Ask any Toronto fan for their favourite Blue Jays memory, and there’s a 99.9% chance they’ll all point to the same one: Joe Carter’s World Series-winning walk-off against the Philadelphia Phillies in 1993.
Even some 20+ years later, watching Carter leap around the bases is still burnt into the city’s collective memory, and for good reason: it’s not just the biggest home run in Jays history, it’s the biggest home run in World Series history, period. Earning Carter lifetime legend status in TO.
And while the two-time Jays’ World Series hero may not call Toronto home anymore, he still has a special connection to the city, coming back regularly and holding his annual celebrity golf tournament here. Now in its seventh year, the Joe Carter Classic has raised over $1.5 million dollars for the Children’s Aid Foundation — even in retirement, Carter’s still managing to put smiles on kids’ faces.
After another successful year raising money for a good cause, we talked to the all-time Jays great about what it’s like to be a living legend in Toronto, the moment both he and Jays fans will never forget, and what this year’s team needs to do in order to make it back to the ALCS (and hopefully even further).
You’ve raised over $1.5 million for charity with the Joe Carter Classic since 2010. Why is it important for you to stay involved, especially in Toronto?
To much is given, much is expected. I’ve always felt that way. Wherever I’ve been, wherever I played, I’ve always given back, because that’s how I was raised. My father was a very giving person, and he just taught that. But I know that we have a chance as athletes, we’re put on a pedestal – we don’t deserve to be, I feel — but since we are, why not put it to good use?
What’s it like for you to come back to Toronto these days?
I tell everybody, “In Toronto, it’s good to be the king.” [Laughs.] That’s how I feel when I come back, because of the way the fans treat me. It is a love-love relationship. Every time I come back, whether it’s going through customs, through the airport, everyone has a smile on their face, because they associate me with one, smiling and two, the home run. So, it brings back a lot of great memories, and I’ve always been happy to accommodate. I do love coming back to Toronto, because it’s really a second home for me.
It’s probably a lot nicer than going back to Philadelphia, I’m guessing.
I was just there last year; I played in Dr. J’s golf tournament. He plays in mine every year, and I won his. One of the caddies who was carrying my bag — because my head covers have “Joe Carter” on it, “Toronto Blue Jays” and everything – he said, “Man, you know I’m catching a lot of flack for carrying this bag…” I was like, “Well, you’re going to catch some more, because I’m going to win this thing!” And I’ll be back there again in September to defend my championship.
You’re just haunting poor Philly fans at this point.
Oh yeah. You know, they have a pretty good memory… So yeah, things haven’t changed too much there.
When you were in town for the Blue Jays’ 40th season celebration last weekend, they played your World Series-winning home run up on the JumboTron. How’d it feel watching that again? Does it ever get old for you?
No, are you kidding me? When you get out of baseball, all you have left are your highlights, your memories. And because of modern technology, with YouTube videos, that’s going to be around for all of eternity. But I think I’ve watched it between one and two gazillion times. And it never gets old. It’s one of those moments that people will always tell me when I first meet them, where they were, what they were doing. They always let me know.
Even after a 15-year career, was it nerve-wracking at all throwing out that first pitch?
Oh no. Are you kidding? No. [Laughs.] It’s nerve-wracking for guys who aren’t accustomed to doing it. But throwing a baseball? That’s second nature to me, so nah. I don’t mind the spotlight.
I think that’s been proven by now.
Well, yeah. One thing I’ve always done is I’ve always had fun whatever I did, and that’s never gonna change. So, throwing the first pitch or playing golf in front of thousands of fans, things like that, nah, that doesn’t bother me at all.
Do you get back to Toronto much?
I come back probably about twice a month. Anywhere from end of March until the end of November. Anything past there? …It gets pretty dicey when it gets cold and snowy. The wintertime, I try to stay away as much as possible, because it’s too cold!
I know the feeling… So were you in town for the Jays’ playoff run at all last year? Did you get out to any of the games?
