Sox hero Bernie Carbo returning to share recovery story
On the weekend of May 4-7, Bernie Carbo will revisit “The Corner.” It’s not the Detroit Tigers’ former home of Michigan and Trumbull avenues, but rather his idyllic childhood surroundings of Ann Arbor Trail and Inkster Road, and more precisely, Hines Park, where he played the game he loved.
Except this time, the former major leaguer will view it through the lens of sobriety.
Carbo, the former Red Sox who is best known for his pinch-hit home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series against the Reds, will be the guest of honor during a dinner 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the VFW Hall, 6828 N. Waverly, south of Warren Road in Dearborn Heights.
There, the Livonia Franklin graduate will share his 24-year battle overcoming addiction to prescription drugs, marijuana and alcohol. His book, “Saving Bernie Carbo,” which is co-authored with Massachusetts clinical psychologist Dr. Peter Hantzis, chronicles a harrowing story of a sexually-abused and neglected child who had an alcoholic father who verbally and physically lashed out against his son, and a mother who tried to commit to suicide in his presence.
Carbo sought refuge from his troubled home by playing baseball day and night at the county park he so fondly recalls.
“He had one bad childhood,” said Jim Neve of Garden City, Carbo’s lifelong friend who is organizing the tribute dinner that will benefit Garden City High’s baseball team and Carbo’s Diamond Club Ministry. “It was just gut-wrenching.”
Carbo, 70, who lives in Dauphin Island, Ala., where he runs his ministry and teaches hitting, is at peace with returning to the scene of his childhood trauma and triumph. He’s reconciled with the past, including the wrong turns.
“I look back and you wonder sometimes about that first drink. I remember that first drink at Edward Hines Park,” Carbo, who describes in his book getting drunk on beer at 16 with friends, told The Detroit News. “Not only was my first drink there, that is where I used to play ball. ... I look now to the good memories. I don’t look back and see those days that were so hard. I see the good days, and God’s given me the opportunity to come back to my hometown, Livonia Franklin, Garden City, and to reminisce about the good things that happened.”
Carbo was selected in the first round in the inaugural Major League Baseball Draft in 1965 by the Cincinnati Reds, ahead of Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench, “which Johnny Bench doesn’t like too much,” Carbo added with a laugh. He received a $30,000 signing bonus. (The Reds had to cut him a new check after he misplaced the $15,000 first installment he left underneath a lamp in his Florida motel room.)
He was a member of the Big Red Machine of the early 1970s — playing for mentor Sparky Anderson — and was a member of the 1970 Reds team that lost to the Orioles in the World Series. Carbo was dealt to St. Louis in 1972 before being shuttled to Boston two years later.
He later played in Milwaukee with Hank Aaron and Cleveland before returning to Boston and St. Louis as part of a 12-year major league career where he hit .264 with 96 home runs and 358 RBIs.
Along the way, there were obvious signs his drinking and drug abuse were interfering with his career. He ignored them.
“When I was with the Boston Red Sox I came into talk to the general manager and he said, ‘We’re trading you because you are an alcoholic.’ I said, ‘Really?’ That was amazing,” Carbo said. “He didn’t say he’d get me any help. He just said, ‘I’m trading you.’ I’ll let somebody else have the problem. I think that’s why I got traded so many times. I got traded every two or three years. They were probably aware of my wrongdoings. They were probably aware my drinking ... but they never addressed the situation back then. They would just trade you and trade you.”
For Carbo, things unraveled quickly in the early 1990s after he had retired from baseball.
His mother committed suicide, and that was followed by his father’s death two months later. Then he went through a divorce 10 months after that.
It was then he talks about pulling his car into a garage and drinking his last beer.
He got a phone call soon after from Bill Lee, his former Red Sox teammate who was with MLB’s Baseball Assistance Team.
Lee’s intervention led Carbo to addiction rehab.
“I ended up in rehab and I didn’t want to be there,” Carbo says, but adds, “My whole life changed.”
In a Tampa hospital, he met a Baptist preacher whom he sat with for three days, “like a little boy with his grandpa.”
Carbo became a Christian and in 1994 started the Diamond Club Ministry. He has since traveled to Guam, Saudi Arabia, the Czech Republic, Cuba and all over the United States to share his message of faith and redemption.
He also met and married Tammy Yon, an elementary and middle school counselor. “She is what keeps me going in the right direction and making good choices,” said Carbo, whose adopted son Bernado is a U.S. Army major and has a doctorate in clinical psychology.
Carbo played with and against some of baseball’s greats, and he has an anecdote about each one. The stories usually circle back to what many consider the greatest World Series game ever played — Game 6 in 1975, Cincinnati at Boston.
Carbo’s three-run pinch-hit homer in the bottom of the eighth tied the game 6-6 and the Red Sox won in the 12th on Carlton Fisk’s famous home run.
“People forget I hit a pinch-hit home run with two men on,” said Carbo, who recounts in his book of partaking in his pregame routine of a few beers and smoking a joint before the momentous night at Fenway Park. “We were down 6-3 in the eighth inning and I took the worst swing. I think Pete Rose said it looked like a Little Leaguer trying to learn how to hit. Johnny Bench said it was the worst swing he ever saw.
“But the next swing I hit a home run. Jimmy Piersall said, ‘You know, Bernie, if you didn’t hit that home run nobody would know who you are.’ I said, ‘Yeah, but I did hit it.’”
Dinner with Bernie Carbo
When: Saturday, May 5
Autographs: 6-7 p.m.
Dinner: 7:30 p.m.
Where: VFW Hall Post 7546, 6828 N. Waverly, one block east of Telegraph and one block south of Warren in Dearborn Heights
Tickets: $40 at the door; $20 for students (no alcohol). Proceeds benefit the Garden City High baseball program and the Diamond Club Ministry.