Advertisement
 
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollectionsMusicians

Carmen Fanzone's two passions have taken him around the horn

CROWE'S NEST

The Detroit native spent parts of five seasons in the major leagues and had a two-year stint playing trumpet with the Baja Marimba Band.

July 03, 2011|Jerry Crowe
  • Former Major League Baseball utility player Carmen Fanzone shares a love for baseball and music.
Former Major League Baseball utility player Carmen Fanzone shares a love… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)

Carmen Fanzone always led a double life.

Sufficiently skilled with bat and glove to reach the major leagues, the former utility infielder also was talented enough with a trumpet to spend time with a popular recording group.

His extraordinary multitasking ability was never more evident than during his stint with the Chicago Cubs in the early 1970s, when a schedule full of day games at Wrigley Field afforded him a preponderance of free time to prowl the city's nightclubs after dark — not to chase women, but to pursue gigs.

Cubs management may have arched a skeptical brow, Fanzone notes, "but it was really good therapy for me."

Fanzone, 69 , is no longer a ballplayer or full-time musician. As the assistant to the president of Professional Musicians Local 47, he acts as a sort of troubleshooter for the Los Angeles chapter of the American Federation of Musicians.

His Hollywood office, reflecting his dual interests, is loaded with photos of musicians and former teammates.

One wall features a poster for the Baja Marimba Band, his former employer, while inside a black frame sit three baseball cards showing Fanzone in a Cubs uniform.

The Detroit native played in parts of five major league seasons with the Cubs and Boston Red Sox from 1970 to 1974, batting .224 with 20 home runs and 94 runs batted in.

Among his infrequent highlights, he homered in his first National League at-bat after being traded from the Red Sox in December 1970 and later, against Ken Forsch and the Houston Astros, he hit two home runs in a nationally televised game.

In addition, he occasionally brought out his trumpet to perform the national anthem before Cubs games.

"I had my moments," he says.

He only grudgingly speculates on how much more he might have accomplished if he'd devoted his full attention to baseball instead of music, or vice versa.

Instead of toiling for nearly seven seasons in the minors, maybe he would have scored a hometown gig at Motown.

In baseball, minus the trumpet, maybe Fanzone wouldn't have fallen only weeks short of playing four full seasons in the majors, which would have qualified him for a pension.

Since 1980, as detailed in a 2010 book by Douglas J. Gladstone, "A Bitter Cup of Coffee: How MLB and the Players Assn. Threw 874 Retirees a Curve," players have needed only one day of service credit to qualify for health insurance and only 43 days to be fully vested in the pension plan.

"It's completely backward," says Fanzone, whose top salary was $32,500. "The guys who didn't make any money, like me, we don't have a pension. And the guys today who make so much money, I'm sure they don't even think about needing a pension."

Gladstone, assistant public information officer for the New York State and Local Retirement System, is leading a push to change the situation.

Fanzone would love to share in an adjusted remuneration, of course, and Gladstone says Fanzone could be in line for a retroactive payment of nearly $1 million.

But Fanzone doesn't let it keep him up at night. He calls his big league memories priceless, such as the time when Ted Williams took him under his wing at spring training.

"It was like God was talking to me," he says.

He had a similar experience years earlier when he visited friends on "The Tonight Show" set and was given an impromptu 30-minute trumpet tutorial by bandleader Doc Severinsen.

Fanzone always seemed to have one foot in each world.

He started playing the trumpet when he was 8 years old, about a year after playing organized baseball for the first time, and says his boyhood idols included horn players Chet Baker and Paul Desmond as well as Tigers stars Al Kaline and Harvey Kuenn.

"If I wasn't going to a band rehearsal," Fanzone says, "I was going to a baseball practice, or vice versa."

Subconsciously, though, music took a back seat to baseball.

"I think as a kid," Fanzone says, "anybody that plays ball wants to be a big league ballplayer."

At Central Michigan University, Fanzone ranked among the rarest of rarities: a jock majoring in music.

"They kind of looked at me like I was a freak," he says, "but I felt special that I could excel in both."

No one ever asked him to give up music, he says, "but I had managers in the minor leagues that didn't like the fact that I had something else to do."

Released by the Cubs in 1974, Fanzone was back in the minors in 1975 when he suffered a career-ending ankle injury.

In Los Angeles, he pursued his second passion: music.

Bill Peterson, a fellow trumpeter who has worked with artists ranging from Nat "King" Cole and Frank Sinatra to the Beach Boys and Sly Stone, says of Fanzone, "He's got great ears and great technique. You could put him in any setting."

Peterson calls his friend a "very good" trumpeter, but in a town of great players, Fanzone never hit it big other than a two-year stint with the Baja Marimba Band, a Tijuana Brass offshoot.

Still, Fanzone breaks out his trumpet to practice every morning — and, thanks to his work with Local 47, he has a pension.

"Possibly if I didn't have baseball to think about half the time," he says, "maybe I would have done more musically. But I have no regrets. Being a ballplayer, it was a great tradeoff."

jerome.crowe@latimes.com

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|