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75 Years and Counting: The Story of the 1980 Cleveland Indians

Super Joe!

MLB Photos Archive Photo by Rich Pilling MLB Photos via Getty Images

Who’s the newest guy in town?

Go Joe Charboneau.

Turns the ballpark upside down.

Go Joe Charboneau

Who’s the one to keep our hopes alive?

Go Joe Charboneau

Straight from seventh to the pennant drive.

Go Joe Charboneau

Raise your glass, let our a cheer

Go Joe Charboneau

For Cleveland’s Rookie of the Year!

That’s right, we’ve made it. 1980, and it’s time to talk about one of the greatest cult heroes in the history of Major League Baseball. Super Joe Charboneau. Traded to Cleveland in 1978 from Philadelphia in exchange for Cardell Camper, Charboneau took the baseball world by storm in 1980 with his charisma, wacky antics, and his stellar play. The Detroit Tigers had Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, Cleveland had Super Joe.

Charboneau’s off-field antics became the stuff of Cleveland legend. He once had a tattoo he didn’t like, so he cut it off with a razor blade. He once fixed a broken nose with a pair of pliers, and gained the ability to drink beer through his nose as a result. He made money bare knuckle boxing as a teenager. He opened beer bottles with his forearm (and once with his eye socket). He ate 6 lit cigarettes to win a bet. He seemed like he belonged in Mötley Crüe more than in left field. But he could hit, and hit well, and Cleveland fell in love with the young star.

Charboneau hit .289/.358/.488 with 23 home runs in his rookie campaign, capturing the American League Rookie of the Year award with 75% of the vote. Cleveland, after years of toiling in mediocrity, finally had a star all their own. Everyone lived happily ever after, Charboneau’s back never gave out, and he had an age 40 season retirement tour that perfectly lined up with the 1995 pennant run, Joe Brinkman never became an umpire, and he hit a home run to win game 7, and I now only have 14 more of these to write instead of 42.

If only.

Unfortunately Charboneau wasn’t enough to single handedly save the 1980 season and the Indians fell to a 79-81 record. As had become the standard in Cleveland over the last decade they couldn’t get both phases of the game to line up. This time it was the offense that was solid while the pitching faltered as not one starting pitcher finished with an ERA+ above 100.

Join us tomorrow as we discuss the strike shortened 1981 season, and that one night in May where Cleveland fans experienced perfection.