Granted, Carter's lifetime batting numbers—2,092 hits, 324 home runs, 1,225 RBIs, .262 average—aren't high on the alltime lists. But why compare Carter with first basemen and outfielders and 1930s sluggers? Simply put, Carter was the premier catcher of his generation, a clutch performer who had more hits than Bench (2,048) and who trailed his hallowed predecessor in other key categories by slim margins. (Bench had 389 home runs, 1,376 RBIs and a .267 average.)
I have listened to voters talk enthusiastically about Carlton Fisk, who will be eligible for the Hall next year in a blockbuster class that will include Nolan Ryan, George Brett and Robin Yount. Fisk's candidacy is enhanced by a tip-of-the-tongue record: most career home runs by a catcher. But Carter was the better player. He had more 20-home-run seasons (9-8), more 90-RBI seasons (5-2) and more Gold Gloves (3-1).
Hall of Fame careers are made in a player's prime, not in an extended twilight. In the 10 years from 1977 to '86, Carter hit .274, averaged 25 home runs and 89 RBIs and played in 92% of his teams' games, an astounding rate of durability for a catcher. In a nearly concurrent prime (1976 to '85), Fisk hit .272, averaged 20 home runs and 70 RBIs and played in 83% of his teams' games.
Moreover, Carter was named to 11 All-Star teams, caught more National League games than anyone else, holds six league fielding records, was an extraordinary team leader and played with unfailing dignity and enthusiasm. Even at the close of his career, when you could almost hear his worn knees creaking like rusty hinges, those who knew him best still called him Kid, the nickname he acquired early in his career because of his boyish love for the game.
Catching is a unique job that demands its own measuring stick. Eleven catchers have been enshrined. Carter had more hits than all of them except Yogi Berra, whom he trailed by only 58. Kid belongs in Cooperstown.
Five for the Future
Lost amid the debate over the final college football rankings were the bowl performances of a new wave of talent. SI's Ivan Maisel picks five players to watch next fall.
. The sophomore quarterback threw for 274 yards and a touchdown and ran for 82 yards and two more scores in a 35-30 Carquest Bowl victory over West Virginia. Hamilton could always run, but in the second half of the season he began to master the prostyle attack that offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen brought this year from the San Diego Chargers. Hamilton takes a streak of 151 passes without an interception into next season.
. The sophomore wide receiver caught seven passes for 111 yards and three touchdowns in the Golden Eagles' 41—7 victory over Pittsburgh in the Liberty Bowl. Gideon and sophomore quarterback Lee Roberts helped lead Southern Miss (9-3) to a No. 19 ranking, its highest ever.
. The erstwhile third-string tailback stepped in during the season when Kevin Faulk and Cecil Collins were felled by injuries, to rush for 664 yards and seven touchdowns. When Faulk got hurt again in the first quarter of the Tigers' 27-9 Independence Bowl defeat of Notre Dame, Mealey, a 203-pound sophomore, took over, running for 222 yards and two touchdowns. If Faulk, as expected, forgoes his senior season to play in the NFL, LSU won't lose a step.