Joseph Chris Carter | RF, LF, 1B | 1991-1997
Notable Accomplishments: All-Star 1991-1994, 1996 Silver Slugger 1991, 1992
To be honest, I don't know where to put Joe Carter on the list. When I did this list the last time, I had him much further up. Joe had three good years with the team and then had 4 more where he struggled to get to replacement level. I'll admit, I think it is unfair to penalize a player for playing below replacement level. It's not his fault that the manager kept using him. He deserves credit for hitting that big home run too. But then he doesn't deserve credit for playing poorly either. So I'm putting him here this time.
Joe Carter was last man to touch the ball (well touch is the wrong word, make contact with the ball, the second time he touched it with his bat) in both our World Series wins. The first Series win against Atlanta, Joe was playing first base when Otis Nixon came to bat with two out and the Jays up by one in the 11th inning of game 6. Nixon had great speed, despite looking like a character from Lord of the Rings, and he tried to bunt for a base hit, but pitcher Mike Timlin had been reminded that Nixon liked to try for bunt singles, so he was ready for it. He got to the ball, near the first base line, quickly and flipped it to Carter. After the out, Joe jumped up and down higher than I've ever seen anyone jump. Somewhere I still have video tape of that game. But I don't have a VHS player. It was great to finally cheer for a winner after years of being a Expo and Blue Jay fan.
The next season....well you all know the story but let's tell it again. Game 6, Jays down by a run, 2 out, Ricky Henderson and Paul Molitor on base. My favorite closer (well soon to become my favorite closer), Mitch Williams, pitching to Joe Carter, 2-2 count. I am thinking, well Pat Hentgen is pitching the next game and he's been great and we clubbed Danny Jackson, who would be the Phillies starter in game 7, back in game 3. Mitch's pitch was down and in, I really don't know how Carter got enough bat on it to get it out of the park. But then Joe was experienced at swinging at pitches out of the strike zone. It was only the second walk-off home run in World Series history. Tom Cheek's line was perfect, "Touch ‘em all, Joe! You'll never hit a bigger home run in your life!" How did he come up with that line off the top of his head? He was a terrific announcer and should be in the Hall of Fame.
Joe Carter was born March 7, 1960 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (wouldn't it be more fun if Oklahoma City was in Kansas?). He is likely the second best play ever born in Oklahoma City, behind Johnny Bench, though there are a few good players from there. And Mickey Mantle was born not too far away, and one of his restaurants is there. Joe was drafted in the 1st round of the 1981 amateur draft, 2nd pick overall, by the Chicago Cubs, out of Wichita State University.
He made it up to the Cubs in July of 1983 and played 23 games. The Cubs traded him to Cleveland where he played for 6 seasons. From there he was traded to San Diego before the 1990 season. He had one pretty bad season with the Padres and then he was traded to the Jays with Roberto Alomar for Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez. The trade has been talked about plenty, but it is worth mentioning again that this was a pretty amazing deal. How often do you see two star players traded for two star players? It would be a tough trade to make, if you are a GM, because he is too easy to grade. All the players played well for their teams, but we won two World Series, so I think it is safe to say we won the trade.
Cater had a great first season with the Jays, in 1991, playing in all 162 games he hit .273/.330/.503, with 33 home runs and 108 RBI. He made the All-Star team, won the Silver Slugger award and came in 5th in the MVP voting. He even stole 20 bases, though he was caught 9 times so that really didn't help the team, much. He was 5th in the AL in total bases with 321, 4th in doubles, and 6th in RBI and 4th in homers. He played left field until the Jays traded for Mookie Wilson then he moved over to right while Wilson and Candy Maldonado played in left. He hit in the 4th spot in the order for the first month of the season but Cito Gaston moved him into the 3rd spot in May and left him there for the season. The Jays won the AL East that year but lost out to the Twins in the ALCS. Carter had a decent series hitting .263 with a homer, 2 doubles and 4 RBI in the 5 game series. Fangraphs has this as Joe's best season with the Jays, giving him a 5.1 WAR.
In 1992 Carter was very good once again hitting .264/.309/.498 with 34 homers and driving in 119 runs. Again he made the All-Star team and won the Silver Slugger award. This time he came in 3rd in the MVP voting behind Dennis Eckersley and Kirby Puckett. He finished 6th in Slugging, 2nd in total bases, 4th in homers, 1st in sac flies (10) and 2nd in RBI. Yeah it would have been nice if he could have gotten on base a little more, maybe take the odd walk but then 119 RBI is nothing to sneeze at. As noted above we won the World Series. Carter had a poor ALCS, hitting just .192 with a homer but in the Series he hit .273 with 2 home runs.
