While most of the attention on Cleveland sports these days centers around LeBron James and Johnny Manziel, back in the early 1980’s, there was a player who turned not only the city on its ear, but was the talk of baseball for several months.
That player was Joe Charboneau and “Super Joe” was your definition of a one-year wonder. Joe had a nice rookie year for the Indians and after hitting .289 with 23 homers and 87 runs batted in over 131 games, he easily won 1980 Rookie of the Year honors. America quickly grew to love Joe because he could open beer bottles with his eye socket and could drink with a straw through his nose. Needless to say such quirks to match his on-field ability made him an instant legend in the Cleveland area.
We have also talked quite a bit about how the two key rookies in the 1981 sets were Tim Raines and Fernando Valenzuela but at the start of the season, Charboneau ranked right up there as well. He was a huge fan favorite, a guy who was known to die his hair in odd colors and say the first thing that came to mind, but he also seemed to have the skills for a long career. He was so popular, a local punk rock band made a song about him.
Since the other two players had only made cameos at the end of the 1980 season, Charboneau was perhaps the key rookie to start 1981. This scenario would be replicated but with slightly better long-term results before the 1983 season when Willie McGee started the season as the key rookie card after his rookie year in which he started for the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals and was one of the heroes of the 1982 World Series.
Charboneau was on Fleer and Donruss sets in ’81 as well as some others like Kellogg’s and Squirt, too (you can buy most of them for a $1 or $2 on eBay).
Ah, but he struggled early that season and after a series of injuries, he was in the minors for good, trying each year to find the magic once again. It never happened and that incredible year he had in ’80 turned out to be it for his big league career.
He did become a legend in Cleveland and is still very popular in the area and does numerous appearances. He even played one of Roy Hobbs’ teammates in ‘The Natural’.
Those Indian teams always seemed to come up with great personalities and I wish there was a card of Gomer Hodge who in his one major league season got off to a great start and said after getting four hits in his first four major league at bats: “Golly, fellas, I’m hitting 4.000”. Well Super Joe may never have batted 4.000—or 1.000– but he did leave a great one-year memory for his fans and a few memorable baseball cards, too.