What he did: It took Gary Carter six tries to be voted into the Hall of Fame. This shouldn’t come as any surprise, given Carter’s stats or the history of the museum. Catchers rarely have an easy time getting into Cooperstown, and Carter would have had slim odds shilling for a plaque at any position with a .262 lifetime batting average, 2,092 hits, and 324 home runs. He’s a player who never hit .300 or walked 100 times in a season, and he topped 30 homers just twice and 100 RBI four times. He also declined precipitously, failing to post an OPS+ of 100 in a full season after age 32, and it’s a wonder he’s in the Hall and so many players whose careers followed similar trajectories are not. And, with all this being said, I’ll add something else about Carter: I think he’s underrated.
In some ways, Carter led a charmed life, playing 19 years in the majors, making the National League All Star team 11 of those years, and establishing himself as one of the nice guys of his sport. But he was unlucky, too, from sustaining a knee injury that nearly ended his career before it started to being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer that ultimately took his life on February 16 at 57. And he played in an era that did his numbers few favors, with his lifetime OPS+ of 115 and WAR of 66.3 hinting at what might have been in a different time. In a more favorable offensive period in baseball history, Carter might have hit somewhere close to .300 for his career and perhaps staked yet a greater hold in the sport’s lore.
Era he might have thrived in: It isn’t difficult to take any hitter and project them with gaudy numbers in the 1930s, the most offensively explosive time in baseball history this side of the Steroid Era or the 1890s (never forget a time where a team can hit .350 and finish fourth.) But other things work in Carter’s favor in the ’30s as well, from defensive skills that would’ve set him apart from his fellow backstops, to proven ability to play well in New York City, to an affable personality that would’ve made him a clubhouse asset in any era, really. The thought here is that playing for the Dodgers in the 1930s, Carter might have been the star Brooklyn so lacked while their crosstown rivals dominated.
Why: The New York Yankees were the team of the ’30s, winning five of 10 World Series in the decade, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio all have starring turns for the Bronx Bombers in this time. The Giants weren’t bad either, winning one World Series and appearing in another. The Dodgers, for their part, finished in the second division six of 10 ten years in the ’30s and managed to get three runners on one base one memorable afternoon. So futile were the Dodgers that Giants manager Bill Terry quipped, “Is Brooklyn still in the league?” It enraged Dodger fans, but he had a point.
Part of the problem stemmed from lack of star power. For a franchise that’s boasted icons like the Boys of Summer in the ’40s and ’50s and Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale in the ’60s, the Dodgers’ Depression Era rosters were largely devoid of big names or talent. Enter Carter, who might have been baseball’s best catcher in a time when Ernie Lombardi, Bill Dickey, and Mickey Cochrane were starring. As a right-handed hitter, Carter would have been ideally suited for Ebbets Field, a bandbox with a short left field porch. I also am curious how Carter might have done playing for Casey Stengel, Yogi Berra’s manager for the majority of his time in pinstripes and a couple decades before that, the skipper for three seasons in Brooklyn. My guess is that whatever Berra learned from Stengel might have helped Carter, too.
Depending on when Carter plays in Brooklyn, he could potentially put up huge numbers. Playing on the ’36 Dodgers, Stengel’s last year in town, Carter’s 1982 season comes out to a modest 30 home runs, 106 RBI, and a .306 batting average with a .940 OPS. On the Dodgers in 1930 however, before the National League changed its ball and eased scoring as Steven Goldman of Baseball Prospectus told me, that ’82 season would be good for 33 home runs, 125 RBI, and a .333 batting average with a 1.004 OPS. Whatever the case, Carter would surely see a boost.
Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.
Others in this series: Al Simmons, Albert Pujols, Babe Ruth, Bad News Rockies, Barry Bonds, Billy Beane, Billy Martin, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Bob Watson, Bobby Veach, Carl Mays, Cesar Cedeno, Charles Victory Faust, Chris von der Ahe, Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Don Drysdale, Doug Glanville, Eddie Lopat, Elmer Flick, Frank Howard, Fritz Maisel, Gavvy Cravath, Gene Tenace, George W. Bush (as commissioner), George Case, George Weiss, Harmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Honus Wagner, Hugh Casey, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jack Morris, Jackie Robinson, Jim Abbott, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Posnanski, Johnny Antonelli, Johnny Frederick, Josh Gibson, Josh Hamilton, Ken Griffey Jr., Lefty Grove, Lefty O’Doul, Major League (1989 film), Mark Fidrych, Matty Alou, Michael Jordan, Monte Irvin, Nate Colbert, Ollie Carnegie, Paul Derringer, Pedro Guerrero, Pedro Martinez, Pee Wee Reese, Pete Rose, Prince Fielder, Ralph Kiner, Rick Ankiel, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Ro
gers Hornsby, Sam Crawford, Sam Thompson, Sandy Koufax, Satchel Paige, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, The Meusel Brothers, Tony Phillips, Ty Cobb, Vada Pinson, Wally Bunker, Wes Ferrell, Will Clark, Willie Mays