Now what was the name of that stiff the Indians dumped on the Cubs when they acquired Joe Carter? Easy to forget, when you consider the thrills Carter keeps providing in this surprising Indian summer. Perhaps the grandest was his 3-homer, 5-for-5 performance in Cleveland's 7-3 win at Boston last Friday. With 24 homers, 90 RBIs and a .297 average at Labor Day, Carter, 26, has quietly become one of the best in baseball.
When the Indians picked up Carter, outfielder Mel Hall and pitcher Don Schulze two summers ago it looked like a steal—for the Cubs. Rick Sutcliffe went to Chicago, won 16 of 17 decisions and a Cy Young Award and led the Cubs to the brink of the World Series. But two years later, Sutcliffe is struggling at 4-12.
Besides power and speed (21 stolen bases), Carter has also shown remarkable versatility—50 starts in rightfield, 43 at first base, 31 in left and 5 in center. And he has played them all with a smile.
The Cleveland manager, Pat Corrales, wants his son to grow up to be just like Carter. Team president Peter Bavasi calls Carter "a very special person who believes Cleveland can be turned around." The last two winters Carter has left his family to trek through the Ohio winter on a promotional tour. "Why should the fans be involved if you're not?" says Carter. "I knew about the Indians when I was traded. But Cleveland was the big leagues. It was a chance, a lot of young players fighting for jobs. I felt, 'This is my team.' "
In fact the Indians have become his team. Carter, a handsome 6'3", 215-pounder, is the heir apparent to clubhouse leader Andre Thornton. He has already been elected player rep.
Joe Sr. and Athelene Carter raised 11 children in Oklahoma City; Joe was No. 8 (No. 10, Fred, is an outfielder for the Yankees' Fort Lauderdale team). He was a four-sport star for Millwood High, then chose to play baseball for Wichita State instead of football for Oklahoma. The Cubs made Carter the second pick in the June '81 draft. By '84, he had driven in 67 RBIs in his first 61 games in Triple A, but the Cubs weren't sure his bat was quick enough to handle a major league fastball, so they let him go when Sutcliffe became available. Carter hit a respectable .262 with 15 homers and 59 RBIs last year, but he played most of the year with a badly strained left wrist.
One other thing you should know about Carter is that he's a bit of a con man. Boston first baseman Bill Buckner found out the hard way last month. Buckner took his lead off first base, and Carter asked him a question. "When I turned around to answer him," says Buckner, an 18-year veteran, "the pickoff throw came. He got me on one of my own tricks." Bill, we could have warned you. After all, Joe Carter fooled the Cubs, too.
Carter, heading into the dugout after one of his 24 home runs, has Indian fans asking, 'Rick who?'