20th anniversary of Carter’s home run

In some ways, it’s hard to believe but it was 20 years ago today that Joe Carter hit his infamous home run off Philadelphia closer Mitch Williams in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series. The latest generation of Blue Jays fans weren’t even born when Carter’s shot went just over the wall in left field at Rogers Centre but it’s a moment that will continue to live on through stories and highlight reels for decades to come.

If Bill Mazeroski’s walkoff homer in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series was the ‘Shot heard ’round the world’ then Carter’s blast was at least the ‘Shot heard ’round Canada.’ There are numerous Canadians currently in the Major Leagues who have pointed to those teams in 1992-93 as being one of the main reasons they originally became interested in the sport. Everyone growing up during that time certainly recreated the scene of Carter’s home run in his/her backyard with the hope of one day being able to achieve such glory.

At the time, I was no different. I was only 10 years old when the Jays won their back-to-back championship but I can remember watching the game in my basement with my parents and the ensuing years I would go on to collect as much memorabilia from that era as possible. There wasn’t a single inch in my bedroom that wasn’t plastered with posters of that team. The official team photos from both 92/93, the Jays of Thunder featuring Alomar and Carter, a Kelly Gruber life size poster that I would measure myself against every month. The commemorative Coca-Cola cans that went out across the country, team-signed baseballs, baseball cards, you name it and I tried to get my hands on it.

I grew up in Saint John, New Brunswick, and never even had the privilege of seeing a Major League game in person until a couple of years later. But none of that mattered. It wasn’t just Toronto’s team, it was all of Canada’s. The Expos were still around at that time, and I’m sure Quebec would be an exception to the statement, but from British Columbia to Newfoundland this was a team that became embraced by an entire nation.

I don’t view baseball through the same lens that I did back then. It’s impossible in this type of job. That’s not to say I’m not a fan of the game, because that couldn’t be further from the truth. But instead of being a fan of a team, or a particular player, I’ve become a fan of the big moment, the big story line, the compelling angle, the minutiae and reasoning behind every transaction an organization makes. I know too much about every player to view them with the type of blinders I did back when I was a kid, when those athletes of the early ’90s could do no wrong.

But earlier this week I was able to put those blinders on for at least one more day. I stopped being the impartial reporter for approximately half an hour when I had the chance to do a phone interview with Joe Carter. We reminisced about those memories of 1993 and while he recalled everything that took place in the days leading up to Game 6, the moments before the homer, the celebration afterwards, the fallout — I was able to relive exactly what it meant to grow up as such a big fan of the person, the player and the organization.

Those early teams are one of the main reasons I have the privilege of covering baseball for a living. I realized relatively early on that I could try to replicate Pat Hentgen’s delivery on the mound all I wanted but I could never actually achieve his success against hitters who would go on to any type of success. It worked pretty well against those Little Leaguers but it would only get me so far. Those early years were a big reason why, by the time I reached high school, I was emailing Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun for tips on how to get into the industry. So I at least theoretically traded in those baseball cards and team memorabilia for a recorder and a laptop.

I still had those journalism necessities  during this Carter interview but make no mistake about it,  when I talked to Carter, I wasn’t talking to him as the Blue Jays reporter from MLB.com as much as I was talking to him as the 10-year-old fan boy who lost his mind when that ball disappeared over the left-field fence. For just one day I was a completely biased fan, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Here’s an excerpt of the interview I did with Carter the other day. I hope you enjoy it.

Joe Carter Q+A:

On the 20-year anniversary of the infamous home run…
“It really is hard to believe that 20 years has passed. It’s something that people still always talk about. I was just thinking, as long as there has been World Series and baseball, this only happened twice in the history of the game. That’s the rarest of rare feats. For it to be 20 years, it goes to show you, when you’re young time just goes by slow but when you’re older it goes by incredibly fast.”

