I wanted to say a few words about Gary Carter, who over the weekend issued a statement saying doctors have found four small tumors on his brain and he will have further tests this week.
Carter was one of the iconic players of my youth, a power-hitting catcher with a rifle for an arm. Even though he appeared on the cover of the 1983 Sports Illustrated baseball preview issue -- with a headline proclaiming "The Best In The Business" -- Carter always seemed somewhat underrated until he was traded by the Expos to the Mets in 1985. He had two excellent seasons with the Mets, leading the club to the 1986 World Series championship (his two-out single in the 10th inning of Game 6 started the three-run rally) and finishing sixth and third in the MVP voting. Those two seasons seemed to bring him more attention than he ever received in Montreal. Much like Johnny Bench, however, the grind of catching caught up to him and while he played until he 38, he wasn't too productive his last six seasons. If you remember Carter, you might only remember those final seasons when he couldn't hit, couldn't run and his throwing arm had deteriorated. All he had left was the personality that led teammates to call him "The Kid" (which wasn't always meant in a positive manner).
That's why if you're younger than 30, you might not realize how good Carter was at his peak. In doing some research for a post on Jorge Posada last week, I looked up the eight-year peak value for the best catchers of all time.
Not surprisingly, Johnny Bench had the highest WAR (wins above replacement level), according to Baseball-Reference.com, at 49.2.
But guess what? Gary Carter matched him with a 49.2 during his best eight-year peak.
Here are their numbers during those eight-year peaks:
Now, admittedly, something about the numbers don't exactly add up: Bench rates as the slightly superior offensive player (43.4 WAR to 38.5), but Carter trumps him in defense (10.7 WAR to 5.8). Carter was a legitimately outstanding defensive catcher while with the Expos -- as you can see by his 41 percent success rate in throwing out basestealers. But Bench had an even better caught stealing percentage (49 percent). Why the difference in defensive value? I'm not exactly sure, but it might come down to opportunity: Carter had 1,171 stolen base attempts against him during this period; Bench had just 531. While some of that is attributable to the run-happy era in which Carter played, some of that is attributable to the fact that runners just didn't try to steal on Johnny Bench.
Anyway, my point is that I don't think anybody puts Carter in the same class as Johnny Bench, but he deserves to be right there alongside him, or at least thisclose. Even when we stretch that peak period to 10 years, Carter comes in at 58.0 WAR, Bench at 57.8. Bench had about three more good seasons than Carter and that does give him the edge in career value.
And yet ... when Johnny Bench entered the Hall of Fame ballot in 1989, he received 96.4 percent of the vote, one of the highest totals ever. Gary Carter received 42.3 percent and it took him six seasons to get elected.
Carter will go undergo more tests at the Duke Medical Center on Thursday. Let's hope the news is positive.