He was a Giant? Joe Carter: By Tony the Tiger Hayes

Former San Francisco Giant Joe Carter featured in the 1999 Stadium Series Card #98

Joe Carter – OF – 1998 – # 29

He Was A Giant?

By Tony the Tiger Hayes

Five years after becoming Canada’s most beloved sports hero without missing front teeth, a dejected Carter walked off into the sunset as a Giant after a rare failure to come through in a game with postseason implications.

Representing the tying run of San Francisco’s 1998 wildcard tiebreaker at Chicago (9/28/98), Carter meekly popped out to first base with two outs in the 9th to quash a late San Francisco rally. The 5-3 Giants loss punched the Cubs ticket to a playoff series with the Braves.

Carter retired from baseball after that contest, concluding a remarkable career that fell just short of Hall of Fame induction standards.

Despite the deflating finish to his Bay stay, the tenacious Carter demonstrated as a Giant why he’ll never have to pay for a can of Molson or bottle of LaBatts north of the border ever again.

Most famous for hitting a World Series winning home run for Toronto in 1993, Carter helped halt a mid-‘98 Giants free fall and assisted the Orange & Black to the brink of the post-season with one of the hottest batting sprees of his career.

Why Was He A Giant?

After winning their first western division title in eight seasons in 1997, (before being suplexed by the Florida Marlins) the Giants returned in ‘98 with most of their roster intact – except for a couple of alarming alterations.

Gone via free agency was the Giants burly longtime right-handed closer Rod Beck. Replacing the iconic, mulleted late man was the right-handed flame thrower Robb Nen – acquired from Florida, after the Marlins notoriously liquidated their roster upon winning the ‘97 World Series.

More shocking was the addition of reviled former Dodgers right-hander Orel Hershiser, who signed as a free agent to anchor the starting rotation.

If that unexpected move didn’t spin San Francisco fan’s heads, then the unforeseen ‘98 San Diego Padres – who went from worst to first in the National League West – certainly did.

Like the Giants, the Padres got in on the Marlins “ everything must go” yard sale, picking up the dominating right-handed starting pitcher Kevin Brown, a noted Giants killer. Brown went on to post one of his career best seasons for the Friars (18-7, 2.36).

Managed by Bruce Bochy, San Diego featuring a batting lineup anchored by future Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn and a dogged supporting cast: third baseman Ken Caminiti, center fielder Steve Finley, and 50-homer man, left fielder Greg Vaughn. After beginning the season a dominant 16-4, it appeared the upstart Pads might run the table.

But the resilient Giants, skippered by the charismatic Dusty Baker, got hot in late May and peeled off a sensational 11-game winning streak, moving into first place in early June.

But then, inexplicably, the Orange & Black went stone cold.

After going 2-11 after the All-Star break, Giants general manager Brian Sabean bluntly stated the club should be “disappointed and embarrassed.”

After losing 8-1 to St. Louis (7/23/98), the Orange & Black dropped 13 games back of San Diego. Second baseman Jeff Kent announced, “a black cloud is hanging over Candlestick Park right now.”

The next day, the Giants front office cleared the air, completing not one, but two, blockbuster trades.

Carter – who previously announced that he would retire at the conclusion of the ‘98 campaign – was added in a trade with Baltimore in exchange for minor league pitcher Darin Blood. In a separate transaction, utility-man Shawon Dunston, right-handed closer Jose Mesa and southpaw middle man Alvin Morman were picked up from Cleveland.

The Giants immediately ripped off wins in seven of their next 10 games.

With slugging outfielder Ellis Burks also added to the squad during that period, the Giants suddenly sported a face-lift worthy of a Pacific Heights society matron.

Of all the new bodies, Carter was the first to see action, starting in right field a little more than 24 hours after his trade was completed.

Joe immediately contributed, roping a double and scoring a run in his Giants debut, a 12-2 drubbing of visiting Cincinnati (7/24/98).

“I was so excited about the trade that I packed my things and hopped the first flight out of Baltimore,” said Carter who had been languishing on the Orioles bench. “I want to play, I think that’s the best thing. We don’t have a lot of time left.”

Before & After

It was hardly surprising that Carter would eschew the 72-hour reporting grace period before joining the Giants.

In Carter, baseball has rarely seen such a enthusiastic and determined cat. During his era, Carter was not only one of the game’s most reliable run producers, but also it’s most durable athletes.

Though Cal Ripken, Jr. received all the glory with his epic consecutive game streak during the 1980-90s, Carter could also easily be confused with an Iron Man.

Carter led his league in games played for three consecutive seasons – 1989-91, alternating between the American League and NL. Over the course of his 14 full big league seasons, Carter averaged 150 games per year.

The 6’3, 215 pound Oklahoma City native was among the game’s top run scorers throughout his career – tapping the dish on average 80 times per season.

Carter’s marquee attribute however was knocking in runs. Remarkably, he had 10 campaigns of 100 or more RBI in his 14 full seasons.

One of 11 children, Carter attended Wichita State where he not surprisingly set a college record for RBI with 121 in 1981. That and a .421 batting average and 24 home runs as a sophomore led the Cubs to draft Carter No. 2 over all that year.

Carter appeared destined to be a Wrigleyville fixture, but despite destroying minor league pitching, the North Siders gave Joe just a cursory look in the majors in 1983 before trading him to Cleveland in 1984.

With the Indians, Carter gave long suffering Cleveland fans reason to cheer. The Tribe won an unexpected 84 games in 1986 and Joe led the American League with 121 RBI.

But when the Tribe regressed, Carter was on the move again. After a one year sojourn to San Diego, Carter finally found a long-term home in Toronto.

