Postscript on my failed attempt to interview Bernie Carbo

I had my first “Where Are They Now” piece published last night on Baseball Savvy, a site I was recently invited to contribute to. I interviewed Billy O’Dell, who pitched for the Giants in the 1962 World Series, and our two cordial phone conversations contrasted with the run-in I had a few weeks before with another player I approached about this, Bernie Carbo.

As I wrote about here before, I had a chance to interview Carbo that didn’t go anywhere. I’ll rehash over the next few paragraphs for anyone who missed my first entry (anyone who’s read it can skip down to the last four graphs.) Basically, Carbo hit a famous home run in the 1975 World Series and more recently has been in the news for telling the Boston Globe, “I played every game high.” I was put in touch with Carbo through a mutual contact Dave McCarthy, executive director of the Ted Williams Museum in Florida, and Carbo and I set up to talk, but it didn’t come off.

When I called Carbo at the time we’d agreed on, he seemed to get spooked when I asked if I could use a recorder, a standard question. For reference, I asked O’Dell that same question both times I talked to him, and he had no problem with it. Maybe Carbo’s more on guard given recent spotlight.

Whatever the case, Carbo had some questions for me, including how I knew McCarthy. I explained how I had been doing research for a post here about how the Hitters Hall of Fame at the Ted Williams Museum honored players like Fred McGriff and Dale Murphy, but not Jackie Robinson and Honus Wagner and that I called McCarthy and we struck up an acquaintance. My mistake with Carbo was that I spoke of the Hitters Hall of Fame as a second-rate Hall of Fame, though it didn’t seem like a deal-killer at the time for the purposes of our interview.

Carbo told me he had interviews slated to go a few weeks out with ESPN and the 700 Club, that he promised those outlets he wouldn’t give his story out ahead of time, and that he would need to call me back in mid-May.

He gave a radio interview to a Red Sox talk show two days after we spoke. Upon hearing this, I called Carbo fuming. I know better than to make these calls, and it went about as well as could be expected. Before our conversation devolved into us talking heatedly over one another and him hanging up on me, Carbo said he had initially agreed to our interview thinking I was a friend of McCarthy and that he began to distrust me or what I would write after I told him the stuff above about how I knew McCarthy.

I’m neither a friend nor a foe, I’m a writer– and for the record, McCarthy’s been nothing but nice to me. But Carbo’s words wouldn’t have struck a nerve if there hadn’t been some truth to them.

The truth is, I’ve felt bad since I first wrote about the Hitters Hall of Fame six months ago. Ted Williams is one of my all-time favorite players, and McCarthy said the museum gives $80,000 to $100,000 to children every year. That’s a good thing, even if it’s not for me as a writer to take a position one way or another. I also like the idea of extra Halls of Fame in baseball besides Cooperstown, which doesn’t honor nearly enough players. A Hitters Hall of Fame is a neat concept for a museum, particularly if it was the brainchild of Williams, perhaps the greatest hitter ever.

Most times, talking to a ballplayer is a wonderful experience. Since the ill-fated non-interview with Carbo, I’ve talked to O’Dell and a former Pacific Coast League catcher Billy Raimondi (for the book I’m working on about his former teammate Joe Marty), and I couldn’t have asked for two nicer interview subjects. With that said, I came in with a good reminder about the importance of choosing my words carefully around ballplayers.

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