Commentary

Carbo not proud of altered states

A Red Sox hero shares his emotional story of addiction, loss and renewal

Updated: October 20, 2010, 11:55 PM ET
By William Weinbaum | ESPN

In the hours before Cincinnati and Boston took the field for Game 7 of the 1975 World Series at Fenway Park, Bernie Carbo says he outdid himself, exceeding his regular routine of incessant drug and alcohol use.

"I was totally wasted when I went to the ballpark," Carbo says. "I would say I was at my worst."

The night before, Carbo had become an instant and enduring hero for Red Sox Nation -- hitting a game-tying, three-run home run with two outs in the eighth inning to set the Fenway stage for Carlton Fisk's 12th-inning leadoff shot that hit the foul pole and gave Boston a 7-6 victory over Cincinnati in Game 6. It was the greatest pinch-hit home run in Red Sox World Series history, yet Carbo says he couldn't savor the signature moment of his 12-year major league career because getting high was what his life had become all about.

"I was taking mescaline. I was taking cocaine, crystal meth, smoking dope and taking pills and drinking," Carbo says.

In the hours after the clubhouse celebration of Game 6, Carbo says, "I was very depressed."

The next day, for Game 7, Carbo, then a 28-year-old outfielder, expected to be on the bench again until the late innings. After all, he was a left-handed-hitting part-timer and the Reds were scheduled to start the accomplished lefty pitcher Don Gullett. While shagging fly balls in the outfield before the game, Carbo received a jolt.

[+] EnlargeFred Lynn
Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesFred Lynn says he was unaware of Bernie Carbo's involvement with drugs.

"I went to catch a fly ball and it hit my chest and went to the ground," Carbo recalls. "I thought, 'Maybe nobody saw this.' Well, [Red Sox center fielder] Freddie Lynn came over and he said, 'You know what? I saw the ball hit you in your chest.' I went, 'Oh, wow.'"

According to Carbo, the conversation with his fellow outfielder then shifted from Carbo's dropped fly to Lynn dropping a bomb.

"'The bad thing about it,' [Lynn] says, 'is you're playing,'" Carbo recalls. "I said, 'Don't play games with me -- Don Gullett's pitching. It's a left-hander, I haven't played all year against a left-hander.'"

"I'll be all right, I'll be all right," Carbo remembers thinking to himself as he dismissed the news from Lynn. "I get to the seventh inning, I'll be ready to pinch hit."

Lynn, who was a rookie at the time, says much of the Series was a blur to him and he doesn't remember seeing a ball hit Carbo in the chest. He also says he was unaware of the "drug stuff with Bernie," adding, "obviously, he hid it well from people around him."

Trying to get ready

A day after shining in the clutch in Game 6, Carbo says he thought he had everything figured out precisely for the night of Game 7.

"I was thinking, 'Game starts at 7, I'll pinch hit around 9:30, 10, maybe if the game gets a few runs here and there, I'll be fine -- cup of coffee, I'll be ready to go.'"

When another teammate, pitcher Reggie Cleveland, came over and told Carbo he was to start and bat leadoff, Carbo says he thought it was all a practical joke. But when a third player mentioned the starting assignment, Carbo decided he had to see for himself, so he went to check out manager Darrell Johnson's lineup card posted in the dugout.

Bernie Carbo
Focus on Sport/Getty ImagesBernie Carbo runs home after his game-tying home in Game 6. Waiting for him are Rico Petrocelli (6), Fred Lynn (19) and Cecil Cooper (17).

Early in the Series, Carbo had voiced a desire to start. But for Johnson to now turn to his Game 6 savior for his first start of the Series, with the season and championship on the line, was unfathomable, Carbo says. It was beyond even the wildest of thoughts that usually entered Carbo's mind, until he reached the dugout.

Once there, in front of the lineup card with his name written in the leadoff spot, seeing was not only believing, it was panic-inducing. "I knew in that seventh game of the World Series, I'm in trouble right now," Carbo says. "I couldn't play right now. There's no way I could go to the plate and hit and play, because I was too stoned."

Carbo's condition, he says, called for accelerated efforts to become game-ready.

"I went and took more Dexedrines [stimulants] and ran in the outfield, worked up a sweat and then I went in and took a cold shower and got ready," says Carbo. "Next thing I know the game's starting and I'm facing Don Gullett."

