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Hall of Fame case for Joe Carter

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On Monday, December 9, the Today’s Game committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame, which covers the years 1988-2018 — will vote on candidates for the 2019 induction class. Between now and then we will take a look at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness.

Next up: Joe Carter

The case for his induction:

We are men of action. Lies do not become us. I am not going to sit here and try to make a compelling case for Joe Carter making the Hall of Fame when, in reality, I think he’s the weakest of the ten candidates on the Today’s Game ballot this year. But I will say what good happened in his career.

It starts, obviously, with one of the most famous home runs in baseball history. The 1993 World Series-winning walkoff homer. It was a fantastic baseball moment that will ensure that Carter is never forgotten. You likely already know all about it, but it’s always worth reading about some more. Go do that here, among any other places. Or just watch it:

Beyond his greatest moment on the field — TOUCH ‘EM ALL, JOE! — Carter hit 396 homers, drove in at least 100 runs 10 times and made five All-Star teams. He finished in the top five in the MVP race twice (1991 and 1992). He was as durable as all get-out, playing in 162 games for three straight seasons and playing in 140 games or more in nine straight seasons. He was a pretty good player.

 

The case against his induction: 

While Jack Morris proved that one big World Series game can get a guy into the Hall of Fame, it’s no guarantee. Beyond that, being merely good does not get you into the Hall of Fame most of the time.

Despite his durability and despite some homers and some triple-digit RBI totals, Carter had almost no on-base skills (.306 career OBP, .259 career batting average) and was a serious, serious drag on defense, ending his career with an eye-popping -86 fielding runs below average. He shines under no other defensive metrics either, and was universally hailed as a bad fielder.

Carter could hit a home run, but there was not much else there and, due to his one-dimensional offensive game and terrible defense, he was a below average player even in some of his best seasons. He was sub-replacement level in several years in which he hit 20 homers or more and, for his career, he finished with 19.6 WAR. That ties him for 925th on the all-time list with Royce Clayton, Greg Jeffries, Carlos Baerga and five or six guys you probably haven’t heard of. Colby Rasmus and Kurt Suzuki are above him on the list. You can quibble with WAR and what it means, but I don’t think anyone being honest could find any sort of statistical measure that would make Joe Carter a Hall of Famer.

 

Would I vote for him?

Oh god no.

 

Will the Committee vote for him?

There’s this notion floating out there that Carter was way more respected during his career and that he only looks bad now due to some tyranny of advanced analytics. This is hogwash. Carter’s career ended after the 1998 season and he hit the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot in December 2003. BBWAA voters — who had not by any stretch of the imagination embraced advanced analytics by then and judged players by far more traditional means — gave Carter just 3.8% of the vote. Then, as now, Carter was not seen as a Hall of Famer and, if anything, advances in baseball knowledge in the past 15 years make him appear to be even less of one.

While it is true that the Veterans Committee is no bastion of sabermetrics, it’s hard to see what they or anyone else could latch onto in making a case for Carter. If they did do so and he got inducted, it would be a massive, massive shock.

But we still have 1993, right?

This Day in Transaction History: Phillies acquire John Kruk from Padres

John Kruk
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John Kruk is one of the more underrated hitters in baseball history. Kruk, who is currently a broadcaster for the Phillies, had a 10-year career during which he hit exactly 100 homers, batted exactly .300, and posted an excellent .397 on-base percentage. In baseball history, there are only 32 members of the admittedly arbitrary 100/.300/.395+ club. Kruk is one of only 10 members of the club that played after 1963. The others: Mike Trout, Joey Votto, Todd Helton, Chipper Jones, Manny Ramírez, Frank Thomas, Larry Walker, Edgar Martinez, and Wade Boggs. Of them, five are Hall of Famers. Trout and Votto will be, and Helton and Ramírez should be.

On this day in 1989, the Phillies made a franchise-altering trade, acquiring Kruk along with infielder Randy Ready from the Padres in exchange for outfielder Chris James. The Padres had just swept the Phillies at home and were hoping to jump into the playoff race. They immediately went into a losing skid, but caught fire at the end of the season, finishing 89-73. However, that wasn’t good enough as the Giants won the NL West with a 92-70 record. James was solid for the Padres, posting a .743 OPS with 11 homers and 46 RBI in 87 games.

Kruk had an interesting but brief major league career with the Padres. His roommate, Roy Plummer, was an armed robber. Kruk was completely unaware of this. In spring training of 1988, the FBI informed Kruk of his roommates’ activities. Kruk feared retribution from Plummer and said that the anxiety affected his baseball performance. In 1988, Kruk batted what was for him a poor .241/.369/.362 with nine homers and 44 RBI over 466 plate appearances.

The Phillies didn’t enjoy immediate success upon Kruk’s arrival in 1989. The club finished the season with a losing record and would do the same in the ensuing three seasons. None of it was Kruk’s fault, though: in aggregate, from 1990-92, he hit .303/.393/.459, earning two All-Star nominations. In this span of time, the only other first basemen to hit above .300 were Frank Thomas, Paul Molitor, Hal Morris, and Rafael Palmeiro. The Padres had used Kruk both in the corner outfield and at first base, but the Phillies made him a full-time first baseman, which turned out to be a good move.

In 1993, everything came together for the Phillies and Kruk had what was arguably the greatest season of his career. He hit .316, which was actually seven points below his average the previous year, but he drew 111 walks to push his on-base percentage up to .430. Kruk hit third in the lineup, creating plenty of RBI opportunities for Dave Hollins in the clean-up spot, Darren Daulton at No. 5, and the trio of Jim Eisenreich, Pete Incaviglia, and Wes Chamberlain in the No. 6 spot. The Phillies shocked the world in ’93, winning the NL East by three games over the Expos with a 97-65 record. They then dispatched the Braves in six games in the NLCS to advance to the World Series against the Blue Jays.

Kruk was productive in the NLCS, contributing six hits including a pair of doubles, a triple, a home run, four walks, five RBI, and four runs scored. But he turned things up a notch in the World Series, registering multi-hit performances in the first three games. He would finish the World Series with eight hits in 23 at-bats along with seven walks, four RBI, and four runs scored. The World Series was winnable for the Phillies as they lost a barnburner Game 4 15-14, and of course, dropped the deciding Game 6 on a World Series-clinching walk-off three-run home run by Joe Carter off of Mitch Williams.

1994 was tough on Kruk in many ways. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer in spring training. Knee issues continued to bother him, and then Major League Baseball had a work stoppage. In an abbreviated season, Kruk hit a still-productive .823 OPS. He became a free agent and, when baseball came back, he signed with the White Sox. In the first inning of a July 30 game against the Orioles in ’95, Kruk singled to left field off of Scott Erickson. He reached first base, bowed to the fans, and walked off the field into retirement. Kruk told the media, “The desire to compete at this level is gone. When that happens, it’s time to go.”

Kruk has spent his post-playing days working in sports media as both a broadcaster (Phillies, ESPN nationally) and as a commentator (The Best Damn Sports Show Period, Baseball Tonight). The Phillies inducted him into their Wall of Fame in August 2011. One wonders if Kruk hadn’t been bit by the injury bug, and if there hadn’t been a work stoppage, if he might have been able to accrue some more numbers to have a borderline Hall of Fame case. Regardless, he’ll go down as one of the games’ quietly great hitters.