#32: Rico Carty

See the 44 Greatest Atlanta Braves here.

Rico Carty.jpgRighthanded Hitting, Righthanded Throwing Outfielder
Seasons With Braves: 1963-1967; 1969-1970; 1972
Stats With Braves: .317/.388/.496, 109 HR, 451 RBI, 385 RS

The three highest career offensive winning percentages by an Atlanta Brave:

Hank Aaron .723
Chipper Jones .685 (Through 2005)
Rico Carty .662

In OPS, Carty falls behind McGriff and Klesko, but you get the idea — he was one of the most talented hitters to ever wear an Atlanta uniform. Frankly, I was surprised at how good of an all-around hitter Carty was; I had somehow gotten the idea that he was largely a hitter for high averages with a little power, but he had better power than I expected and would take a walk. Of course, he had to walk — he couldn’t run. It’s easy to see how Rico could have had a Hall of Fame career. He didn’t have to have better big years, he just needed to have full years and not miss them.

He doesn’t rank higher because of the same reason — devastating hitter that he was, the Beeg Boy simply didn’t play enough games in a Braves uniform, playing just about five seasons’ worth of games between eight seasons over ten years. When he was in uniform, he was impressive: his most-similar hitter after his last year as a Brave, at Age 32, is Edgar Martinez. Also, he really had no defensive value: he was mostly a left fielder and usually a very poor one, though when healthy he usually managed to wrestle the position to the draw. And he couldn’t run at all; he was caught stealing more often than he was successful and had 17 career triples, a low total for his era.

But he could hit. Everyone knew it — he signed contracts with ten different teams before MLB decided that he was Braves property. Originally a catcher, the Braves quickly figured out that wouldn’t work. Carty was sent to the outfield, about which see above: his natural position of DH hadn’t yet been invented, and for some reason teams at that time were more likely to put their sluggardly sluggers in left than at first. He had to spend three years at A-ball after signing at age 20 — or “20”, there may be some give in that age (that picture is from his Milwaukee days and he already looks about 35) — and a year at AA and AAA at age 23, with a brief callup for two games. He was up full-time in 1964, and finished second in the Rookie of the Year balloting. He hit .330/.388/.554, second in the league in average and fourth in OBP and SLG, but had the misfortune of running into Richie Allen, who had one of the best rookie years of all time. Actually, he outhit Allen per AB but Allen played a lot more — sensing a trend here?

Carty missed about half of the Braves’ last year in Milwaukee but hit .310/.355/.494 when he was in the lineup. His power slumped in his first year in Atlanta, which is weird, but he still hit .326, third in the league. 1967 was his first bad season, and then he missed all of 1968 with tuberculosis, which is the sort of thing that happened to him. On the other hand, if you were a hitter, 1968 was the year to miss.

Carty came back strong; though he was limited to 104 games in 1969 he hit .342/.401/.549; the batting average would have been good for third in the league. In 1970, he was even better, finally winning the batting title and the on-base title by hitting .366/.454/.584, making his only All-Star team. And then he broke his knee in winter ball and missed the entire 1971 season.

The Beeg Mon, as he was by this time, hit .277/.378/.402 in 86 games in 1972 and would seem to have been on his way back again, but the Braves traded him to the Rangers for something called a “Jim Panther”. He was passed around the AL that year, then landed in Cleveland, where he was solid, playing DH as God intended. He hit a career high 31 HR for the A’s and Jays in 1978, then wrapped up his career in Toronto in 1979.

Rico Carty Statistics – Baseball-Reference.com

12 thoughts on “#32: Rico Carty”

  1. Have extremely vague memories of Carty’s playing days in Atlanta, although I do recall thinking (even as an 8-year-old) that trading him for Jim Panther was stupid. In Columbus, we only got the occasional game on TV in the pre-WTCG era.

    I have a friend who was a Braves fan from their Atlanta arrival in 1966 until the early 1970s when he lost interest. He says that Carty, more than any other Brave in that era, was the fan favorite. (Aaron, he said, was very sullen and much of that is explained in his book, “I Had a Hammer.”) Carty’d smile & wave at people in the stands and could scorch line drives all over the yard. He said Carty looked like he was having a ball out there. And yes, he said he was slow as Xmas, had a wet-noodle arm & “needed a map and a flashlight” to play the outfield.

    Wish I’d seen him more to appreciate him (and Clete Boyer, too—thanks for that post). Really, aside from the numbers on the page, all I know about Carty are his 1964 and 1969 APBA cards—and, of course, they’re pretty devastating.

  2. Carty was a masher’s masher. He just hit the absolute crap out of the ball.

    The unfortunate thing about him was the injurybug, and they weren’t routine. Mac already mentioned the tuberculosis, but he missed a bunch of games because he was trying to fix a car in the offseason and the radiator blew up and scalded him. Stuff like that was routine: he was cursed. I think a lot of the defensive rap on him was due to the fact that he was basically held together with baling wire and chewing gum.

    And yes, an absolute fan favorite.

  3. I Had a Hammer is one of my favorite books of all time, right up there with Lord of the Rings. From ages 8 to 12, I probably read both of those at least once a year.

  4. I didn’t realize what a good hitter Carty was. Wow. I was a kid about 11 or 12 when I first started casually following the Braves. I always got the impression that Carty was an old washed up guy hanging around based on 1 or 2 good years. I do remember reading about how the DH rule had extended the careers of several hitters in Sports Illustrated. Rico Carty was prominent in the article.

  5. Carty could mash, and was an atrocious outfielder. I seem to recall he had one of those thick body types, with massive thighs. I also think there was some tension between Carty and Aaron. Interesting character.

  6. RC’s closest match on Similarity Score is Pedro Guerrero. This seems fitting; two players well-known for being able to flat-out hit but not stay on the field. It’s not an era-tainted similarity, either. Their OPS+s are quite close. (137 for PG and 132 for RC)

  7. Guerrero could run a bit when he was younger, before he blew out his knee. But it’s a fair comp. Richie Zisk, third on the list, is a pretty good match too.

    I believe that Aaron believed that Carty was undignified, a clown. The relationship bears some similarity to the sometimes strained relationship between Robinson and Campanella.

  8. Oh, the BEEG BOY! Mac is correct, Hank just didn’t really like Rico, but man the fans loved him!! The most famous story about Rico is that he always played with a big bulg in his pocket, because he had his wallet in his back pocket—I’ve read this too many times, not to be somewhat true. I remember thinking in ’68 gee Rico will never be back, but he came back and back some more, fantastic hitter!!

  9. Carty was such a good hitter. He had great power but didn’t hit a huge number of homeruns because he hit such hard line drives. But I remember a game at old Forbes Field in Pittsburg. It was 457 feet to centerfield and this was pre-steroid/juiced ball era where guys didn’t routinely hit home runs to center, especially in Forbes Field. Rico hit a ball that I think is still going over the centerfield fence. The game was actually on national TV and Curt Gowdy went crazy because you just didn’t see many balls hit like that in those days. What a hitter!

  10. Carty took a very intelligent approach to hitting. He looked to drive the ball until he had two strikes. With two strikes he choked up an inch or so on the bat (can you imagine any power hitter doing that today?) and tried to hit the ball where it was pitched for a base hit. (therefore the high BA).
    I always thought this was a great approach, but I’ve rarely seen it copied.

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