RESTRICTED: For Six Boys of Summer Grown Older, the Game Has Ended, but There Is Life After Baseball

For baseball fans, there is always next year, a time when dreams deferred may be realized and the disappointments of the past set to rights. But for the players, there comes a day when the cheering stops and the game’s annual rhythms no longer pertain. For some men, it is like a death before dying, leaving only a feeling of emptiness and a sense of confusion about what should come next. For others, it is a time for recognizing that the past must be prologue and for making a life that is not lived looking backward. Moved by the realization that even baseball’s immortals are mortal, New York journalist Edward Kiersh, 37, a lifelong Yankee fan, has written Where Have You Gone, Vince DiMaggio? (Bantam Books, $3.50), a collection of personal interviews with 55 stars of summers gone by. On the following pages are excerpts from that book, adapted to coincide with the opening of the 1983 baseball season by PEOPLE Senior Editor Ross Drake.

Bernie Carbo: Still getting in people’s hair

Don’t call him Bernie anymore. Now he’s Monsieur Bernardo. After a journeyman’s career with six major league teams, Bernie Carbo has traded bat and glove for scissors and styling combs and become the owner of a unisex beauty salon in Wyandotte, Mich.

Women flock there. In the cozy, four-chair shop Carbo designed, the waiting time for a wash or set is usually two hours. But the patrons watch Carbo in awe, frequently bubbling, “Oh, Bern, darling, what a beautiful cut!”

A licensed hairdresser who attended beauty school for two years after baseball, Carbo, 35, is busier now than during his 12 years in the majors, when he never felt he got enough playing time. In those days Bernie pouted, broke bats against blackboards, commiserated with free-spirit teammates like pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee, and staged the Mighty Joe Young affair.

Mighty Joe was a stuffed gorilla. Carbo dressed him in a Red Sox uniform and sat him in the Boston dugout. They later became inseparable. Wherever Carbo went, Mighty Joe tailed along. They made all the newspapers and the talk shows. But eventually the other players stopped laughing.

Older now, with a wife and three young daughters, Bernie sometimes thinks of returning to the game as a designated hitter, perhaps in Mexico, but his biggest dream these days is to establish a regular clientele. “I’ve finished 1,500 hours of schooling for this,” he says. “I know starting a business is tough. I’m scared. Imagine being a rookie again at my age. It’s something I always wanted, though. When I was 11 or 12, my aunts wanted to straighten my hair. I wouldn’t have any part of that. I’d tell my dad I wanted to do my own hair, and his response was always the same. He’d say I shouldn’t be a fag. It’s only lately that he’s let me cut his hair. At first he made me do it in the house. He wouldn’t come near the shop until recently.

“I guess no matter what I do, I’ll be looked at as a freak. Baseball owners in my day were Nixon, and I was Woodstock. They wanted to dictate my life, tell me who my friends should be, everything. I did a few things wrong, sure. I opened my mouth at the wrong times too often. But I wasn’t going to kiss ass. I’m sure people will still think I’m crazy, but I’m enjoying what I’m doing now. My roller sets and perms are getting a lot better. I also give great haircuts. Besides, I’ve always gotten along better with women than men.”

Steve Blass: Underwear wasn’t the problem

Most ballplayers lose their skills gradually, slipping toward retirement a day at a time. For Steve Blass, the end came with mysterious suddenness. In 1971 the Pittsburgh Pirates’ right-hander was a World Series hero, beating Baltimore on four hits in the deciding seventh game. The following year he won 19 games and was one of the most overpowering pitchers in the National League. Then came 1973. Blass was only 31, and still in great physical shape, but by the end of the season he was scattering pitches all over the landscape, sometimes even bouncing the ball up to home plate. Out of the game a year and a half later, after spending most of the 1974 season in the minors, Blass still doesn’t know what went wrong. He visited hypnotists, psychiatrists, faith healers, anyone at all who had a theory about his inability to throw a ball where he wanted to. No one could help.

Despite his career’s nightmarish ending, Blass, now selling high school class rings in Pittsburgh for a jewelry company, would consider returning to the game as a coach. “Really,” he says, “the only thing I remember about the way things ended is how supportive people were. I was getting about 200 letters a week from people telling me to keep my spirits up or giving advice on what I was doing wrong. One guy from Virginia even called me up and told me that whenever he missed a shot hunting, it was due to his underwear, and that I should make sure mine wasn’t too tight.”

In his time of trial, Blass recalled a conversation with his Pirate teammate Roberto Clemente, killed in a plane crash in 1972. “We flew home after a World Series game and talked a lot about pride,” says Blass. “He wouldn’t allow himself to be mediocre, and though we were never that close, that’s one lesson I learned from him. You can’t lose your dignity. I wanted to come back and be great again, sure. But if it wasn’t to be, I wasn’t going to destroy everything I had accomplished. Even the greatest pitchers don’t go on forever.”

