My attempt to interview Bernie Carbo today

As faithful readers will know, I have been offered a chance to contribute to a Where Are They Now section on a Web site called Baseball Savvy. The section is made up of features catching up with former ballplayers, not Hall of Famers necessarily, but the Vida Blues and Bill Madlocks of the sport. I have been looking for a good first player to profile, and today, I almost interviewed Bernie Carbo. In fact, I spoke to him twice.

Fans may remember Carbo as the Boston Red Sox outfielder who hit a game-tying, three-run homer against the Cincinnati Reds in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, paving the way for Carlton Fisk to hit a walk-off shot in the bottom of the 12th. It’s arguably the greatest baseball game ever (it gets my vote), and the home run gave Carbo his fifteen minutes of fame. Rather improbably, he now seems to be having a second fifteen minutes, albeit for different reasons. On April 1, the Boston Globe published a story where Carbo said, “I played every game high.”

In the article, Carbo detailed addictions to cocaine, marijuana and other drugs during his career and after, saying he’s been clean for fifteen years and that he now runs an evangelical Christian ministry. Needless to say, his words went viral, though I didn’t think to seek him out in my search for a suitable interview subject.

Instead, I put in a call this afternoon to Dave McCarthy, executive director of Ted Williams Museum, a past subject here, hoping he could pass my number on to Will Clark, who was inducted into the museum’s Hitters Hall of Fame in February. McCarthy declined, saying he enjoys good relationships with players because he doesn’t pester them. I said I understood and asked as a throwaway question if McCarthy knew of any good players for me to talk to. To my surprise, he threw out Carbo’s name and said he could get him for me. He said he needed Carbo’s okay and asked me to call back in an hour. When I did that, McCarthy gave me Carbo’s cell phone number.

I was given the number with the understanding Carbo wouldn’t be available to talk straightaway and that I could arrange to interview him at another time. I called and got a voice mail which offered two other numbers for Carbo. When those numbers led to voice mails as well, I called the cell again, intending to leave a message. This time, however, Carbo picked up. We spoke briefly and agreed to talk at 7 this evening.

I got permission to leave work a couple hours early and went home to read the Globe story, do some research and prepare questions. By 7, I had a couple of pages of questions prepared (such as: How did you manage a .387 career on-base percentage under the influence?) but the interview didn’t come off.

I called at the appointed time, Carbo picked up, and we exchanged pleasantries. Carbo seemed to get spooked, though, when I asked if I could use a recorder, a question I typically ask interview subjects. Carbo wanted to know who I was, what I was doing this for, and how I knew McCarthy, so I spelled it out. He wanted to know what I would be asking about, so I gave him an idea of my questions. Carbo then said ESPN and the 700 Club will be airing interviews of him in the next few weeks. In fact, he said he shot three hours of footage with ESPN today. He also told me he assured these outlets he wouldn’t give the story out ahead of time. He also said something to effect that he still wasn’t sure how this story was going to play out with the public.

Thus, Carbo asked for my name and number and said he would call me in mid-May. I fear either Carbo will get an adverse reaction to one of the big interviews or that the story will have been beaten to death by the time we talk. Still, he seems nice enough to not write off entirely. Upon hearing my last name, Carbo asked if I was related to a man he went to high school with; when I mentioned the Hitters Hall of Fame, he asked if Shoeless Joe was a member.

(Postscript: Actually, he didn’t want to talk to me.)

Hall of Fame: Fred McGriff, yes. Honus Wagner, no?

I ended my post yesterday with a joke about baseball creating a B-Level Hall of Fame where lesser candidates could be lionized. It could be located some place like Cleveland, feature a statue of Paul O’Neill or Kevin McReynolds in its promenade and celebrate perennial close-but-not-quite teams like the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1940s and early ’50s or the Atlanta Braves of the ’90s.

Well, I have learned that such a place exists.

The Ted Williams Museum at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, home of the Tampa Bay Rays, features a Hitters Hall of Fame. To be sure, it includes most of the greatest players the game has ever known: Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays and Williams himself, among many others. It also features a couple of players who for all intents and purposes also belong in baseball’s other Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, Pete Rose, Joe Jackson and Dom DiMaggio, who I once interviewed.

Curiously, though, while the Hitters Hall of Fame honors a number of players with slim to no Cooperstown prospects, including Dwight Evans, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy and Fred McGriff, it currently excludes several Hall of Famers, chief among them Honus Wagner, Napoleon Lajoie and Jackie Robinson.

This made me curious. McGriff had a beautiful left-handed pull swing, no doubt, and broke the heart of my San Francisco Giants with his work for the Braves in the 1993 pennant chase, but Wagner had 3,415 career hits and a lifetime batting average of .327. Lajoie had a similar number of hits, a better batting average, and routinely went head-to-head with Cobb for the annual batting title (Cobb got a new car for prevailing one year.) Robinson is honored in the museum itself, but didn’t meet the center’s criteria for inclusion in the Hitters Hall. One knock against Robinson, a lifetime .311 hitter, could be that he had a relatively short big league career, but then, so did Dom DiMaggio. In fact, looking through an old book I have on the Hall of Fame, I was able to count player after player not in the Hitter’s Hall. There are probably dozens.

Granted, being in enshrined in Cooperstown doesn’t automatically equal being an outstanding hitter. Rabbit Maranville, a shortstop from the Deadball Era, made it in with a .258 lifetime clip. Also, I wondered if Williams had only wanted to include players he had personally seen hit and could vouch for, but then, what to make of the inclusions of Cobb, Ruth, and Jackson, among others?

Curious, I looked up the phone number for the museum and reached the cell of the executive director, Dave McCarthy. He explained that save for the top 20 hitters that Williams himself had selected, the criteria for induction was that a player had to be alive and able to attend an induction ceremony and that the museum was limited by having only 10,000-square feet. McCarthy also said the museum was much for fans, which could explain the presence of McGriff, who spent much of his later career in Tampa.

The policy made sense from a business perspective, and I’m happy that nice guys like Murphy could be honored. Murphy belongs in a Hall of Fame somewhere. Also, if I were Ted Williams, I’d probably have anyone I wanted in my Hall of Fame. Will Clark anyone? All the same, the baseball purist in me is a little confounded, even as McCarthy told me there were plans in the works to induct players like Wagner.

Related posts: Other times I’ve written about the museum