On whether the home run gets the respect it deserves…
“I don’t think it gets the notoriety in the States like it does in Canada. I’ve always said, if I played for the Yankees or the Dodgers, one of those big market teams, then it would have been huge. I think at times they give more honor to Kirk Gibson’s home run in Game 1 of the World Series. That was a great moment, don’t get me wrong, a special moment for a special guy. But something like this I don’t think it gets the notoriety it gets in Canada because in Canada it’s unbelievable the reception that I get up there where people from the East Coast as far away as Halifax, Nova Scotia, all the way to Vancouver, British Columbia. People still talk about that home run as if it just happened yesterday and it’s at the forefront of their minds. I’m very elated that they still remember that and it’s indeed a special honor for me.”

On whether he understood at the time the significance that home run had for all of Canada…
“I didn’t have the sense of it then when it happened. It was a long grueling season. The year before when we won the World Series that was a lot of pressure off of our backs because the Blue Jays had been clamouring so close really since 1985 when they got beat by the Royals after being up three games to one. It was a big relief after the ’92 World Series and the ’93 World Series was more of an enjoyment for us. We had a chance to sit back and enjoy that moment.

“So from that standpoint, it’s a special moment and it was a time for us to really enjoy what had transpired and I look back now, I go to Canada all the time and there are a lot of people named Carter, a lot of people around 20 years old named Carter (laughs), they were born around that time and it’s a great moment not only for me but for Canada and for all of baseball. It was a rare feat.

On the difference between closing out at home vs on the road in ’92…
“Believe it or not, from a fan standpoint it was better in Toronto, but from a player standpoint, it was better in Atlanta because after the game we went back to the hotel, we had all of our families there, all the people who travel with the team, there was probably 300-400 people there and we had the entire floor of the hotel, we had a band playing, we had all the food you could eat, everybody was there celebrating.

“If you can imagine guys like Dave Winfield, John Olerud dancing down the soul train line. We had a 5 o’clock wake-up call and I don’t think we went to bed that night. So, from a player standpoint, it was great while we were in Toronto. Winning it in Canada, we couldn’t really go out and have fun with the fans. I kind of missed most of the celebrations because I was doing all of the interviews. I came back two and a half hours later back to the locker room and everyone was done celebrating and I was like wait, I just got here.

“After the game, everyone got dressed and we went upstairs, we had a little sit down quiet dinner with the players, front office, wives, but it was really subdued and quiet. Meanwhile everyone on the streets was going crazy so from the fans point of view, it was great for the fans, but we had a better time in Atlanta when clinched there.”

On what was going through his mind during the start of that rally in the ninth inning…
“I knew the rally we had before in the eighth was very important because we hit around. I think Pat Borders popped up with the bases loaded, made the last out, but the good thing about that was we knew Rickey was leading off the ninth, I think everybody knew Rickey was going to be on first base, there was no way Mitch wasn’t going to walk him. Going into that ninth, I was like, wow, I’m up fourth this inning. Something always in the game happens and that ninth inning revolves around me a lot of the time. That’s what you live for in baseball, when you’re hitting third or fourth on a championship team you’re going to be in the spotlight more often than not.

“I was more nervous sitting in the dugout because I was pacing back and forth, sitting on the top step of the dugout, itching for a chance to get up there because I was waiting for my time. Sure enough, Rickey gets the walk, Devo pops up and then Molitor gets the base hit so I knew it would eventually come down to what I did, or I was going to be very instrumental with what happened. Having those two guys on base, Rickey and Pauly on first and second, I knew at the time, if I hit a ball into the gap Molitor is going to score from first base. That made my job a little bit easier with those two guys on first base.”

On whether he thought it was gone off the bat…
“Never saw it. I didn’t. The thing is, when Mitch threw me the 2-1 pitch, a breaking ball, I was looking breaking ball because I looked so bad on it. When he shook off the first pitch, I knew Dalton had to put down breaking ball again, so if he shook it off he’s going to the fastball but I thought I still have to think he’s going to throw the breaking ball again. Because I was thinking breaking ball and I had lost the last breaking ball, the 2-1 breaking ball, I said, okay you need to slow down a little bit and I need to see the ball all the way in. I need to follow it as if it was a 3-0 pitch and I was following it back to the catcher’s glove and so I followed the ball all the way in.