A cheerful man in his days as a ballplayer, Blass, 40, hasn’t allowed his misfortunes to sour him. “People shouldn’t pity me,” he says. “When I was a kid I used to fantasize about pitching in the seventh game of the World Series and winning it. Well, I did it. I had so many successful seasons, why should I think about two lousy ones? I laugh at the whole thing now. I got closer to my wife and family after all the disappointments. Even my work has turned out really well. I’m my own boss, and this business is so competitive. We have a fine line of rings. That’s important for me. Less and less kids know what I did, so I have to rely more and more on my selling skills. I’m learning something every day, and that’s keeping me young.”

Ernie Banks: Longing to be more than a figurehead

During the ’50s and ’60s, when long-suffering Chicago Cub fans needed diversion from the team’s annual miseries, they could spend quiet summer evenings thinking serenely about Ernie Banks. Twice the National League’s most valuable player, he hit 512 home runs in his 19 years with the Cubs, played in 13 All-Star Games, and was elected to the Hall of Fame the first year he was eligible. Unlike so many players who outstay their abilities, he also knew when to quit. “I wanted to go out with my head up,” he recalls. “When a pitcher got me out, I always thought, ‘How did he do that to me?’ That feeling was more than intensity. It was pride, a caring about yourself. You had to get back at the pitcher, and when you couldn’t it was time to go.”

After retirement, Banks tried coaching and worked for a while in the Cubs’ front office, but he felt the frustration of being a figurehead. “There were times, especially in restaurants when everyone wanted autographs, that I felt I had to leave, run away from everything and be a fugitive from myself,” he recalls. “I felt trapped. No one looked at me as a human being. I couldn’t get on with my life.”

Eventually, alarmed by his dependency on the Cubs’ organization, which had paid his salary for 25 years, Banks went to a psychologist. “She helped me to get the right perspective on things,” he says. “It’s fabulous being a baseball star. But too many people direct your life. You’re always doing what you’re told. I just wanted to be alone so I could find some answers. Only recently have I regained some control of myself.”

After doing some customer relations work for a Chicago bank, Banks became determined, he says, to be more than “a cigar store wooden Indian.” He hopes eventually to obtain a degree in finance from the University of Chicago. Banking is an exclusive club: white, rich, by invitation only. But Banks has worked hard for admission. “It’s going to be a while before I get to play for this team,” he concedes. “Blacks aren’t exactly in the mainstream of banking. I’m getting there, though. You have to develop credibility, and I’ve done that by going to school.”

Once he has arrived at his pinnacle, Banks, 52, plans to enjoy more than the view. “Being a pathfinder, that’s what I want,” he says. “The baseball provided a little entertainment; now I really want to do something for people. In my bank, people would get money based on sweat equity, not collateral. I’m especially interested in new business development, rising nations, the Third World. Tapping an oil well in Nigeria or developing farms in Saudi Arabia, that’s what I want to do.

“Sure it’s a few years off. Dreams don’t become reality that easy. But the Establishment, the top of the economic club, is where I want to be. I don’t want to be a pea brain. I remember kids asking me, ‘Why do you want to be a banker? You’re a big star.’ But the real bottom line of life is, ‘What have you done lately?’ Baseball is really the past now. I want it to go away.”

Vince DiMaggio: Living in a brother’s long shadow

DiMaggio. The name is a national treasure. It evokes all the innocence, joy and promise of the game in a time when men seemed more heroic. The memories are of Joltin’ Joe, the poker-faced kid who did all his talking with a bat and moved in a dizzying, glamorous world. He is the quiet man who married Marilyn Monroe and who feathered his retirement with Mr. Coffee commercials.

But the name also belongs to Joe’s older brother, Vince, who at 70 is a Fuller Brush salesman in Los Angeles. A competent, light-hitting outfielder from 1937 to 1946, Vince has had to scramble to survive. His retirement from baseball meant one job change after another, from bartender to carpenter, from milkman to liquor salesman.

Today, after 11 years of traveling door to door with cosmetics, detergents and brushes, he often takes a day off to go fishing, tend to his garden or study the Bible in anticipation of being called to “that higher league.” Insisting that he’s found inner peace, he says only one thing disturbs him. Except for a phone call every six months, or a fleeting glimpse of his brother on TV, Vince, like the rest of us, has been forced to wonder, “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?”

“Joe’s always been a loner, and he always will be,” says Vince. “When the folks were alive we were a lot closer. But I guess in the last four years I’ve seen him two or three times. What can I do? I’m Vince and he’s Joe. It’s only a shame that we’ve gone such different ways. Family should stick together.

“I’ve tried not to use my name to get my foot into the front door. I want to do things on my own. But I guess no matter what I do, I’ll always be under Joe’s shadow. I remember once taking him over to meet the owner of the San Francisco Seals. I had been playing for them and I told them about my kid brother. I got Joe a tryout the last day of the season. Once they saw him they liked him, and my older brother Tom negotiated the contract. It’s funny how all this began. Maybe if I had kept my mouth shut, I’d be remembered as the greatest DiMaggio.”

Mickey Lolich: Up against a new kind of batter

To say that, at 42, Mickey Lolich has stayed close to his playing weight is to damn him with the faintest of praise. The former Detroit Tiger lefthander, who won 217 games in his 16-year major league career, always had the look of a man who was packing an extra baseball or two in his undershirt. Today, as a shopkeeper in Rochester, Mich., Lolich directs his wife, three daughters and a dozen other workers in the production of what he likes to call “the best doughnut in the Midwest.”

