When I first heard the Indians were having a Joe Carter bobblehead giveaway my response was, really? Joe Carter? Was Candy Maldonado unavailable?
As a collector of Indians bobbleheads I’ll gladly take the addition to my shelf, but was Joe Carter really the best they could do?
Carter was supposedly a “star” of the perennially disappointing mid-80s teams, and yet was arguably the primary reason that solid core of young players failed to accomplish anything other than a preseason appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Carter was a pure power hitter, belting 20 home runs four times during his stint in Cleveland. But Carter had one weakness: he couldn’t get on base to save his life.
Today, Carter would be viewed as just another Mark Reynolds or Russell Branyan but in an era where on-base percentage was still considered a cutting-edge stat by some, Carter’s success was measured in home runs and RBI, which he did very well. But, as has since been established by the likes of Tony Batista, Brad Fullmer and Henry Rodriguez, if you stick anyone with halfway decent power in the middle of a lineup, those counting stats will pile up.
Among 96 players with at least 2,000 plate appearances with the Indians, Carter’s .309 on-base percentage ranks 84th. Among those above Carter on the list: John Lowestein, Joe Azcue, Rick Manning and Duane Kuiper. Not exactly a who’s-who of the great hitters in Tribe history.
And, somewhat surprisingly, the idea that Joe Carter is overrated isn’t a new concept based on the view through new statistics. Despite his 151 home runs and over 500 RBI in Cleveland, Carter never represented the Tribe in an All-Star Game. Even in his best seasons in Cleveland, Carter was passed over in favor of Pat Tabler, Brook Jacoby and even Ken Schrom. And despite nearly 1,500 RBI, 400 home runs and one of the most memorable moments in World Series history, when Carter was up for Hall of Fame election in 2004 he received just 3.8% of the vote.
Carter will certainly not be the worst player immortalized in bobblehead form (I have a Dave Burba sitting on my shelf), but he does seem like an odd choice to be featured over 20 years after his less-than-memorable playing days in Cleveland have wrapped up.
So who would I rather see represent the 1980s as a bobblehead? Andre Thornton would have been a solid choice. But my vote would go to two-time All-Star Brook Jacoby, a personal favorite of mine as a kid. Or how about this: a three-man set of Carlos Baerga, Sandy Alomar Jr and Chris James, to represent the only truly meaningful contribution Carter made to the Tribe.