Year Inducted: 2003 (BBWAA, ballot #6, 387/496)
Most Hall of Famers, even if they play for other teams, become eternally linked with only one franchise. Despite playing with a lot of different teams, Rickey Henderson is inescapably linked to the Athletics. Babe Ruth played with the Red Sox and Braves, but is tied forever to the Yankees. Some players can make a link to two different teams. Catfish Hunter immediately springs to mind, but also Reggie Jackson (A’s and Yanks) and Dave Winfield (Padres and Yanks). However, neither of them were the face of two Major League teams in two different continents. That accomplishment went to Gary Carter.
Carter played 19 seasons in the big leagues, and became an icon with both the Expos and Mets. The Kid slashed .262/.335/.439 with a wRC+ of 116. Carter collected 324 homers, 371 doubles and 31 triples in his career, providing decent power from the backstop position. Carter was a solid run producer for most of his career, driving in 80 or more RBI seven times, with a career total of 1225. Being built like a catcher (6′-2″ and 210 lbs), Carter was not very fleet of foot, so he stole a mere 39 bases, was worth -9.1 runs on the bases, and scored only 1025 runs. Carter may not have had the wheels, but he did have a very good bat.
What sets Carter so high on this list is his defensive ability. Carter was worth 222.1 runs defensively in his career. Removing the positional adjustment and just looking at raw numbers, Carter was worth +106 runs as just a catcher (removing his time at other positions) in a total of 2056 games behind the plate. Johnny Bench, renowned as the best defender ever, was worth +97 runs in 1742 defensive games, and 161.4 overall. Bench was probably better defensively in his prime, but Carter was able to maintain his defensive abilities longer than Bench was, so Carter ends up with the higher score on defense.
When Carter came up first in Montreal, he was renowned for his on field enthusiasm almost as much as he was for his play on the field. When he went to the Mets, he nearly instantly became the leader of the team, and helped guide them to the 1986 World Series championship as their cleanup hitter. Carter began to decline due to playing a lot of games behind the plate around age 33, but hung on for five years after that putting up below-league average production. Carter’s career results are hindered by this six year decline period, but are still excellent overall.
It is confusing as to why it took Carter so long to get inducted. Carter first appeared on a ballot in 1998 when the only person inducted was Don Sutton. That year, Carter gained only 42.3% of the vote. From 1999-2002, Carter’s percentages were 33.8 (OK that was the year that Nolan Ryan, George Brett and Robin Yount get inducted, so there’s a bit of a crowded ballot), 49.7 (Carlton Fisk and Tony Perez), 64.9 (Winfield and Kirby Puckett) and 72.7 (Ozzie Smith). There were some crowded ballots, especially in 1999, but overall there should have been plenty of votes for Carter to get in earlier. Thankfully, Carter was able to live to see his induction as he was stricken with brain cancer and died in 2012. Carter will forever be (sorry Ken Griffey) The Kid, and always be remembered as much for his Hall of Fame play as he will be for that 1000 Watt smile he had.
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