If you read a blog like this one, chances are you know who Joe Carter is. Seeing him in a San Diego Padres uniform might be a bit odd, but his legacy in baseball history is secure.
Whether you think he was an elite player or someone whose value was inflated by people’s love for RBIs, Joe Carter will always have a clip shown every October because he hit one of the most dramatic home runs in the history of baseball.
His 3 run homer with 1 out in the bottom of the 9th of Game 6 of the 1993 World Series was just the second season ending homer in history. It was also the second “come from behind walk off” homer in World Series history. Kirk Gibson had the first.
And his joyous free for all dance around the bases has to be one of the greatest and most sincere expressions of pure joy on a baseball diamond in history.
An interesting aspect of his career, that lasted 16 years and saw him named to 5 All Star Teams, was the fact that three times, he was involved in blockbuster and franchise defining trades.
Carter was a star at Wichita State University and was drafted number 2 overall by the Cubs in 1981. He was assigned to the Texas League right away and by 1982, was putting up big numbers. He was crushing the ball in Triple A Iowa when he got a call up with the Cubs in 1983. By 1984, he was continuing to hit Triple A pitching while the parent club was putting together a surprise run for the NL East title.
On June 13, 1984, the Cubs and Indians put together a major trade. Chicago picked up veterans Rick Sutcliffe, Ron Hassey and George Frazier. The Indians got Mel Hall, Don Schulze, Darryl Banks and Carter.
The deal gave the Cubs an ace. Sutcliffe went 16-1 the rest of the way and became an unlikely Cy Young winner in the NL (keeping in mind he spent the first 2 1/2 months of the season in the American League!) Chicago fought with the Mets for most of the season before pulling away and clinching their first post season appearance since 1945.
While the Cubs failed to make the World Series after their meltdown against San Diego, Sutcliffe became a major part of the team. He nearly winning a second Cy Young Award when the Cubs won the 1989 NL East crown.
Meanwhile Carter’s arrival in Cleveland sparked a brief renaissance and hope. Mel Hall became a starter with the team but Carter became the star. He batted .302 with 29 homers and an AL Leading 121 RBI in 1986, and stole 29 bases for good measure in 1986. The Indians posted a winning record and with a super talented lineup, had people believing in Cleveland. Sports Illustrated picked them to win the AL Pennant.
Instead the Indians crashed and burned in 1987. Despite a 32 homer 31 stolen base season from Carter, the Indians lost 101 games.
They had losing records in 1988 and 1989 as well. The team needed a rebuild and Carter, still in his prime but approaching 30, looked like a prime trade chip.
Meanwhile in San Diego, the Padres had an interesting problem. They had the best catching prospect in baseball, Sandy Alomar Jr, in their system. His brother, Roberto, was the starting second baseball for the Padres and they seemed poised to start together for a long time in San Diego. However the Padres also had Benito Santiago, arguably the best catcher in baseball. Plus the Padres had a talented team but looked like they were just a few pieces away from being a legit pennant contender.
After the 1989 season, the Indians and the Padres worked out a swap. Joe Carter would head to the Padres and give the lineup some much needed pop. Sandy Alomar Jr would head to Cleveland. So would infielder Carlos Baerga and outfielder Chris James.
While James would not factor much into the Indians future, Alomar and Baerga became building blocks. Alomar would become the Rookie of the Year and a fixture in Cleveland as they finally became a playoff team again. Baerga would make 3 All Star teams and be one of the bright stars on the club that went to the 1995 World Series.
The trade was credited with kickstarting the Indians rebuild to contention.
In San Diego, Carter played centerfield in a lineup that included Jack Clark, Tony Gwynn and Roberto Alomar. Carter homered a bunch and drove in 115. His OPS was an alarmingly low .681, but nobody knew that then. Despite a lot of talent on the team, the Padres could not put a winning product on the field as they stumbled to a 75-87 record.
While that was happening in San Diego, the Toronto Blue Jays could not get over the hump. Despite an organization that scouted and traded with the best of them and a super talented team and academies in the Dominican Republic that gave them access to players that other teams never saw, they couldn’t get past the ALCS.
They lost the ALCS in 1985 and 1989 and saw their teams eliminated on the final day in 1987 and 1990. They were good, but not good enough. The Blue Jays lineup was consistent year in and year out, but maybe there needed to be a shakeup and a change of some faces.
After the 1990 season, the Padres and Blue Jays pulled off a stunning deal. Two Toronto stalwarts, Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff, were packaged off to the Padres. Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter landed in Toronto.
The Padres got quality years from McGriff and Fernandez but ultimately dealt them away and other teams got their glory years.
The deal made sense in Toronto where the emerge of John Olerud and Manuel Lee filled in first base and shortstop, making McGriff and Fernandez expendable. Carter would provide power lost from George Bell’s signing with the Cubs and Alomar gave stability to second base, who had a revolving door after Damaso Garcia’s decline.
In the end, it was a culture change in Toronto. Alomar put together the best year’s of his Hall of Fame career as a member of the Blue Jays. And Carter of course put up big hit after big hit, none bigger than the World Series clincher.
The Blue Jays won the Division in 1991 but failed to get past the Twins. In 1992, thanks in part to Alomar’s homer against Dennis Eckersley, the Jays beat the A’s. When they won the World Series in Atlanta, it was Carter who caught the clinching out.
The Blue Jays went from being the perennial “always a bridesmaid never a bride” to winning back to back titles.
A deal involving Joe Carter can be pointed to as one of the big franchise changing moments in Toronto, just like the deals with the Cubs in 1984 and the Indians in 1990.