SAN DIEGO -- For the people feeding the baseball monster in Baltimore, there is this lesson to understand about the Blue Jays' Joe Carter: Just because he plays for the bad guys does not mean he is a bad guy.
Does the phrase "human soda fizz" mean anything to you?
This is a man who wakes up bubbling and never seems to stop. He did not even stop bubbling after six seasons and 541 losses in Cleveland.
"Hey, I go all the way back to 1980 with him, when we were teammates in Boulder [Colo.], and he was the same way then," said the Padres' Tony Gwynn before the All-Star Game last night. "He bounces off the walls. That's just the way he is. In Cleveland. Anywhere. He's upbeat. Whether he gets no hits or four hits, he always smiles."
Cynics will note that Carter, 32, has reason to smile. He plays baseball for a living, which beats carrying a hod, and has signed contracts worth more than $15 million, with another free agency scheduled after this season. No one would agree more than Carter.
"Once you lose your perspective, it's time to get out," said Carter, who has led the majors in home runs since 1986 and who has 819 career RBI. "I like to think I've still got a grip on it. I'm an adult playing baseball. It sure beats a lot of other jobs. That's what I say about Cleveland. It wasn't bad at all. I was still playing major-league baseball."
He stopped an interview Monday so he could collect autographs of Hall of Famers playing in an old-timers' game. He was the only current All-Star on the field. "I got in big trouble last year because I showed up at home without these," he said, fingering a ball. "My kids would have killed me if I hadn't gotten them this time."
On just about any day, he will be among the first players in the clubhouse, his deep voice and big laugh filling the room. "It's a nice thing to have on a team during the long season, a personality like that," said Gwynn, who played with Carter in San Diego in 1990, after the Indians traded him. "Of course, they probably don't need it as much in Toronto as they did in Cleveland, or here in San Diego. You never need it as much when you're winning."
Winning is indeed something Carter finally is doing in Toronto, where the Padres sent him in 1991 in the mondo-trade involving three other All-Stars. And with that winning has come the recognition he never got before. He was not elected or named to the All-Star team until last season. "Better late than never," said Carter, who was named to the starting lineup this season.
Said Gwynn: "Who can say why some players get recognized and others don't? He was putting up great numbers all along, but I guess if you play a lot of seasons in Cleveland and San Diego you can kind of get lost in the shuffle. The trade to Toronto was the best thing that's happened to him, that's for sure."
How does he see the AL East race? "We didn't really put things together in the first half and we're still four games up, which is great," he said, "but Baltimore has a lot of pitching and the Brewers are hanging in. We've got a good team, but we have to play better."
Spoken with a smile.