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Top 60 All-Time Greatest Blue Jays: #20 Joe Carter

Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Joseph Chris Carter | RF, LF, 1B | 1991-1997

This is the one I cheated on. Most of the other guys are with a few spots of where they landed on the little formula I use. Joe, well, he ended up nearer the back of the list. But I decided I’d put him here as kind of an honorary spot. I made a ‘Joe Carter’ rule, zeroing out seasons where a player had a negative WAR, figuring a player shouldn’t be better off not to play than to play badly. But it didn’t move Joe up as far as I thought it might, even with bonuses for playoff performances.

Joe had three good years with the team (and even those weren’t great. By bWAR 4.7, 2.5, and 2.0) and then had four more where he struggled to get to the replacement level.

It is hard to balance that against the Joe Carter jumping around the bases after hitting the World Series winning home run.

Joe Carter was the 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. In 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 was reminded that Nixon liked to try for bunt singles, so he was ready for it. He got to the ball, near the first baseline, 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 a videotape of that game, but I don’t have a VHS player. It was great to finally cheer for a winner after years of being an Expos and Blue Jays fan.

The next season....well, you all know the story but let’s tell it again. Game 6, Jays down by a run, two-out, Ricky Henderson (Henderson claims that Carter got an easier pitch to hit because the Phillies were worried he would steal third), 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 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 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? Apparently, he was just reminding Joe to make sure to touch the bases, knowing that the Phillies would be watching.

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. Mickey Mantle was born not too far away. The Cubs picked Joe in the 1st round of the 1981 amateur draft, 2nd pick overall, 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 six seasons. From there, the Padres traded for him 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 tremendous 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, which didn’t help the team much. He was 5th in the AL in total bases with 321, 4th in doubles, 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 batting 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 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 Joe 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. 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 nice season, driving in 121 runs (3rd in the AL) while hitting 33 homers, his fifth straight years of over 100 RBI, and 7 of the last 8 seasons. Yeah, I know, most of that is opportunity, it helps to have many 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. And, of course, he hit the most significant home run in Blue Jay history. Joe didn’t do much for us in the ALCS, hitting .259 with no extra-base hits. In the Series, he had two home runs, the big one and one other.

Molitor was named series MVP. I’ve always been amazed that the guy who hit the walk-off homer wasn’t named MVP. But Molitor his .500/.571/1.000 for the series, with 10 runs and 8 RBI. It easily beats out Joe’s .280/.250/.560 line.

In the lockout-shortened 1994 season, Carter played in all of the Jays 111 games, 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. A good Joe Carter type season, even if the Jays weren’t good. They were 55-60 when the owners locked the doors. He made the All-Star, and he was 10th in MVP voting. With the loss of 50 games to the lockout, Carter lost a pretty good shot at breaking the AL sac fly record; he finished with 13, the league record was 17.

The teams lost a handful of games 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. Joe’s bat started aging that year. He hit .253/.300/.428. His bat bounced back some in 1996, Carter hit 30 home runs, drove in 107 runs, and made the All-Star team again. But then his 1997 season at age 37 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 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. I’m amazed they won 76 games.

After the 1997 season, Carter signed with the Baltimore Orioles as a free agent. He played there for half the season, then they traded him to the San Francisco Giants where he finished out the season, and that was the end of his career. He had a good career playing 16 seasons, finishing with 396 homers, 1445 RBI, and 231 steals. He is 61st on the all-time home run list and 64th on the all-time RBI list. If he could have just, you know, taken the odd walk and maybe kept his average up some, eaten up less outs, he could have been one of the greats. But we can’t have everything.

Carter was a favorite of Cito Gaston’s; Cito continued to play Carter even though he had Shawn Green and Carlos Delgado coming up to the team. The thing that 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 who drove in 100 runs. But then he did continually drive in 100 runs; he did it ten times in a 16-year career and six of the seven years he was with the Jays. It might be an over-rated stat but, it does show that Carter stayed healthy and consistent through his career.

Defensively? Well, his best position was at the plate. We would have been better off making him DH.

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 enjoyed playing baseball. I’ve always liked those guys. If you can’t enjoy yourself as a professional baseball player, there is something wrong. He always seems to be smiling.

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:

bWAR: 36th, 8.5

BA (>1500 PA): 34th, .257

On Base % (> 1500 PA): 41st, .308

Slugging average (>1500 PA): 11th, .473

Games: 10th, 1039

Plate Appearances: 7th, 4494

Runs: 9th, 578

Hits: 8th, 1051

Total Bases: 7th, 1934

Double: 8th 218

Home Runs: 5th, 203

RBI: 5th, 736

Stolen Bases: 16th, 78

Sac. Flies: 1st 65