In our second World Series year Joe had another good year, driving in 121 runs (3rd in the AL) while hitting 33 homers, his 5 straight year of over 100 RBI and 7 of the last 8 seasons. Yeah, I know, a lot of that is opportunity, it helps having a lot of runners on base. Once again he made the All-Star team and he was 12th in MVP voting. Frank Thomas won that year and Blue Jay teammates Paul Molitor and John Olerud were 2nd and 3rd in the voting. And, of course, he hit the biggest home run in Blue Jay history. He didn't do much for us in the ALCS, hitting .259 with no extra base hits. In the Series he had the big homer and one other, drove in 8 runs and scored 6 in the 6 game series.
In the lockout shortened 1994 season Carter played in all of the Jays 111 games and hit 27 home runs and drove in 103. That would be 39 homers and 150 RBI in a full 162 season. His batting line was .271/.317/.524, so he had a heck of a season, even if the Jays didn't finishing 55-60 when the owners locked the doors. He made the All-Star and he was 10th in MVP voting. In losing the end of the season Carter lost a pretty good shot at breaking the AL sac fly record, he finished with 13, the league record was 17.
A handful of games were lost to the strike in 1995 but Carter still hit 25 home runs in 139 games. His streak of 100 RBI seasons ended as he drove in 76, it was an off season for Carter's bat, he hit .253/.300/.428. His bat bounced back some in 1996, he hit 30 home runs and drove in 107 runs and he made the All-Star team again. But then his 1997 season at age 37 he was terrible hitting just .234/.284/.399, with 21 homers but he still managed to drive in 102 runs. I don't know how, he did bat 3rd or 4th in the lineup just about every day, but most of the time he had Otis Nixon, Carlos Garcia, Mariano Duncan and/or Orlando Merced batting in front of him. You'd think that even a guy having a good season with the bat wouldn't be able to drive in 100 runs with those guys at the top of the lineup. That was quite the team that Gord Ash assembled. How they won 76 games I'll never know.
After the 1997 season Carter signed with the Baltimore Orioles as a free agent, he played there for half the season then was traded to the San Francisco Giants where he finished out the season and that was the end of his career. He really had a good career playing 16 seasons finishing with 396 homers, 1445 RBI and 231 steals. He is 51st on the all-time home run list and 59th on the all-time RBI list. If he could have just, you know, taken the odd walk and maybe kept his average up some he'd be one of the greats. But we can't have everything.
Carter was a favorite of Cito Gaston's; he continued to play Carter even though he had Shawn Green and Carlos Delgado coming up to the team. The thing that really hurt the Jays is that Cito got Gord Ash to trade John Olerud (for almost nothing) after the 1996 season to leave room for Carter. Olerud continued to be a terrific player for several years, while Carter was awful in 1997 and out of baseball after the 1998 season. But Cito had a strong preference for aggressive batters and veterans, and the Jays were in a ‘win now' mode back then. It was a spectacular example of misjudging talent.
Carter shows up several times on the list of worst seasons for players that drove in 100 runs. But then he did constantly drive in 100 runs, he did it 10 times in a 16 year career and 6 of the 7 years he was with the Jays. It might be an over-rated stat but, it does show that he stayed healthy and consistent through his career. He wasn't great defensively.
Rob Neyer had him listed as the second best left fielder in Jay history (though he played more in right field). And Bill James had him as the 32nd best left fielder in baseball history in his ‘New Historical Baseball Abstract'. Joe was one of the highest paid players in baseball, during his time with the Jays.
My memory of Carter is of a happy guy that clearly enjoyed playing baseball. I've always like those guys, if you can't enjoy yourself as a professional baseball player, there is something wrong.
Joe worked color commentator on Jay's games for Sportsnet after he retired for the 1999-2000 season then went and did the same for the Cubs. The less said about his ability in that role the better. He was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and appeared on Pros vs. Joes. He is married and has three kids.
Joe Carter's place among Blue Jay hitting leaders:
BA (>1500 PA): 32nd .257
On Base % (> 1500 PA): 37th .308
Slugging Average (>1500 PA): 9th .473
Games: 9th 1039
At Bats: 6th 4093
Runs: 7th 578
Hits: 7th 1051
Total Bases: 6th 1934
Double: 7th 218
Home Runs: 3rd 203
RBI: 4th 736
Stolen Bases: 15th 78
Runs Created: 6th 600
Extra Base Hits: 5th 449
Sac. Flies: 1st 65