my first home run in the World Series was off my former roommate Clay Carroll. You know, he had actually signed a picture for me and left it in my locker. It said, “Good luck in the World Series.” He went into the clubhouse after that homer and tore my locker apart and tore that picture up into pieces.
World Series: Cincinnati Reds manager Sparky Anderson (10) upset, arguing call with NL home plate umpire Ken Burkhart during 6th inning of Game 1 vs Baltimore Orioles at Riverfront Stadium. Burkhart was knocked down on a play at home and called Reds Bernie Carbo (25) out on contact after a collision with O's catcher Elrod Hendricks. Replays show that Hendricks tagged Carbo with an empty mitt. Cincinnati, OH 10/10/1970 CREDIT: Neil Leifer (Photo by Neil Leifer/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)
Sweet Corn, that’s hysterical! That home run gets overshadowed by your Game 6 one. That set the stage for Dwight Evans to tie it up with a homer of his own. But people remember the Game 6 home run most of all. Can you take us through that famous at bat?
The thing about that home run was that when I hit it, I never even heard the crowd noise until a few years later. I did an interview and they played it back for me and looking at the crowd, I just went, “Wow!” But you know, I took the worst swing in the history of the game the pitch before. I had a 2-2 pitch and I basically took the ball out of Bench’s glove.
The umpire called it a ball, Bench argued that it was a strike and I thought I had struck out. Pete Rose said it looked like I was a Little Leaguer learning to hit; Bench said it was the worst swing he ever saw in his life. Rico Petrocelli said I looked like a pitcher who had hurt his arm learning how to hit. I looked down at third and [third base coach] Don Zimmer had his back turned walking towards the Green Monster.
Then we all know what happened next. What were you thinking after taking that swing the pitch before?
Well, I was thinking, “Oh man, I almost struck out!” But then Rawley Eastwick threw me a fastball and I hit it out towards centerfield. I saw Cesar Geronimo turn his back and I thought it had a chance. Then it went out and as I’m rounding second, I yelled to Pete Rose, “Don’t you wish you were this strong, Pete!” He yelled back at me, “This is fun Bernie, this is what the World Series is about!”
After the game, Pete told Sparky Anderson that was the greatest game he ever played in. Sparky said, “How can you say something like that? We lost!” Pete said, “Those guys think they won the World Series. We still got Game 7.”
Wouldn’t you know, Pete was right.
Thinking back to what Ted Williams and Stan Musial said about keeping it simple, how do you simplify things in a big spot like that?
I was a fastball hitter, and you have to understand the differences in the leagues then. When I came up in the National League, the umpires had the inside vest. In the American League, they had the outside bubble they would hold in front of them, and they couldn’t see home plate. The high pitch was a strike in the AL.
In the American League umpires had a big strike zone and I struggled because I had to swing at everything. Also, the American League was a curve ball league. They’d throw a 3-2 curve ball with the bases loaded; they didn’t care.
The National League was the fastball league and Bench was a fastball catcher. He liked to call fastballs and Carlton Fisk was a breaking ball catcher. I knew that, so I was up there looking for a fastball. The 2-2 pitch with that bad swing, that was a slider, and I was looking fastball. But the next pitch, he threw me the fastball I was looking for.
That’s awesome to hear the story behind that at bat, and it all makes a lot of sense. You mentioned Pete Rose a few times and played with and against him. What do you think about Pete and the Hall of Fame?
Let me tell you, I love Pete Rose. I honestly believe Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame. If you watch baseball today, you can sit there and bet on what pitch is gonna be thrown, foul balls, who’s gonna hit a home run, is this guy gonna steal a base.
You got all kinds of gambling going on. On April 14, Pete is gonna be 80 years old. I’d really like to see Pete get in before he passes away. What I always say about Pete is he did more with less natural ability than anyone who ever played.
He played second base, third base, first base, left field and was an All-Star at all of them. He couldn’t throw, wasn’t fast and couldn’t steal many bases but he could hit a line drive better than anyone. One time I said to him, “Hey Pete, you’re in a slump, what’s up?” He said, “I’ve never been in a slump in my life. I only need two more.” I didn’t know what he was talking about and then I looked at his stats. He had 198 hits. Pete’s goal was to always get his 200 hits and he usually did. He wanted 200 hits for 20 years and he did even better.
You really seem to appreciate the players you played with and against. Who are some other players who had an influence on your career?
