With his new outfielder in the lineup almost every day, McKeon is not likely to be confronted by the Carters' family-first credo; in the past, though, the family has been known to keep a close watch on dugout proceedings. In '83, Carter's first year with the Cubs, he wasn't seeing much action. Enter his dad. "Hell, yeah," says Joe Sr., still indignant. "I called [Cub G.M.] Dallas Green. And he wouldn't return my calls. He knew what I was calling about!" Such parental concern is nothing new. When Carter enrolled at Wichita State, Joe Sr. didn't wait long before he called up the baseball coach to discuss his son's lack of playing time. Immediately, Carter got his chance in a three-day, five-game series against Texas Tech and hit .438 with five home runs. "I played every game after that," says Joe Jr.
Through most of his youth, Carter didn't require much meddling. He was one of those kids who was good at every sport he tried. At Millwood High School, Carter was a star quarterback, pitcher, basketball forward and, in his spare moments, a track champ. As Oklahoma City legend has it, the Millwood track coach noticed Joe in the stands during the state regional meet and asked if he would like to try the long jump. Carter went below the stands, exchanged clothes with a runner whose event was over, and won the event. A week later, still jumping off the wrong foot, he won the state championship.
The greater glory, however, was in baseball. And despite his major in accounting at Wichita State, Carter doesn't measure the game in terms of the bottom line alone. Carter likes being paid—Peters will tell you that. But the money is useful only to the extent that he can spend it on his family. His lone extravagance, other than his house in Leawood, has been to buy an arcade-sized Nintendo game (his road trips are enlivened by a smaller video outfit he hooks up to hotel TVs). The Carters also practice simple economies; Diana still clips coupons for the grocery store.
The role of family provider comes easily to Carter; his father says it was always so. When Joe Jr. was nine years old, he worked at his father's Conoco service station, where he hauled a five-gallon bucket around to stand on while he washed windshields. And the money he earned? His sisters used him for a bank, hitting him up every day for lunch money. He didn't mind.
Joe Sr. eventually sold the gas station and began driving big rigs for Conoco; when Joe Jr. was in college, Joe Sr. worked on Sunday, washing and greasing the trucks, but he signed the checks over to his son. Joe Jr. has inherited that easy touch. Before Christmas he took those 40 nieces and nephews shopping. "One-hundred-dollar bikes, whatever," says his father. Three weeks ago, Carter presented his parents with a certain dollar figure and asked them if they could retire on that amount. "Athelene was at AT&T 24 years, and I was at Conoco for 20." says Joe Sr. "And he went and bought his mother a Town Car and me a bass boat and retired us, just like that."
A sweet tale. Just don't try to tell it to the fans in Cleveland.