Claim to fame: Never someone with many dimensions to his game, Carter did one thing consistently well: hit for power. In a given year, he was generally good for 30 home runs and at least 100 RBI, on his way to 396 home runs in 16 seasons. The five-time All Star is perhaps best known for hitting the Game Six home run that won the 1993 World Series for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Carter was a one-and-done candidate his only year on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot for Cooperstown in 2004, receiving 3.8 percent of the vote. He will be eligible for enshrinement by the Veterans Committee in 2018.
Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? If we look on a simple statistical basis, the answer is no. Resoundingly.
There are many reasons Carter doesn’t belong in Cooperstown, from his .259 career batting average, to his .306 on-base percentage, to his 105 OPS+. He never walked more than 50 times in a season, he finished with just more than 2.000 hits for his career and he hit .300 but once. If elected, his OBP would be second-lowest of any man enshrined as a position player, better only than Bill Mazeroski (.299), who unlike Carter played crack defense and might have had a more thrilling World Series-winning home run.
Carter’s also the kind of player that Wins Above Replacement was seemingly devised to mock, one of those Albert Belle or Dante Bichette types who could drive in more than 100 runs and still have a WAR rating below 3.0. Carter averaged about 1.0 WAR per season, finishing with 16.5 lifetime, and for his final six years, he had a negative aggregate rating. That means in those seasons, he theoretically cost his team wins an average player might have accounted for. In WAR, there are no winners named Joe Carter.
The equation changes if Carter is enshrined primarily for his World Series heroics. Months ago, I suggested a short-time Hall of Fame, for players who shined in brief intervals. Carter could head up a postseason section. The image of him joyfully galloping around the bases after that home run is one of my favorite baseball memories of the 1990s. Carter could be joined by men like Bobby Thomson, who hit the “Shot Heard Round the World” to win the 1951 National League pennant, and Don Larsen, who pitched a perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Maybe they don’t deserve a Hall of Fame plaque, but their moments bring out the best in the game. Baseball could do well to honor these men.
Interestingly, Thomson and Larsen lasted much longer on the Hall of Fame ballot than Carter. Larsen, who had an 81-91 career record, 3.78 ERA, and no All Star appearances, went the full 15 years of eligibility with the writers, peaking at 12.3 percent of the vote in 1979. Thomson, an outfielder with better numbers than Carter for batting average, OPS+ and WAR, hung on the ballot for 14 years, never receiving more than 5 percent of the vote. Even Cookie Lavagetto, who had 945 career hits and is best remembered for breaking Bill Bevens’ no-hitter in the 1947 World Series got four votes in 1958, the same as future Hall of Fame catcher Ernie Lombardi.
It’s surprising Carter didn’t get more consideration from the writers, and I wonder if the veterans will look to honor him, as they did Mazeroski in 2001.
Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.
Others in this series: Al Oliver, Albert Belle, Bert Blyleven, Cecil Travis, Chipper Jones, Dan Quisenberry, Dave Parker, Don Mattingly, Don Newcombe, George Steinbrenner, Maury Wills, Mel Harder, Pete Browning, Rocky Colavito, Steve Garvey, Thurman Munson, Tim Raines