I played with Bobby Bonds and I feel like it’s forgotten sometimes just how good he was. He taught me a lot about hitting; how to see the ball and how to get good pitches. We played together in Cleveland and then we went to St. Louis together.
One game in St. Louis Ken Boyer told me to pinch hit for him and I was like, “What? You want me to pinch hit for Bobby Bonds? Are you sure?” I came out of the dugout and was standing next to Bobby.
He asked what I was doing. I said, “Uh, Boyer sent me out here. I’m supposed to pinch hit for you.” He said, “Let me tell you something, you’ll be the first player to ever pinch hit for me. Do you know that I was the first ballplayer to ever pinch hit for Willie Mays?” Bobby Bonds was a tremendous player and he had to take over for Willie Mays in San Fran, which is no easy task.
Wow, that is some seriousl claim to fame for the both of you. Was there anyone in Boston you enjoyed like that too?
Let me tell you, I loved playing with Carl Yastrzemski and Luis Tiant together in Boston. When the two of them got together, they were two of the funniest guys I ever known. I would get to the clubhouse early just to listen to those guys rag on each other. I laughed so hard my stomach and face would hurt.
Luis used to have a name for Yaz; he called him “Columbo.” He had this brown jacket that he never washed. He never washed his uniform if he got a hit either.
May favorite thing about Luis is I would ask him how old he was. Luis would say, “I’m 36.” Then I’d ask him a couple years later and he’d still say, “I’m 36, Bernie.” His whole career he was 36. But early on in Cleveland, Luis threw really hard and was great before he got hurt. Then he came back different later on and was still great. He’s another guy who should be in the Hall of Fame too. How is he not in there? Him and Pete Rose really belong, they were two of the best.
I agree with you totally about that. I have to say that I’ve been laughing and smiling at your stories just the same way you laughed at Luis and Yaz. These are the exact behind-the-scenes stories we like to share with our readers.
I love sharing them, I had so much fun playing. I remember playing in Cincinnati and I got myself a perm.
I was the first white ballplayer to put on a uniform and have a perm.
Sparky Anderson took one look at me and said, “Who are you!?” I said, “I’m looking pretty cool man!” He said, when you’re on the Reds you gotta look like Pete Rose! I said, “Pete don’t have any hair, he’s got a butch haircut! I got me some hair, man, and it looks pretty good!”
Sparky said he wouldn’t put me on the field looking like that and I said, “Oh man, I paid $75 for this!” I was rooming with Pat Corrales and he came to me and said that I better cut my hair. I asked him if Sparky was really that mad about it, and he said that he was.
After a couple days, I finally went and buzzed it off to look like Pete Rose. I thought, “Man, now I don’t have any personality!”
These stories are the best, thanks so much for sharing them with us. I have one last question for you and it’s just open-ended. Is there a final message you would like to leave for our readers about anything at all? Carbo style?
I would say if there was one person who encouraged me the most it would be Lou Brock. Lou was an ordained preacher and when I played for the Cardinals, he said to me, “Bernie, love the Lord, love God, love the Lord Jesus Christ. Love them and they will love you.”
You know, I was an alcoholic and drug addict for 28 years. My mother committed suicide and my dad died two months later. I went through a divorce and I was planning suicide. I ended up at Tampa University Hospital because I didn’t think I had a problem. I had an anxiety attack and ended up in the hospital and went into rehab.
I was in bed and a man said, “Do you have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ?” I said, “I don’t know who Jesus is.” He stayed with me for three days and I took Christ into my life. I checked into rehab and started Diamond Club Ministry to teach kids baseball, the greatest game ever played. I teach them about hitting and talk to them about Jesus Christ. I wear my shirt that says, “Diamond Club Ministry, Jesus reigns.”
I tell them to play the game, to play hard, use your God-given talent because God created you to work hard for the Glory of God. He’ll still love you even if you strike out 100 times or if you hit 100 home runs. He doesn’t care, God will always love you no matter what and He has a plan for everyone.
Bernie Carbo founded the Diamond Club Ministry in 1993 and according to their site, the mission of Diamond Club Ministry is “Telling the greatest story ever told through the greatest game ever played.The Diamond Club Ministry is a Christian organization founded in 1993 to glorify Jesus Christ. The primary platform is evangelistic camps and revival services for youth and their families. We want to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to hear the life changing message of Jesus Christ.” Carbo runs and annual fantasy camp through Diamond Club Ministry is also available for speaking engagements. You can learn more information at www.berniecarbo.com.