“Touch ‘em all Joe! You’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life!”
More than any other sport, baseball has the ability to create the some of the most enduring moments in sports history. Baseball fan or not, everyone knows about Babe Ruth calling his shot and smashing a home run, or Reggie Jackson’s three home-run game to clinch the 1977 World Series, Joe Carter’s 1993 World-Series winning home run, Roy Halladay’s post-season debut, or, arguably most of all, the shot heard ’round the world.
Yet, while baseball players like Joe Carter, Don Larson, and Bobby Thomson have created some of baseballs most memorable and historic moments, none of them have a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Joe Carter’s 1993 Home Run united an entire nation as the Blue Jays won their second consecutive World Series, and yet when he became eligible for the Hall of Fame, he received only 3.8% of the vote, making him ineligible for future consideration. Shouldn’t a hall of fame moment be immortalized in the same vein as a hall of fame career?
Much like baseball’s post-season, baseball’s Hall of Fame is one of the toughest to get into. Many worthy players will never be enshrined in the Hall of Fame because some writers decided they just weren’t good enough. The Blue Jays have had their share of those kinds of players, most notably of which are Dave Stieb (who had a better career than some Hall of Famers, but doesn’t have that big moment) and Joe Carter (who has a good career with an incredible moment). Now, with baseball’s post-season widening a bit with the addition of two more wild card teams, maybe it’s team to re-examine how the Hall of Fame remembers its heroes, because the Hall of Fame might be missing some members, and I think it’s missing Joe Carter.
Joe Carter hit one of the biggest home runs in baseball history, which put the exclamation point on the most successful decade in Blue Jays history. From 1983-1993, the Blue Jays won 5 AL East Division Titles, 2 AL Pennants, and 2 World Series Championships, and were the winningest team in the Majors. If you ask any American baseball fan about the Blue Jays, chances are they can name three players for them: Roy Halladay, Roberto Alomar, and Joe Carter.
Joe Carter had a career that spanned 16 seasons from 1983-1998. In 1981, he was the second overall draft pick and was selected by the Chicago Cubs, but only spent one season (23 games) with the Cubs before he was flipped to the Indians, where he spent 6 seasons, before being traded again in two consecutive seasons. First in 1989 to the Padres, and then a year later, he was a part of the biggest trade in Blue Jays history as Carter and Roberto Alomar went to Toronto in exchange for Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff.
He played with the Blue Jays from 1991 to 1997, and finished his career in 1998 with the Orioles and Giants, and over those 15 seasons he played to a .259 average, 396 home runs, 231 stolen bases, collected MVP votes in 7 consecutive seasons (highest was 3rd place in 1992), had 5 All-Star appearances, and won 2 consecutive silver sluggers in 1991 and 1992.
Baseball reference lists 2 Hall of Famers (Jim Rice (Boston), Orlando Cepeda (Giants/Braves)) as players with the same similarity scores. Jim Rice in particular had a very similar career but played in Boston and had a .298 career average, but with less home runs, less post-season play, and never hit a bigger home run than Joe Carter’s blast off of Phillies closer Mitch Williams to close out Game 6 of the 1993 World Series. This isn’t to discredit Jim Rice, this is only to show that Joe Carter may have deserved more than the 3.8% of the votes he originally garnered.
There is no question when it comes to honors being bestowed upon players via the popular vote, it benefits you to play for big market teams like the Yankees or Red Sox, and playing for teams like Toronto used to hurt your chances, and I feel that this hurt Joe Carter’s shot. There is no question that Joe Carter was incredibly well-known throughout Canada because of his part in the Blue Jays back-to-back World Series championships, but that may not have extended across America where the majority of Hall of Fame votes are cast.
During that time the baseball community was very secluded from one area to another, and newspapers were the main form of promoting one player over another. It wouldn’t be uncommon for a player to be traded in the offseason and for many baseball fans to be unaware until opening day. Thankfully today, we have the internet, smart phones, and to-the-minute trade reports that keep us far more in touch with the game than ever before, and thanks to all of this I believe that bias towards players for the Yankees and Red Sox is fading and becoming a more level playing field as Jose Bautista’s support for last year All-Star game can show. Not only did a player from Toronto garner more support than his competition from the Yankees, Red Sox, or Rangers, but Jose Bautista received more All-Star votes than any player in history, beating Ken Griffey Jr.’s record by almost 1.5 million votes.
With Roberto Alomar recently being inducted into the Hall of Fame it’s unfortunate that Joe Carter is unlikely to ever join him as the two careers are so intertwined. Each of them had great careers and such memorable Hall of Fame worthy moments, and while other former Blue Jays players like Dave Stieb may not have had a fair shot, it’s encouraging to think that future Blue Jays likely won’t need to worry about the same biases being applied to them as the internet and a far more active and knowledgeable baseball community raise the profile of outstanding players to the levels that they deserve to be.