I was there for Games 3, 4 and 5. But living in Kansas City and watching what the team experienced, and watching the fans, everything coming back to life, the electricity, it was great to see the excitement back in Toronto. And now it’s carried over to this year. They’ve got an exciting ballclub. It was a great run last year, and I know they’re hoping that they can take it a couple steps further this year.
Well, that’s something you obviously know a lot about. How tough is it to go from the ALCS to take that next step and get to the World Series, and then hopefully win it?
The hardest part is always the first time. A lot of those guys, that was their first time in the playoffs. Just like in ’91, we got beat by Minnesota in the ALCS. That was my first time in the playoffs in the big leagues. So you learn a lot from that. You know what it takes to get there, so you’re more focused the next year, because you don’t want to go home empty-handed. You don’t want to go home with that ill feeling they had inside that tugs at them the whole offseason. So now they know what to expect, they know what it takes. Now, the second year, they become more focused. And it’s something they feel they’re capable of doing. And you need that. Because they talk about experience, how it matters. Yeah, in those situations, it does matter, because it’s a different game when you get into the playoffs.
Even just with the crowds, you can tell it all ratchets up to another level in the playoffs.
When I was playing, there was 50,000 fans there every game. And regular season, it starts off real quiet, then they make a lot of noise. But in the playoffs, you come out just for warm-ups and there’s 50,000 fans, and there’s just so much electricity! It really pumps up the players. And I tell you what, that place, it can be deafening, as we all know.
What do you think of the Jays’ chances this year? They were pretty hot going into the All-Star break, winning 8 of their last 9.
Any time you have the offence that they have, they’ve got a great chance. I think the one thing that really holds them back is they don’t play small ball too much. It’s like the Orioles of old, with Earl Weaver: get one or two guys on base and look for the three-run home run. And sure, the home runs are great, but I think everyone saw last year, it wasn’t the lack of home runs that hurt them, it was the inability to move runners over, to play small ball, bunting guys over, getting guys in position. That’s what it’s going to take, that’s when you become a complete team.
If you look at the teams that I played on when we won the championships, we had those guys who advanced runners. First and second, we made sure we got ‘em over for the guy behind us to get ‘em in. So, those are the small things that they have to learn to do in order to win. Because you’re not going to hit home runs every time. You have to be able to make the adjustments and play either way.
And the Royals were the perfect example of that kind of team last year.
Exactly. That’s the way they play. They never quit. They get the guys over, they get the guys in from third base. They’re a very unselfish team, because they know that if they all play together and work together, they can become champions, and that’s exactly what happened last year.
Did you get to watch any of the All-Star Game festivities?
I was traveling at the time, so I did see the end of the Home Run Derby, with [Todd] Frazier and Giancarlo Stanton, and I saw a little bit of the All-Star Game. It was a well-played game, and of course, the American League, they’ve dominated for the last 12, 14 years. It’s just expected now.
I know you were in a few Home Run Derbies yourself back in the day. Is it a different animal trying to hit home runs in that setting versus during a game? Although I guess when you’re someone like Stanton, it doesn’t really matter…
No, those guys, they were built for home runs. Even though I hit a lot of home runs, I considered myself a line drive hitter that hit home runs; I wasn’t a guy that just strictly hit home runs. I tried to hit the ball up, go the other way, move the guys over, get ‘em in. So in BP, I worked on my game. Therefore I was not a good hitter in BP. Because as a player will tell you, in batting practice, they don’t count. So I never had too much success when I did those Home Run Derbies. It just wasn’t what I worked on for batting practice.
And you’d have to be worried about messing up your swing by swinging for the fences like that, right?
No, I think that’s a bunch of a baloney. [Laughs.] Guys who say, “Well, I don’t want to get in a Home Run Derby because I don’t want to think about home runs, it may hurt my swing.” I mean, you’ve had nine gazillion swings over your lifetime! It’s all muscle memory. You go up there thinking home run in a Home Run Derby, it’s not gonna change your thought pattern when you get to the plate in a real game. So no, sometimes ballplayers use that as an excuse when they don’t want to do it, because they know the pressure is on them and they’re not a good home run hitter in that setting and environment.