Carter became a five-time All-Star with the Blue Jays and helped turn the club into a Junior Circuit juggernaut. The Blue Jays won the AL East in each of Carter’s first three seasons in Ontario.

After getting bounced in the playoff by Minnesota in 1991, the Jays toppled the Braves in six games to to win the World Series in 1992 for the franchise’s first ever world championship.

The Blue Jays were back in the Fall Classic the next season vs. Philadelphia.

Leading three games to two, Toronto was in a ideal spot to take the series at home in Game 6 with legendary post-season pitcher Dave Stewart taking the hill.

The former Oakland ace was on his game and the 51,105 fans in attendance at the Sky Dome could virtually taste the post-game libations after Paul Molitor poked a solo homer in the 5th to put Toronto up 5-1.

But Stewart’s maniacal glare and fastball dimmed in the 7th and the Fightin’ Phils – keyed by a three-run Lenny Dykstra blast, exploded for five runs to take a unexpected 6-5 lead.

The slim advantage held into the bottom of the 9th, when the notoriously flammable Mitch Williams – hello, Will Clark – came on to close the game for the Phillies.

Williams promptly walked Rickey Henderson on four pitches to start the inning. With one out, Molitor ripped a single to advance Henderson to second.

That brought up Carter. Williams – who as a Cub in 1989 served up Clark’s National League pennant winning hit – quickly fell behind 0-2, before evening the count at 2-2.

On the next pitch – there’s debate on whether it was a fastball or slider – Carter blasted the down and in offering over the left field fence. His celebratory run around the bases – skipping and pogoing intersected with wild arm windmills – was one of the most memorable in World Series history.

Touch ‘‘em all Joe!” exhorted Jays radio man Tom Cheek. “You’ll never have a bigger homer in your life!”

Cheek was right. Though he continued to put up gaudy stats for Toronto in the seasons to come, Carter would not play on another winning team until he was traded to the Giants.

He Never Had A (Giants) Bobblehead Day. But…

Despite doubling in his first game with San Francisco, Carter actually took a awhile to get rolling with the Giants. Joe was hitting just .159 without a home run after his first 17 games.

Carter finally got untracked in a thrilling 7-4 comeback win at Miami (8/24/98). Carter rallied the Giants from a 4-3 deficit in the 8th when he belted his first Giants homer, a two-run blast off the Marlins Brian Edmondson. He added an RBI single in the 9th.

“I feel like a giant weight has been lifted off my shoulders, Carter said afterwards.

Days later, Carter steered the Giants to a 10-3, home steamrolling of the Phillies with a three-hit performance. Carter clocked a solo homer and knocked in two other runs in the Saturday afternoon victory.

Carter’s final days as a major leaguer would be some the most productive of his career. Remarkably, his September batting average (a robust .378) set a single month personal record for Carter. He also swatted five homers and drove in 15 runs that month in a total of 17 games.

After his final game as a big leaguer, Carter reflected on the wellspring of success in his final days.

“Knowing that I was retiring I was at peace with myself, so I was relaxed. I should have felt like this 15 years ago,” Carter told the Chicago Tribune. “I was seeing pitches better. I was swinging better. You hear that you should play every game like it’s your last one. That’s really what I was doing.”

With the western division all but conceded to the high-flying Padres – who would go on to face the Yankees in the ‘98 World Series – the Giants focused on the wild card slot down the stretch.

In the Giants final home stand, Carter batted a sizzling 7–for-11, with three homers and eight RBIs as San Francisco swept a four game series from Pittsburgh.

With three games remaining on the schedule at Colorado, the sweep pulled the G-Men within a single game of the Cubs and Mets who sat tied atop the wild card standings.

“It’s going to come down to the very last day. I guarantee it,” said Carter after whacking a solo bomb and driving in another run in the 6-2 series closing victory against the Pirates (9/24/98).

Carter’s prediction wasn’t far off.

Despite’s Carter’s seventh homer as a Giant on the final day of the season, San Francisco blew a seven run lead, losing a 9-8 gut wrencher at Denver (9/27/98).

Both the Cubs and Giants stood at 89-72 forcing a special wild card tie-breaker to be played the next evening in Chicago.

Giant Footprint

Before the one and done elimination game, Carter compared the stakes to a Game 7 scenario.

“Win and go on or lose and go home,” he said. “You can’t be afraid to fail.”

But the Giants, including Joe, had difficulty getting their bats out of neutral that night.

Fueled by a two-run homer by Gary Gaetti, a two-run pinch hit single by Matt Mieske, and an RBI single by Mark Grace, the Cubs took a commanding 5-0 lead into the 9th inning.

With the end of the season staring them down, the Giants moribund bats finally awoke. Brent Mayne, Bill Mueller and Stan Javier opened the 9th with three successive singles to make it 5-1. Burks walked as a pinch hitter, to bring up Barry Bonds who drove in Mueller and advanced Javier to third with a sacrifice fly.

With the score 5-2, the Cubs replaced one former Giant (Terry Mulholland) with another (Beck) on the mound. Beck, still testy about not being resigned by the Giants, induced Kent to ground into a force to score Javier, making it 5-3.

Carter, who was 0-for-3, with a walk, was up next.

With Beck feverishly chomping on a bubble gum wad and swinging his pitching arm like a pendulum, the heavy set closer spied in at Carter and threw his 2-2 pitch.

Beck jammed Carter, with a fastball and Joe struck a looping pop up off his fists. Grace easily back handed the ball slightly beyond first base.

The Giants season and Carter’s career were over.

The coincidence of ending his career, right where it started in Chicago was not lost on Joe.

“A lot of times I’ve succeeded. But it’s ironic that my last swing, my last out, the end of my career ended right here,” Carter told the Tribune. “Wrigley Field is a place a lot of people said I should have played most of my career at. So it was destiny.”