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BASEBALL 1993 : Thrill of Victory Worth It to Carter

April 04, 1993|BOB NIGHTENGALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was only a few years ago, Joe Carter will tell you, when no one wanted to play in Toronto. Too cold. Too far. Too expensive. Too much standing in line for customs.

"It was nothing against the city," Carter said, "but nobody wanted to play there. I hated the place. I'd always say, 'Trade me to Cleveland, but don't ever send me to Toronto or Montreal.'

"When I first got traded there, I told myself I was leaving the first chance I got."

But winning can change one's perspective.

Carter, who lives in a luxurious home in a Kansas City suburb, a few miles away from where his wife grew up, had the opportunity to play for his hometown team this winter. He became a free agent and was offered a $10-million signing bonus and a guaranteed contract for four years.

"Two years ago, I would have jumped at it," Carter said.

To the surprise of the Royals, and most of his own family, Carter chose to stay in Toronto, playing for less than Kansas City offered.

"There's just something about winning," Carter said. "I never played for a winner before and have never been in a first-class organization like Toronto. I wasn't going to let it go."

The Blue Jays, after winning their first World Series championship, should be back once again. Here is a look at the teams in the order of projected finish:

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

1992 finish: 96-66, first place.

Outlook: The Blue Jays might have assured themselves a rematch with the Atlanta Braves in the World Series when they scooped up underrated outfielder Darrin Jackson from the San Diego Padres. Jackson, who hit 38 homers over the last two years, will provide excellent defense in left field and offers protection for the middle of the order by batting sixth. The Blue Jays lost starting pitcher Jimmy Key, bullpen stopper Tom Henke and designated hitter Dave Winfield to free agency, but picked up free-agent DH Paul Molitor, pitcher Dave Stewart and shortstop Dick Schofield. Their biggest fear is the left side of the infield. They were happy to dump third baseman Kelly Gruber to the Angels and had no interest in keeping free agent shortstop Manuel Lee, but never adequately replaced them. They are going with part-time catcher Ed Sprague at third base and will use Schofield at shortstop, hoping he can fill in until highly touted prospect Alex Gonzales is ready. The Toronto pitching could pose a problem if veterans Jack Morris and Stewart crumble. Although they have a combined 383 victories and seven 20-victory seasons, both are on the downside of their careers.

New faces: Designated hitter Molitor, outfielder Jackson, pitcher Stewart, infielders Schofield, Darnell Coles and Luis Sojo.

Must have: Early permission to print playoff tickets.

Don't have: Any way to avoid the long lines at customs.

NEW YORK YANKEES

1992 finish: 76-86, tied for fourth.

Outlook: Yankee fans rose as one the night of July 30, 1990, erupting into a thunderous standing ovation when the news arrived that principal owner George Steinbrenner would receive a "lifetime suspension" for his involvement with gambler Howard Spira. The Yankees didn't have a winning season in Steinbrenner's absence. It was no secret Steinbrenner was lurking during the winter meetings, in which New York signed free agent pitcher Jimmy Key and third baseman Wade Boggs and acquired starter Jim Abbott from the Angels. The Yankees are expected to climb into contention for the first time since 1986, and if they falter, General Manager Gene Michaels and Manager Buck Showalter could be next on Steinbrenner's firing line. The starting rotation of Melido Perez, Key, Abbott, Bob Wickman and Sam Militello will be formidable, and the return of Steve Howe will help the bullpen. The Yankees were 58-74 after Howe's suspension in June last season, and the bullpen yielded a league-high 4.68 earned-run average during the second half of the season. The revolving door continues at shortstop, with Spike Owen becoming the 25th starter for the Yankees since the Orioles' Cal Ripken began his consecutive game streak.

New faces: Principal owner Steinbrenner, pitchers Abbott and Key, infielders Boggs and Owen, outfielder Paul O'Neill.

Must have: Right fielder Danny Tartabull stay healthy for a full season.

Don't have: Another commissioner willing to suspend Steinbrenner.

BOSTON RED SOX

1992 finish: 73-89, seventh place.

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