" Mr. Giles," said Cowley in a halting voice, "what am I going to do now? I have no schooling to do anything. What am I going to do? What do you do?" Then he slowly walked away.
Cowley went back home. He thought he could play a couple more years, but he wasn't part of anyone's game plan. "The truth of it is," says Cowley, "that if I'd been a general manager, I wouldn't have taken a chance on me either."
He couldn't eat. He couldn't sleep. He couldn't bear to watch baseball on TV. "I still haven't called one ballplayer since I got out," he says. "It's not that I didn't like my teammates. I did. It's that I don't want to bother them. I don't want them to feel an obligation to lift my spirits. I know what I did. As far as I'm concerned, baseball is dead, and I buried it.
"I've really struggled to get back to normalcy," Cowley continues, his voice breaking. "I had lived in the fast lane since I was a teenager. I went from game to game, city to city. I made hundreds of thousands of dollars, bought a big home for my family in Lexington. Then suddenly the money stopped coming in. I had to start thinking about a nine-to-five job. I had to sell the house. And I started to worry about what people thought about me. I can see how a guy might have an emotional breakdown. But I'm not angry. I realize there's a reason for everything."
So what was the reason for this?
Cowley's head rolls back, his eyes glaze over. "I really couldn't tell you," he says at last. "Somewhere down the line, I hope I'll find out."
WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, JOE CHARBONEAU?
All that remains today of the legend that was Super Joe Charboneau is a brick batting school in the Cleveland suburb of Brecksville. Inside what was once a natural-gas substation, the former Indians sensation gives lessons on how to run and hit and hit-and-run—all of which he is too mangled these days to fully demonstrate. Since opening his school last May, Super Joe has dispensed wisdom to more than 4,000 kids aged eight to 62. "I always wanted to run an orphanage," he says. "And now, in a way, I do."
At 36, Charboneau is no longer the rugged dharma bum celebrated in posters, books and song. Back in his rookie year, 1980, he was practically a matinee idol, inscribing scorecards the way James Dean had autographed publicity stills. But then the lights went out on the marquee, and nobody replaced the bulbs.
Charboneau lived his life radically askew, the way he held his bat. He was a genial brute with a top-heavy build that left his arms hanging wide from his torso. Legend has it that at various times he performed his own oral surgery using a razor blade, pliers and whiskey; picked up pocket money by fighting bare-knuckled in boxcars and warehouses; owned a pet alligator named Chopper; dyed his hair a patriotic red, white and blue for the Fourth of July; drank beer through his nose with a straw after opening the bottle with his eye socket; and scraped a tattoo off his arm with a razor blade. ("I wasn't into pain," he explains. "I just heard ball clubs frowned on guys with tattoos.")