“He jerked a fastball down and in, more like a cut fastball and because I was thinking breaking ball, I kind of stayed back on the ball. Normally if I’m looking fastball, I’d either swing and miss at that ball and nine times out of 10 times I hook it into the third base dugout and scatter my teammates. But in that particular moment, because  was looking breaking ball, I kept my head down and when I made contact, and even when I watched the replay I can’t see the ball because the angle of the bat and the ball, it was all simultaneously in the same motion, down and in, when I looked up, I never saw the ball.

“All I saw was the bank of lights. I knew I hit it good, but I didn’t know if I hit it high enough to get over the fence. As I jumped three or four jumps down the first-base line, I saw Pete kind of slow down to a trot and when the ball went over the fence, the thoughts that go through your mind, the first thought that goes through your mind this is just unbelievable I can’t believe that happened. My second thought was make sure you touch all of the bases Joe.”

On being forever linked with Mitch Williams…
“Mitch didn’t go through a tough time, it’s the way people perceived him, all of the death threats and everything. But Mitch never let that bother him and that’s what I loved about the guy. Here’s a guy that gave it his all, I gave it my all, it just so happens that that one time I happened to come out on top. But I’ve always said, if it wasn’t for Mitch they wouldn’t have been there. He had 43 saves, he saved Game 2 of the World Series and he saved the last game in the NLCS against the Braves to get them to the World Series.

“The things that he went through, the Philadelphia fans, they can be some unruly fans as we’ve all come to know. But Mitch I think he handled it very well, he stayed in the area up there, and we are going to be forever linked but I think it’s a pretty good thing. I don’t know if he thinks it’s a good thing, at times he says come October his name will always be kind of out there because of what happened in the World Series. Unfortunately there are going to be great times and bad times because in this game someone has to win and someone has to lose and a moment like that is going to be always remembered.

“We get along great, we got along great before then, I never had a problem with anybody I played with or against. I’ve always been that type of person. I think the one thing he should be embarrassed about, in 1998, my last year, they kind of did a where are they at now and Mitch had challenged me to a bowling match. He had his own bowling alley just outside of Philadelphia and so when Baltimore came to town to Philadelphia it was a big event. They had a limosine take me down there, Mitch carries a 200 average. He gets me into a bowling alley, ESPN is there, the lights and cameras on, they were announcing it and everything and it was funny because when I walked in, one of Mitch’s good friends, he yelled at me, you cost me $1000. I said, well you bet on the wrong team.

“They made me up a bowling ball, I went down to the alley and I rolled the first ball between my legs and it was a strike. Mitch’s eyes, his mouth dropped, his eyes are huge and he goes “noooooo.” His buddy goes, I’ve got $100 on Joe. I beat Mitch three straight games and he carries a 200 average but he did now know, I grew up bowling. My father, who just passed away in September, he was 82 years old, he bowled up until he was 80 years old. So, I was a very accomplished bowler. I beat him the first game, I bowled like a 235, 240 and just blew him out of the water. He couldn’t believe it was happening. Now, that’s where he should be embarrassed, baseball that was two guys giving it their best, but bowling, on his home field, that’s where he should be embarrassed.”

On being a ringer and Mitch not seeing it coming…
“No he didn’t. I even bowled in college, Wichita State, had a very good college bowling team, in the dormitory I lived in, I bowled for three years on our dormitory bowling team so I was a very good bowler.”

On getting back to Toronto on a regular basis for his annual charity golf tournament and various events with the Blue Jays…
“It’s very important but it’s not just for the Blue Jays, it’s for all of Canada. That, to me, is my second home. With my golf tournament, we’ve raised more than $1.2 million for the Children’s Aid Foundation in just four years of having my golf tournament there. Mitch, last year, he came down, he was so gracious to come down and play in that. We had a great time with that. Going from Vancouver all the way to Halifax, it is phenomenal the reception that I get. I know that, too much is given, much is expected. I know that my greatest times in baseball were in Canada and for me to go back there and show them the love and favor that they’ve shown me, I love it tremendously that I can go back there and make an impact. Help a lot of kids and a lot of people and that’s what I try to do. It’s good to still be associated with the Blue Jays but it’s even better that I’m associated with all of Canada, not just the East Coast but the West Coast also. “

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