Gotcha. So it’s like a secret code almost.
Yeah, it’s not gonna mess their swing up at all. [Laughs.]
Do you still watch a lot of baseball?
I do now because I work for the Diamondbacks. I’m a special assistant to [Arizona GM] Dave Stewart, who’s a good friend of mine. So I watch a lot more than I did. Once I got out of the game — I retired in ’98 and stopped announcing in 2002 – I didn’t watch any baseball. But the last year and a half, I’ve watched a lot of baseball and paid more attention because it’s part of my job now.
Is it tough watching as a former player?
It’s easier now. The game is easy when you’re watching it. [Laughs.] When you don’t have to go up there and face those guys throwing 98, 99, 100 miles per hour. Or the everyday grind. But sitting in the stands or watching on TV? Yeah, my body never hurts anymore. It feels pretty good! Baseball’s an easy game when you’re behind the scenes watching it, compared to when you’re playing it.
Are there any players that you really enjoy watching?
I love the guys who flat out hustle. Bryce Harper, I love watching him play. He’s kind of a throwback. Working for the D-backs, a lot of our guys, I commend them — even though they’re not having a great year right now — the one thing they do is they hustle. Whether it’s a groundball to the pitcher or a pop fly to the catcher, they’re going to run their tails off, and I’m an admirer of that. I like to see the game played the right way. Because those guys, they make a lot of money, and to go up there for three hours to play hard, it’s not that hard to do. But when you see people putting forth the effort — like Harper, Paul Goldschmidt, Jean Segura — those guys, they have a great time out there, they have fun doing it, but they’re professionals and I like that when I see guys busting their tails all the time.
I know there’s kind of a split camp in terms of guys showing emotion on the field and having fun. What’s your take on that? I mean, one of your most iconic moments came from showing your emotions. But obviously, winning the World Series is a bit different than winning a game in July…
Right. It is. But it’s alright to be emotional. Baseball’s a team sport. And when you do something to help your team win the ballgame, you’re excited because you’ve picked your teammates up and your teammates appreciate that; it’s a celebration. But there’s a way that you celebrate and a way you don’t. During the regular season, you keep it to a minimum. I mean, you’re happy about it, you’re excited about it, but you respect the game. Now, in the playoffs, it’s a different story. Because then, there’s only two, four, eight teams playing, the other 22 are at home watching. This is a reward for what you did during the regular season. So you always respect the game and you always have fun, but don’t disrespect players or show anybody up in those situations. Because now you’re disrespecting the game, and you’re making yourself bigger than the game.
Where do you come down on something like Jose Bautista’s bat flip then?
No, no, that was the playoffs. He wasn’t showing anybody up! That was true emotion, because if you look at what happened in the top of the 7th: you go from a tie ballgame to losing the lead, and it’s Game 5 of a best-of-five series, and then you come up in the bottom of the 7th and crush a three-run homer… I mean, wow. That is all emotion. And to me, I had no problem with that, because he wasn’t looking at the pitcher or the dugout. He was genuinely excited. So in the playoffs? Nah, you can do that. That’s fine. I thought that was great.
Do you have any favourite spots to visit when you get back to Toronto these days?
Every time I go, I try to always visit my good friends Dave and Wanda Beaver at Wanda’s Pie in the Sky. I’ll go and grab some banana cream pie from them. Just this past time I was in town, myself and Ed Sprague went to Islington Country Club and played golf there. And of course, Eagles Nest. Mainly, it’s either going to be eating or on the golf course. Those are the spots you’re going to find me at.
Here’s the big question: is there any BBQ in Toronto that can compare to Kansas City?
No, no. No. No. Not at all… [Laughs.] We won’t even go there.