If you grew up in the 1970s or 1980s, chances are you remember Bernie Carbo for his two-out, three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series.
Without that blast, after all, the Red Sox would have entered the ninth still down 6-3, and Carlton Fisk likely would have never had the chance to pull off his whole-body, fair-waving heroics in the bottom of the 12th.
I came into the card game long after that fabled October night, grabbing my first hunk of cardboard in 1981 but not really latching onto the hobby until 1983.
By that time, Carbo was long gone, a mere legend whispered about by old men (like, in their thirties!) at card shows.
Later on, when I started to read about the history of the game, and when I finally got my hands on some Carbo cardboard — maybe a 1976 Topps card — I learned he had come up with my Cincinnati Reds in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Once a Red, always a Red, so old Bernardo Carbo became a de facto favorite.
So, when I heard he was going to join the Senior Professional Baseball Association when that group of old guys spun up on 1989, I was intrigued.
How was it that a player who had hung up his spikes so long ago (1980) and was so old (he turned 42 that summer of 1989) and who was a freaking World Series legend could actually suit up and take the diamond again?
Couldn’t be! Disbelief was the color of the day.
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Truth be told, that’s sort of the general feeling I had about many of the dudes who took another shot in the sun with the SPBA. I mean, consider some of the names …
Mickey Rivers … Willie Aikens … Rollie Fingers … Fergie Jenkins … Vida Blue.
Curt Flood was the first commissioner, for gosh sakes!
It was all unbelievable, and I’d believe it when I saw it.
Back in 1989, of course, there was no internet for anyone outside of a few secret government lab holes, and we didn’t have cable TV in my little spot of country in rural Indiana.
So I caught glimpses here and there of old guys on the human interest segments of the local sportscast, and maybe a grainy black-and-white picture or two in the Sunday paper.
But then, T & M Sports released a set of Senior League baseball cards, and there all these guys were, in living color.
For Bernie Carbo, that meant taking his hacks in a Winter Haven Super Sox uniform, surrounded by a starry gray border.
And … he didn’t look all that old, or all that legendary.
Why, if it weren’t for the slightest start of a paunch and the way his hips are way out in front of his hands, like maybe he’s having trouble getting around on the ball, you just might think he was ready to unleash some more October heroics.
Alas, the league began to croak and groan and fall apart, as old men and their things are apt to do.
It collapsed to about half the teams in 1990, and then into the black hole of baseball obscurity thereafter.
But for those few sunny months, legends like Bernie Carbo were pro ballplayers again, and we have cardboard proof it all happened.