If someone ever made a Mount Rushmore of Toronto sports stars, you can go ahead and pencil Joe Carter in front and centre. Hitting a World Series-winning walk-off home run tends to lock a guy down for all-time legend status…
But five All-Star appearances and two World Series rings aren’t the only reasons Carter warrants canonization as one of the city’s favourite sons: the former Jays star also co-chairs the Joe Carter Classic, an annual celebrity golf tournament that raises millions for the Children’s Aid Foundation and is held right here in Toronto, now in its eighth year.
Last year, Carter and I talked all about the home run Toronto fans will never let him forget. This year, I spoke to the Jays great about which athletes make the best golfers, his thoughts on being passed by Jose Bautista on the team’s all-time RBI leaderboard, and how much longer he thinks Jays fans will have to wait for another championship.
First off, I just wanted to congratulate you on another successful edition of the Joe Carter Classic. How’d it go this year?
Everything was phenomenal. Every year, we try to outdo the year before, and I don’t know if that’s always possible. But the people that we invite back, it just seems like it’s one big family reuniting and having a good time, playing golf, and raising a lot of money for a great cause, and that’s the Children’s Aid Foundation.
Do you have any dream guests for future years? Is there anyone you’d love to play a round with?
I’d love to get Samuel L. Jackson out, I know he’s a very big golfer. I’d like to get Will Smith out. Jamie Foxx. Kevin Costner. Costner is a big golfer, so that might be something I can look forward to — put the word out and next year hopefully bring some of those guys in. That would be pretty good.
Maybe we can put a little public pressure on them here.
Exactly. Hey, it never hurts. [Laughs.]
I know you always get former or current athletes to participate too, whether it’s your ex-teammates, hockey guys, basketball players. Who makes for the best golfers?
The hockey players. Mainly because they spend their whole life basically hitting a black golf ball, with that puck. It’s amazing to see the torque and the club head speed that they have. So when they play? Oh man, they hit the ball a ton. But I think by far they’re probably the best golfers. Along with pitchers. Pitchers are the ones that have a lot of downtime, pitching one out of every five days, so they have basically three days where they play golf. The pitchers and the hockey players are by far the best ones.
Did you used to play during the season at all, or was that strictly an offseason pursuit for you?
Oh no, I played all the time. That was never an issue with me, because I was a low-ball hitter, so golf really helped my baseball swing. It helped me stay back. Some of my best games I had on the field were when I played golf that morning. You get up at 6 in the morning, you go play golf, you tee off by 7, 7:30, you’re the first ones out. When you’re on the road, you get back to your hotel room at 12:30, grab a bite to eat, take a nap, then go to the ballpark by 3, 3:30. It beats just hanging around the hotel and laying in bed being lazy.
Who was the best golfer out of your former teammates?
John Olerud and Ed Sprague. And Jimmy Key. Those were the three really A-plus golfers. They probably hit the ball the best and played the most. It wasn’t until I got out of the game, where I could really work on my game, that I improved to their level. So I’m right up there with those guys now, but back then, yeah, those three guys, they were the crème of the crop.
Between the Jays and the Raptors, and now the Leafs, the Toronto sports scene has been having something of a renaissance these past couple years. It feels like now fans expect their teams to be good, to make the playoffs. Do those kinds of expectations affect athletes, or do you have to tune that stuff out?
As an athlete, you want to have expectations. You want to have high hopes. Every year, a team goes into the season saying, or at least they better believe, they have a chance to win. If you think differently, then you need to go find yourself another place to play. [Laughs.] It’s just that, when you have a good team and there are expectations, then the other teams look at you differently. They don’t take you lightly. So when we were world champs in ’92, ’93, the year after, we had a target on our back. Everybody’s going to bring their A-game, because hey, we’re playing the world champion Toronto Blue Jays. So that made our job a lot tougher, because we couldn’t sneak up on anybody.
But as an athlete, you want to be in that position where you go to the ballpark every day, and you say, realistically, we have a great chance to win this ballgame, because of the team that we have. It’s a different feeling. And when you have that feeling, it makes the game a lot more fun. It makes going to the ballpark way more fun, and you can’t wait to get there. Because you know that we’re judged by wins and losses and you have an excellent chance that you’re going to win that night. And when you win, you solve a lot of people’s problems, because everybody’s a lot happier.
Can you feel that – the mood of the city?
Oh yeah. You can tell when you lose a game on Sunday and you walk around on Monday… Say it was the playoffs, big game, and you lose, the city’s kind of walking slow. No one’s really talking too much. It makes it tough to go to work. But boy, when they win, you go to work, and everyone’s talking around the water cooler. Everybody’s got a pep in their step. And that’s what brings a lot of the ballplayers joy, when you can impact a city like we did in Toronto.
Do you feed off that?