In the field and on the bases

Carbo, who had pinch-hit homers in Game 3 and Game 6, had no opportunities in left field during a 1-2-3 top of the first inning.

Leading off in the bottom of the first, he worked the count against Gullett to 3-and-2.

"I hit a fastball better than the first two home runs I hit and I thought that was a home run," Carbo says. "When I hit it, my eyes almost popped out of my head -- man, I crushed that ball.

"As I started rounding first, I realized the wind was blowing in, and it [the ball] came off the wall for a double."

After narrowly missing his third home run of the Series, Carbo was on second base when Boston's No. 2 hitter, Denny Doyle, followed with a fly ball to right field that was caught by the Reds' Ken Griffey.

"I went halfway," Carbo says. "And [third-base coach Don] Zimmer was saying, 'Tag up! Tag up! Tag up!' And I thought, 'Man, if I tag up, he's going to throw me out at third base,' and I didn't tag up and he threw the ball away."

Carbo remained at second as Griffey's throw trickled free. Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski's ground ball to the right side of the infield might have scored Carbo had he been at third base. When Fisk, another Hall of Famer, made the third out, Carbo was stranded and the Red Sox had come up empty.

Zimmer says he doesn't recall Carbo disregarding his pleas to tag up. A half-inning later, Carbo deftly played a ball in deep left field and gunned down the Reds' George Foster, who was trying for a double.

When Carbo was asked what he remembers of his defense that night, he replied, "Did I have any balls hit to me in Game 7?"

Other memories from Game 6

Now 62, Carbo also says he has no recollection of his second at-bat the previous night, after staying in the game following his pinch-hit home run. He blacked out about that, he says, and didn't realize he had struck out until he purchased a video of Game 6.

Rawly Eastwick, the Reds' relief pitcher who allowed Carbo's eighth-inning homer in Game 6, says he has a hard time believing a player as impaired as Carbo claims to have been, could function and succeed as Carbo did.

Carbo's response? "I did. I functioned that way my whole life for 28 years."

Of course, Carbo's role in Game 6 was strictly in the late innings, late into the night -- there was no surprise starting assignment.

In Game 7, the ball hit by Foster in the second inning was his only outfield chance before he was replaced for defensive purposes by Rick Miller in the seventh, a move Carbo says he was glad to see. "I don't think I could've finished the game," he says.

On offense, Carbo walked and scored in the third inning and grounded out in the fourth in his two at-bats after his double to lead off the first.

Carbo, who says he's been clean and sober for 16 years, rues not heeding Zimmer's hollers to tag up on Doyle's fly ball after the double. He says he should've been in position to score when Yastrzemski grounded out.

Boston ended up losing the game 4-3 and the Series by the same count, and Carbo says his third-base coach could have called him out after the loss. "One of the things I appreciated and loved about Don Zimmer -- he never spoke about that," Carbo says. "He didn't say, 'Hey, I told Bernie Carbo to tag up in the first inning, we score a run, we're still playing.'"

"I don't look at that run costing us a World Series," says a smiling Carbo. "Not until you start talking to me about it."

Lynn and Zimmer perspectives

Lynn expressed surprise at hearing how heavily into drugs Carbo was. But Lynn says many ballplayers -- though he wasn't one of them -- did drugs during the '70s, as it was a big part of the era's culture.

"It must have been hell for him, to fight demons while doing what he loved," Lynn said. "There is no reason for him to lie about it."

Lynn says Carbo had "all the tools" as a player, and he wonders what his ex-teammate would've achieved if he hadn't done drugs. He also says Carbo was invariably upbeat.

"I saw him at a reunion a few years ago and he seemed like Bernie," says Lynn, adding that he's glad that Carbo got help and seems to have his life together now.

Zimmer had managed Carbo in the Reds' minor league system -- Cincinnati had drafted Carbo in the first round in 1965, a round ahead of Hall of Famer Johnny Bench. When Zimmer became a coach for the Red Sox, he says, he lobbied the team's general manager to acquire Carbo from St. Louis, in part because he considered his opposite-field power well-suited for Fenway Park's dimensions.

[+] EnlargeDon Zimmer
Focus On Sport/Getty ImagesDon Zimmer says he was too naive about drugs to have been certain Carbo was using, but says it was apparent that Carbo had "problems."