The transition was not without incident. “When I started here a few years ago,” he says, “my doughnuts usually had four or five holes in them. I didn’t want to be just a name on the front door, so I put on my jeans and aprons and learned the recipes. The proper mix of ingredients is important, but the right frying temperature is vital. You have to know how long it takes for these frycakes to rise, or else you can spoil the whole shebang.”

For the moment, Mickey Lolich’s Do-nut and Pastry Shop is not supporting its owner in the style to which 20-game winners are accustomed. “In a few years I might have five or six of these shops,” he says. “But in the meantime everything has changed in my life, financially. You just have to accept the fact that you’re living another life, that you’re an average workingman. I still have my home, sure. I just can’t blow $100 a night on dinner or buy a new car every year. If you’re a ballplayer, you never worry about these things. You just go out and buy what you want.

“What makes things worse is losing your friends. The clubhouse talk, the beer drinking with the guys—all that’s gone. I can’t even talk about baseball to the people who come in here. They wouldn’t know what it meant to set up Boog Powell, or what velocity on the ball meant. It’s like being a chess master and going to the park to play checkers.

“And don’t think this business is all sugar and honey. It ain’t. There are some real joys here. I really like to see people eating my frycakes and leaving the shop happy. But customers can be too demanding, and you can go broke if you don’t watch the help. Almost every day I get the feeling I want to sell out. But believe it or not, I stay in this business because it’s a lot like pitching. You have to decide what has to be done, and then do it. And don’t think for a moment that making a strawberry topping is all that easy.”

Johnny Blanchard: Back from the depths

In seven years with the New York Yankees, Johnny Blanchard earned a reputation as one of the most dangerous 10th men in baseball. A feared pinch hitter, kept on the bench only by the presence of stars like Yogi Berra and Elston Howard, he struggled constantly with nagging self-doubts, yet batted .400 in the 1961 World Series and came close to winning a car as most valuable player. “Yankees have pride; I had to produce when the chips were down,” he says joylessly, staring into a cup of coffee in a restaurant overlooking Minnesota’s Lake Minnetonka. “I felt alive in those days. I felt special every time I went out on the field. As time goes by, I’ve really gotten to appreciate just how good we were.”

For Blanchard, that fragile world of belonging came to an end in 1965 when the Yankees traded him to the Kansas City Athletics. “The Yankees had been my life ever since I was a kid,” he recalls. “The night they traded me was the worst. I went from first in the league to 10th. Damn, I really started to drink.”

Shattered, Blanchard was out of baseball within the year, never to be readmitted. “It was tough coming home to Minnesota,” he says. “I always had a reputation for being a boozer. I think that’s one big reason I couldn’t get back into the game. I don’t think anyone wanted to take a chance. So I hit the booze even more. I was an alcoholic, no way around it.” He worked briefly in the real estate business, ran his own liquor store (“a place where I could run and hide”), and in the early ’70s tried to sell cars. But by this time his drinking controlled him. He would get into fights in bars and wouldn’t come home at night. Inevitably, his marriage started falling apart. “I was dying,” he says. “I was lost without baseball. I couldn’t even remember where I had spent the night sometimes. One day I had blood on me, and I said to myself, ‘This is the end.’ A half hour later I was in a treatment center.”

Blanchard stayed there for 34 days. Later he sold his interest in the liquor store and eventually got a job with the T.C. Johnson Company, a firm that sells heavy-duty cranes for laying railroad track. Now 50, he has saved his marriage of 28 years and has found satisfaction in a career outside baseball. “I’ve become a great salesman for a great company,” he says, “and there’s no way I’m going to touch anything but a tonic water. I haven’t had the hard stuff in years.” Looking out over the lake, he leans back with his head sunk on his chest. “So many guys leave the game and flounder,” he says. “I’m sure they’re into the sauce pretty good. Just like that they turn the lights out, and you’re gone. The game’s fun for years, and you love it. Then all of a sudden you’re 35 and the bubble bursts. What do you do then?

“When you’re in the game and things are going good, you can’t celebrate with milk shakes. So you tip a few. Then, when you’re on the way out, the drinking has to get worse. You can’t talk to anyone about it. You have to maintain your manhood, and a conspiracy of silence develops. Don’t get me wrong; I loved being with the Yankees. With my limited ability, it has to be the biggest accomplishment of my life. But I’d bet that 25 percent of that 1961 team was alcoholic.”

Chuckling now, he recalls the slider Bob Purkey of the Cincinnati Reds threw him in the World Series that year, when Blanchard’s homer tied the score in the third game. Then, watching a sailboat float by, he talks of the future. “Every time I see that lake I love it more,” he says. “The sunfish out there are great. When I was in the Boy Scouts, 37 years ago, my father and I would go out there and build an ice house. We’d spend weekends out there as long as the ice held. I can’t wait for this summer. I want to take my sons fishing. Maybe we’ll get lost out there together.”

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