Of course. When you go to a stadium where you have two thousand people and no one’s saying anything, and you’re out there playing, it’s like, “Ah, this is not fun…” But when you go to a stadium where there’s 51,000 fans and as soon as you walk out, they’re loud, they’re lively, it gets the adrenaline flowing. A lot of what we do is on emotions. So when the fans are pulling for you, when they’re cheering you on, that’s the epitome of baseball. That’s the epitome of every sport. And then when you go on the road and they’re booing you? Oh, that gets you even more pumped up! Because you know that you’re good. And now the other fans are booing you because they don’t want you to do good, and in turn, that sparks you even more. Because you say, “Hey, come on, I’ll give them something to boo about. Let them boo a little bit louder.” So yeah, you turn all those things into positives, and it gets your adrenaline pumping. I guarantee you, it makes you play a lot better.
Where was the toughest place for you to play? Where’d you get it the worst from opposing fans?
You know what? I didn’t have any tough places to play. Because I embellished it. I looked forward to going to Yankee Stadium, I looked forward to going to Boston. I always had good success against Boston. They’d be throwing ice at me and yelling at me – we had some hot days there. They were throwing ice and I was like, “Throw some more!” I would pick it up and put it down my jersey because it was hot. So you kind of get in their heads a little bit, and now you have a relationship with those guys, with those fans. Now it’s an interaction, so you kind of diffuse them from booing you. It’s like, oh, okay, he’s pretty cool out there. He’s interacting with us. And that’s all the fans want.
Absolutely. I can tell you that from experience, being on the other end.
So if you let it bother you, oh, they’re going to be on you a lot more. I remember in the ’92 playoffs, we were playing against the A’s. There was a pitching change, I believe it was Candy Maldonado, myself and Devon White in the outfield. And Oakland is notorious; they can be tough out there. And the outfield bleachers, from left field to right field, they all stood up in unison, and they started yelling at Devon White, saying, “Devo, you’re nothing, you’re nada, you’re zilch, you’re zero.” You got about ten thousand fans out there, saying it all at the same time, and then at the end, they go, “Hey ump, stop the game! There’s nobody in centerfield!” I was laughing my butt off. I turned around and gave ‘em a clap and a standing ovation. That was impressive. We enjoyed it as players. And they enjoyed it, because we responded. It was like, Dude, that was good. I’m just glad they didn’t get me like that. [Laughs.]
Jays fans aren’t exactly in the same category as Cubs fans were last year, but 1993 is almost 25 years ago now. How much longer do you think Toronto fans are going to have to go without a title? Do you see the Jays breaking through in the next couple years and getting to that next level?
I mean, hey, they’ve been in the playoffs the last two years. And with the success of the Raptors, they’re on the verge. You want to be in competition. You want to be in there every year. The Jays this year, they got off to a horrendous start and people were wondering if they were ever going to bounce back. They did bounce back, and they seem to be flirting around that .500 number. That has to be their emphasis right now: let’s get to .500, go from there. But sometimes, when you put your goal as .500, that’s not really a good goal to have. You want to be above that. So, the fans in Toronto, do they deserve a championship? Of course they do. Great fans, and a lot of the fans you see now are the ones that were three, four, five-years-old when we were there. So they saw all the success, and they’re like, “C’mon, let’s go! Let’s go back to the way it was in ’92, ’93. The way it was when I was a little kid.” Now all of a sudden, these people are 27, 28, 29-years-old, and they’re wanting the success they had when they were a young child.
So I don’t know how much longer they’ll go without a championship, but every year, you want to be in a position where you can compete for a championship, and I think the Jays and the Raptors are doing that. And so are the Leafs. The success the Leafs had this year was great for the city. So, they’re close. We’ll see. I don’t know when it’s going to happen, but it should happen very, very soon.
I saw that Jose Bautista passed you on the Jays’ all-time RBI leaderboard last week. Is that bittersweet for you? Or do you not really pay attention to any of that?
No. Jose’s been there for a while and has had a lot of tremendous success. The guys who stay there longest, yeah, you’re going to get passed. I was there for seven years and had seven great years there. I don’t know how long Jose has been there, but in the time he’s been there, he’s had some great success, driving those runs in, so yeah, you’re going to get passed no matter what. I’m just glad that my name is up there. Records are made to be broken. It’s great just to have my name up there, and shoot, I hope he drives in a thousand more runs. That would be great.
So it doesn’t make you want to come out of retirement for a series or two?
No. No, no, no. [Laughs.] You know, when you retire and you get away from the game, some people go, “Aw, I wanna get back. I wish I could play longer.” Not me. Because when you give it your all – I was very fortunate I wasn’t injured that much, and even when I was injured, I still played, I performed. I gave it everything I had for the 16 years that I played, and when I walked away from the game, I walked away with no regrets. I said, Let me sit back and enjoy the memories I had of my career. Let me look back on these young guys that are coming up and hope they have success, win some championships like I did. So, no, that doesn’t make me want to come out of retirement. [Laughs.] Not at all. I enjoy my golf too much.