"He was like a son to me," Zimmer says of Carbo. And although Zimmer says he was too naive about drugs to have been certain Carbo was using them, he says it was apparent that Carbo had "problems." In retrospect, Zimmer says, there was an incident that was indicative.

During a spring training in Winter Haven, Fla., Zimmer says, he "just vaguely remembers" a Red Sox employee -- probably the traveling secretary -- having to go to where Carbo was staying, when Carbo failed to show up. Zimmer recalls hearing that the staffer "knocked on the door where he [Carbo] lived and they can see or smell a glaze of what he was doing. I just remember that somebody went to his apartment and it was a total mess. What could've been done, I don't know."

Carbo confirms the story and says it was probably in 1976, when he got to Winter Haven nearly two weeks before training camp, but still didn't report on time. "I just hibernated," Carbo says, "I didn't even realize spring training was going."

Boston's traveling secretary came to his hotel room and, indeed, found a mess, Carbo says, because Carbo never left the room and never had the housekeeper clean it. He says there was probably the scent of marijuana. After being instructed to join his teammates, Carbo says he finally did.

A year later, Carbo says, Zimmer told him, "I think you're smoking that 'silly stuff' [marijuana] and I wish you'd stop it and maybe have a beer or something."

By that time, according to Carbo, about 80 percent of his teammates were aware he was using drugs. As for Zimmer, Carbo says, "When somebody loves you, like Don loved me and wanted the best for me, I don't think he wanted to believe it."

"I wish I hadn't failed Don Zimmer twice," Carbo says. "I wish I would've been more like a son to him where he could say I was a good man."

After Zimmer became Red Sox manager, he successfully advocated for Carbo's reacquisition from Milwaukee. But in 1978, Carbo's chronic lateness and failure to play to his capability became too much to handle. "I had to get rid of him," Zimmer says, "and it broke my heart."

"When I run him out of there, I didn't know he was on drugs," says Zimmer. "He was late to the park and he was there, but he wasn't 'there.'" Zimmer also says, "Bernie would never try to hurt anybody, he was never malicious. He was a great kid."

Carbo says Zimmer would often ask him if he was OK and Carbo would always reply that he was, no matter the truth. "Sometimes," Carbo says, "when he didn't play me, he didn't want me to make a fool of myself."

When Zimmer was told that Carbo had described being in solitude and in tears, hours after his momentous Game 6 home run, Zimmer said, "It's very sad, but I would've thought that we were close enough that if he were alone, he would've called me," adding that he would've come to console Carbo.

'I just chose to destroy myself'

In more than a thousand big league games, Carbo says, he played sober only once. He recalls going 2-for-4 during that game, but says he was unable to play drug-free ever again. The itinerant former Sporting News Rookie of the Year played for six different teams, never lasting three straight full seasons with any of them. He finished with a .264 batting average and 96 home runs.

[+] EnlargeBernie Carbo and Carlton Fisk
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and MuseumBernie Carbo and Carlton Fisk celebrate in the clubhouse after Game 6 of the 1975 World Series.

"I take no pride in it at all," Carbo says of playing a career in altered states. "I just chose to destroy myself."

Many of his problems, Carbo says, dated back to childhood and the trauma of being molested by a cousin and being warned to keep it a secret. And he says his father, who himself had aspired to reach the major leagues, was incapable of providing him much-needed encouragement and support. Carbo says he got into frequent fights and only years later realized he had deep-rooted difficulties dealing with men who were in authority and handling being told what to do.

He says he experimented with drugs as a teenager in the '60s and then, early in his major league career, became hooked.

Carbo is now a youth hitting instructor outside of Mobile, Ala., and through his Diamond Club Ministry, he travels to churches, schools, Boys' and Girls' Clubs and prisons speaking about faith, baseball and the dangers of substance abuse. He also runs a fantasy camp.

Regardless of Carbo's checkered tours of duty with the team and his revelations of substance abuse, Zimmer says Boston fans always revel in the memory of that Game 6 home run and revere the man who hit it. "If you took 10 guys in Red Sox history, for fan reaction," Zimmer says, "Carbo would still be in the top 10."

Looking back to that Game 7, Carbo says he has a big regret.

"I wish I wouldn't have been so stoned."

William Weinbaum is a producer for ESPN's Enterprise Unit. Mark Schwarz, a reporter for ESPN, contributed to this report. Their work appears on "Outside the Lines."