Former Montreal Royals pitcher Joe Carbonaro passed away on April 15 at the age of 93. (Photo: Courtesy of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame)

April 26, 2024

By Kevin Glew

Cooperstowners in Canada

Former Montreal Royals pitcher Joe Carbonaro passed away on April 15 at the age of 93.

Carbonaro’s son, Mark, emailed me to share this sad news.

Carbonaro pitched four seasons in the Brooklyn Dodgers’ organization between 1949 and 1954. He spent his final campaign with the Montreal Royals in 1954.

“It was a very colourful town,” he recalled about the city of Montreal in my 2014 phone interview with him. “We had good players there. Clemente was there, Tommy Lasorda, Sandy Amoros, Gino Cimoli – all the guys that made it to the majors later on. Ed Roebuck, Ken Lehman, Chico Fernandez, they were all good ballplayers. It was a good time.”

Born in Massachusetts, raised in California

Born in Beverly, Mass., in 1930, Carbonaro was the youngest of six children (He had two sisters and three brothers). His family moved to San Jose, Calif., when he was four and he learned how to play baseball from his brothers, particularly his brother, Sal.

“We were up at 6 o’clock in the morning and we’d start playing,” recalled Carbonaro in 2014.

By the time he started his high school career, Carbonaro was a hard-throwing right-hander and he soon captured the attention of scouts.

“I think in my last game in high school I pitched a no-hitter and then I got to play semi-pro ball in the summer,” Carbonaro told me. “The first [semi-pro] game I played, I think I struck out 13 or 14, so I started getting a lot of recognition.”

The Dodgers were the most interested major league team and they signed him prior to the 1949 season. Carbonaro recalled arriving at spring training and being awestruck at the Dodgers legends he saw around the complex.

“Vero Beach (the Dodgers’ former spring training complex) was a big naval air base during World War II and the Dodgers took it over and built ball fields around there, so everybody lived in it,” he explained. “And you ate cafeteria style and everybody ate there, whether you were a major leaguer or a Class-D player. Guys like Jackie Robinson would be playing pool in the lobby and Branch Rickey would be playing chess with Pepper Martin. It was really a lot of fun.”

For his first pro season, the 5-foot-10 right-hander was assigned to the Dodgers’ Class-C California League affiliate in Santa Barbara, where he would win 13 games and post a 3.98 ERA in 199 innings.

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“I got to pitch the second game of the season and lost it 1-0 and I think I gave up a home run,” he recalled in 2014. “The Dodgers were very happy with the way I was performing, and I was too, because I was just a kid out of high school at the time.”

Carbonaro was sent to Class-A Pueblo the following season and after impressing there, he was promoted to the triple-A Hollywood Stars. In total, he tossed 255 innings and won 11 games in 1950.

Military service

He was supposed to pitch with the triple-A St. Paul Saints the ensuing campaign, but he was also scheduled for his military service.

“I’d taken a physical and I said, ‘Well, how long will it be until I go into the army?’ And they said, ‘You’ll be in the army inside of four weeks.’ So I stayed home and I didn’t go to spring training,” remembered Carbonaro.

He was still at home in May when he was convinced to rejoin the Dodgers’ Class-C affiliate in Santa Barbara. The then 20-year-old hurler would post an 8-4 record in 17 games before being drafted in the army that August. Carbonaro was stationed at Fort Ord in Monterey, Calif., for just over a year prior to being relocated to Camp Drake just outside of Tokyo for eight months, where he served as a cook. He continued to play baseball while he was in the military.

Unfortunately, it was while at Fort Ord that he hurt his throwing shoulder.

“We had worked out for about three days and we went down to play Stanford University,” recalled Carbonaro in 2014. “I was pitching and I pitched about four or five innings and I felt alright, but boy, being that I had only worked out for about four days, I was a little wild at the time, so I threw a lot more than I normally would. Then the next day I couldn’t raise my arm . . . Then the following year when I went overseas, it just seemed like between innings, my arm would just freeze up and I couldn’t get it loose again.”

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Carbonaro later discovered it was a rotator cuff injury.

Playing in Montreal

When Carbonaro was discharged from the army, he was assigned to the Montreal Royals in 1954, but he only got into 11 games as a reliever.

“I had gotten out of the service the year before and at that time, after the Korean War, each club was allowed to carry two veterans that didn’t count against the roster,” he said. “I hurt my arm in the service, so I didn’t really pitch much that year. I didn’t count against their roster, so they could do anything they wanted with me. So, they had me pitching batting practice and all that kind of stuff.”

Pitching to Clemente

One player he hated throwing batting practice to was a right-handed hitting prospect named Roberto Clemente, because almost everything the free-swinging outfielder hit went right back “through the box.”

Carbonaro could vividly remember playing with a 19-year-old Clemente. Signed to a $15,000 contract as an amateur free agent by the Dodgers in 1954, Clemente was assigned to the Royals despite a rule stipulating that any team signing a rookie to a contract that exceeded $4,000 must keep that player on their major league roster for the season or risk losing them in an off-season draft. Clemente had just 148 at bats in Montreal that season and his lack of playing time left many believing that the Dodgers tried to hide him from other teams so that they wouldn’t lose him in the draft after the season. Carbonaro dismissed that theory in 2014.

“Clemente developed into a very good ballplayer, but when he was in Montreal, he was very temperamental,” he recalled. “He just wanted to play. To him, it was very bad that he couldn’t play. Well, the manager [Max Macon] said, ‘Well, if I’ve got a right-handed pitcher, I’m going to put in my veteran left-handed hitter and when there’s a left-handed pitcher, I’ll put in the kid [Clemente].’ So Clemente didn’t play in that many games in the season.”

Former Montreal Royals pitcher Joe Carbonaro (fourth player from the left in the bottom row) passed away on April 15 at the age of 93. (Photo: Courtesy of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame)

As noted earlier, Carbonaro enjoyed the city of Montreal. He lived in an apartment above a grocery store on Belanger Street with his wife, Irene.

“It was like being in Little France because the papers were in French and the people spoke French,” he said. “I went to church there and the church was done in French. It was a whole different experience.”

From pitcher to cabinetmaker

After that 1954 season in Montreal, Carbonaro returned home to California and decided to hang up his professional playing spikes. Fortunately, his brother-in-law, Tony, a commercial contractor, put him in touch with a cabinetmaker and Carbonaro found his second career. He would work as a much in-demand cabinetmaker in Palto Alto, Calif., until he was 79.

Most of Carbonaro’s customers didn’t know that he had once shared a dugout with Clemente and was part of the same organization as Hall of Famers like Robinson, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese and Roy Campanella.

When I spoke to Carbonaro in 2014, he was living in Monterey, Calif., and he wasn’t able to watch the Dodgers on TV in his area but he did catch Giants and A’s games.

“You see the way they play baseball today, and the pitchers throw 100 pitches and then they’re out of the game. They go seven innings and it’s see you later,” he said.

But I don’t want to leave the impression that Carbonaro had any bitterness about his playing career or anger at the way the game is played today. When I spoke with him in 2014, Carbonaro was an enthusiastic and engaging 84-year-old that seemed to truly cherish his memories of his four years in professional baseball.

“I was doing what I wanted to do all my life,” he told me of his stint in the pros. “It was a lot of fun.”

Carbonaro is survived by his four children Daina, Mark, Judy and Jane. My deepest condolences to them.

You can read his full obituary and leave condolences to his family here.

 

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