Blue Jays Flashback: Joe Carter

MLB Opening Day is here. There was no way Kevin Glew was going to let this day go by without a shout out to another Toronto great in the latest of his Blue Jays Flashbacks.

Blue Jays Flashback: Joe Carter

Joe Carter gave Major League Baseball a Hall of Fame moment.

There’s no question about that.

On October 23, 1993, Carter walked to the plate for the Toronto Blue Jays to face Philadelphia Phillies closer Mitch Williams with runners on first and second with one out in the bottom of the ninth with his team trailing 6-5 in Game 6 of the World Series. On a 2-2 pitch, Carter belted a low-inside fastball over the left field wall at SkyDome for a walk-off World Series-winning home run.

Canada rejoiced.


And today, almost every Canadian sports fan over 40 can tell you exactly where they were when Carter hit that historic homer.

More than three decades later, Carter remains a national hero in Canada. He was added to the Blue Jays Level of Excellence in 1999 and four years later, he was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

But there’s considerably less nostalgia about Carter’s home run – and his career in general – in the U.S. Each year, it seems like a list of the top 10 World Series moments pops up that omits Carter’s homer. Last October, it was Fox Sports who snubbed Carter’s homer.

But the Blue Jays legend is, of course, much more than one home run. His big-league resume boasts 396 regular season round-trippers, 1,445 RBIs, five All-Star Game selections and two Silver Slugger awards. Despite this, Carter has never come close to being elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

After being acquired from the San Diego Padres with Roberto Alomar in a blockbuster trade for Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez (both Blue Jays Flashbacks inductees) on December 5, 1990, Carter starred for seven seasons with the Blue Jays. During that time, the two-time World Series champion belted 203 home runs and recorded 736 RBIs, both rank fifth in franchise history. All five of his All-Star Game selections came as a Blue Jay and he exceeded 100 RBIs in six of his seven seasons with the club. So, it’s easy to see why he is so beloved north of the border.

Born in Oklahoma City in 1960, Carter was a multisport star in high school. After an outstanding season at Wichita State University in 1981, he was named the Sporting News college player of the year and was selected second overall by the Chicago Cubs in the MLB draft.

He played briefly with the Cubs before he was dealt to Cleveland on June 13, 1984. In Cleveland, Carter blossomed into a star, topping the majors with 121 RBIs in 1986 and becoming the franchise’s first 30/30 player the following year.

In December 1989, he was traded to the Padres where he led the club with 115 RBIs in 1990 prior to being swapped to the Blue Jays. So even before he landed in Toronto, Carter had a reputation for driving in runs.

“The man’s an RBI machine,” Brett Butler, who hit ahead of Carter in the Cleveland lineup from 1984 to 1987, told Sport magazine in 1992. “He’s unbelievable. Every time you looked up, it seemed he was knocking someone in. He cranks out RBIs like no one I’ve ever seen, game after game.”

According to Chris Bodig, of the Cooperstown Cred website, Carter’s 1,444 RBIs during the 15-season span from 1984 to 1998 were the most in the major leagues. In total, Carter had 10, 100-RBI seasons.

“My job was to drive the runs in,” said Carter in an interview on MLB Network in late February, when asked about batting in the Blue Jays’ vaunted 1993 WAMCO (White, Alomar, Molitor, Carter, Olerud) lineup.

Unfortunately for Carter, being an “RBI machine” isn’t as valued today as it was 30 years ago. Sabermetricians have downplayed the stat. To them, RBIs are a stat of opportunity, more reflective of how good the team’s overall offence is. And there’s no doubt Carter hit in the middle of the order for several strong offensive teams. So yes, Carter had plenty of chances to drive in runs, but he also had to capitalize on those opportunities.

And he frequently did. During his major league career, his stats with runners in scoring position (.271 batting average, .806 OPS) were markedly better than they were with the bases empty (.255 batting average, .761 OPS).

It’s also unfair to paint Carter solely as an “RBI machine.” Early in his career, he showcased a potent combination of speed and power. According to Bodig, Carter is just one of 12 major league players to register at least 350 home runs, 400 doubles, 200 stolen bases and 1,400 RBIs.

But will any of this help Carter get elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame?

The answer is almost certainly no.

In 2004, his first year of eligibility, he received just 19 votes from baseball writers which left him shy of the 5% needed to remain on the ballot. Fourteen years later, Carter’s name was on the Today’s Game Veterans Committee ballot. This committee was formed to reexamine players retired for at least 15 years who had been overlooked in the writers’ voting. But Carter came up well short again, receiving less than five votes (12 were required for election) from the 16 members on the Committee.

So, it will have to suffice that the bat Carter used to author his Hall of Fame moment – his unforgettable 1993 World Series-winning homer – is on display in Cooperstown.

“It brought a lot of joy to myself and the country of Canada and to the Blue Jays, so it’s something I never get tired of chatting about,” Carter said of his historic homer in a recent MLB Network interview.

Speaking on behalf of longtime Canadian baseball followers, neither do we, Joe.

Neither do we.