There are two ways to end a baseball game- either the final out is recorded, or the winning run is driven in. In the 1992 World Series, the last out was a failed bunt by the Braves’ Otis Nixon, easily scooped up by Blue Jays pitcher Mike Timlin and tossed to first. It was a simple play, one that Joe Carter had fielded hundreds of times before. As he clenched the ball, he started jumping around like a kid, elation overtaking his body. Carter had caught the last out of the season.
The following year, the Blue Jays were back in the World Series. Back then, home field advantage merely alternated between the leagues. So that meant game six in 1993 would be played in the American League park. The Phillies held a 6-5 lead going into the bottom of the ninth, hoping to force game seven. Rickey Henderson was at second, Paul Molitor was on first representing the winning run. Mitch Williams ran a 2-2 count on Carter, regaining the advantage on a slider inside. The next pitch was a near carbon copy of the one Carter had missed, but he swung again anyway.
The ultimate dream of every kid who has held a baseball bat is to drive in the run that wins the World Series. They round the bases, stirring the emotional tempest inside that comes with being the hero. Nothing can compare to a child’s imagination come unhinged as it happens. The home crowd is screaming enough to drown out a jet engine. They’re the hero, even if it only happens between their ears.
As for the actual World Series, that kind of event is almost just as much fantasy as reality. It didn’t happen once until Bill Mazeroski of the Pittsburgh Pirates walked off the New York Yankees in the 1960 Series, a seven game set that some retain as the greatest of all time. Decades came and went from there, with no one able to play the mythic, childhood hero role.
Joe Carter was born the same year as Mazeroski’s home run. He had been drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 1981, but only played twenty-three games for them before being moved to Cleveland. There, he developed into a solid major league hitter, eventually driving in 121 runs in 1986, the most in baseball. Carter received MVP votes and was a regular threat to play every game of a season. Still, he somehow flew under the radar enough to miss an All-Star Game invite.
After the 1989 season, Cleveland dealt him to San Diego for a package that included Sandy Alomar. A year later, the Padres sent Carter and Sandy’s younger brother Roberto to Toronto. It was a move that helped catapult the Jays from good to dangerous.
In 1991, they fell to the surprise Minnesota Twins in the American League Championship Series. The following year, it all came together. The ball landing in Joe Carter’s glove was a cathartic release for the thirty-two year old first baseman. His career had reached its zenith, or so he had thought.
1993 went according to plan, as the addition of fourteen-year veteran Paul Molitor as designated hitter reinvigorated the lineup.
On October 23rd, in the bottom of the ninth, Molitor was 270 feet from winning his first World Series as Carter stood in the box.
Mitch Williams was on the mound for Philadelphia. Earlier in the inning, before delivering the first pitch, Rickey Henderson called for time out and stepped out of the box. It was just milliseconds before Williams began his windup. The result was the Phillies’ hurler nearly tumbling to the ground as he failed to notice home plate umpire Dana DeMuth had granted Henderson’s request. The crowed grew ever-louder.
It’s tough to say if that aborted pitch had any implications on the events that followed, but Henderson ended up walking. Then Williams got Devon White to fly out before giving up a hit to Molitor.
To quote an old friend of mine- “in the moment is a son of a bitch.” It’s easy to lose one’s place in time for a moment when the adrenaline starts flowing. All Joe Carter wanted was a hit. At the very least, a base hit scores Henderson and ties the game.
Baseball, not being bound by a clock, meant that Williams couldn’t just hang out on the mound and wait for zeros to fill a board. He had to get Carter out and then one more to force game seven. Trying for a strikeout is nice, trying for a routing double play is better.
“I told my wife before I went to the ballpark, I said ‘something special is going to happen today,'” Carter told CBS’s Tim McCarver later that night in the locker room.
Mitch Williams did what pitchers do. If you can catch a slugger with a low and inside breaking ball, there’s a chance you can fool him again.
On the fifth pitch of the at bat, Carter made contact with that same pitch, a slider low and inside.
On TV, Sean McDonough had the call in what would be the last pitch ever broadcast on CBS.
“Well hit down the left field line, way back aaaaaaand GOOOONE. Joe Carter with a three run homer! The winners and still World Series Champions… the Toronto Blue Jays!”
That’s the call I heard from my home in Indiana as a 6 year old. For those listening on the radio in Toronto, the moment belonged to CJCL-AM’s Tom Cheek.
As the ball cleared the left field wall, Joe Carter began to jump around like a kid, elation overtaking his body. He hopped and skipped around first base, smiling ear to ear. The crowd swelled to the familiar tempest he surely imagined as a child back in Oklahoma.
As he rounded second, Cheek’s words crystalized the moment for all time.
“A swing and a belt! Left field! Way back! Blue Jays win! The Blue Jays are World Series champions as Joe Carter hits a three-run home run in the ninth inning and the Blue Jays have repeated as World Series champions!”
He pauses a beat.
“Touch ’em all, Joe! You’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life!”
A mob of Blue Jays waited at home plate for Carter; for the hero. A handful of fans rushed the field. The World Series had been won on foreign soil for the first time. As the celebrations began, his teammates lifted Carter onto their shoulders, carrying him off the field in all his glory. Carter pumped his fist. He had ended the World Series again, but in the way every kid who ever held a bat had dreamed.
It didn’t matter what had come before. It didn’t matter how his career would go from there.
From that day forward, Joe Carter would be remembered for the biggest home run hit on color television.
It was a manifestation of what makes baseball beautiful.
It was a swing that will live forever in baseball lore.
It was art.