PAWTUCKET – Bernie Carbo assumed custody of his grandson when he was two. This same lad has matured into a 14-year-old with big-league hopes, no doubt fueled by a grandfather who authored one of the most memorable home runs in Red Sox lore.
Surprisingly, Carbo was not asked to relive his famous pinch hit, three-run home run that tied Game 6 of the 1975 World Series upon a recent visit to McCoy Stadium. Conducting a 20-minute briefing in the press box before heading downstairs to sign autographs and pose for pictures alongside fellow ‘75 Sox teammate Bill Lee, Carbo talked about his belief that the game a detox program that seriously addresses the issue of performance-enhancing drugs.
“I don’t want my grandson to play professional baseball if he has to juice up with steroids or human growth or whatever,” stated the 65-year-old Carbo, these days a practicing minister in Theodore, Alabama. “I want it out of the game.”
Carbo wants baseball to see the light in the same way he once did. His 12-year playing career was over at 33 because of poor choices with alcohol and drugs.
“I take responsibility for me, Bernie Carbo. I made the wrong and bad choice. You can’t turn it around,” he said looking back.
Carbo recalled the temptations that were interwoven with baseball’s culture in the 1970s. He said players walked into the trainer’s room to find Benzedrine and Dexedrine available on the counter. Following his Rookie of the Year selection by the Sporting News in 1970, Carbo received an invitation from a weight-lifter to spend the offseason in California.
In addition to pumping iron, the program included taking steroids. With little cash in his pocket, this career .264 hitter elected to bypass on a chance to improve his physique.
“I had to go out and work. I didn’t have money to pay for a trainer,” Carbo said.
Others did, and the results were apparent to Carbo.
“There were times in spring training in 1973 or 1974 where you would look at a guy who weighed 180 pounds and say, ‘You look big. Geez, you must be 220 pounds.’”
The reply was often, “Well, I’m just weightlifting.”
“That’s what everybody thought,” said Carbo.
The major off-the-field focus during Carbo’s era was increased awareness about player salaries. The numerous strikes and lockouts of the 1970s resulted in players gaining a larger share in the profits generated by big league clubs.
“We had to win a championship and get into a World Series in order to get a raise. It didn’t matter what we hit. If you didn’t win in the playoffs, you didn’t receive a raise,” said Carbo about the “one for all, all for one” compensation system that was apparently at the root of the owner’s purse strings. “The raise we did get was being the World Series – $9,000 –$10,000 at that particular time. It was an incentive to play as a team, know each other and win, play through injuries and do whatever.
“The year I won Rookie of the Year, I was offered a $1,000 raise above the minimum salary,” Carbo said. “There was no bargaining. (The offer) was sent to the commissioner who sent it back to the club you were with. Either you played or went home and carried a lunch bucket.
“As players, we went on strike to make the money better for today’s players,” he said. “We had to find jobs in the winter.”
Carbo’s generation’s unified front on the issues of free agency made it possible for the players who came after them to shop their talents to the highest bidder, enabling today’s massive salaries that would’ve once seemed unimaginable.
Now he feels that the time has arrived for this generation’s much-wealthier players to band together and take a stand against performance-enhancing drugs.
The Mitchell Report that was released in 2007 followed the mandatory steroid testing program that was enacted prior to the 2004 season. The former turned out to be nothing more than a glorified witch hunt while the latter has done little to discourage players from continuously cutting corners. To Carbo, the potential financial rewards from performance-enhancers are too tempting for many players to resist.
“How can someone like Melky Cabrera, who missed the playoffs and World Series, sign a two-year contract with Toronto for $16 million. That’s a heck of a reward, don’t you think so?” said Carbo. The Miami Clinic Scandal that surfaced earlier this month demonstrated that baseball still has a long fight ahead in the war on PED use. The fallout remains forthcoming, with names such as Alex Rodriguez or Ryan Bruan potentially facing lengthy suspensions.
Carbo feels that Major League Baseball is so conscious of public relations that the scandal “will be thrown under the rug. I don’t think anything will happen. That just shows you what’s going on with baseball.
“(PEDs) have been in the game a long time. It’s just coming out more often because of what’s happening outside the game,” Carbo said. “We’re finding people that are supplying the players with the drugs and they’re getting busted and they’re mentioning the other players who are doing it. That’s the only way we’re finding anything out.”
Carbo says that rather than increasing punishments for PED use, it might make more sense to establish a period of leniency to encourage more players to come forward and admit abuse.
“You’re going to have to wean it until you have the opportunity to help these people get off the drugs. It has to take time, but you have to be very lenient with it initially because there are so many players who are cheating. There’s an epidemic going on,” said Carbo. “For the first year, you have to have leniency. Then if you get tested and caught in the second year, you get out of the game.”
Carbo was asked if his generation should have put forth a greater effort to stem the tide of performance enhancers before their use grew to their present proportions.
“Sure, there could been. There should have been, put it that way,” he said. “For me as a fan and a man who played the game and went through all the things I went through and now becoming a Christian, I turn on the TV and I wonder. Is it this guy?”
Carbo said that it’s a terrible feeling to fear that young players today might feel pressured to use drugs just to have a shot at making it to the professional level.
“The ones who care are baseball fans and people who have young children,” said Carbo. “That’s why it’s a bad situation.”