Card Corner–Rico Carty
If not for a multitude of injuries and illnesses, Rico Carty might today be a famed member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Even without recognition in Cooperstown, Carty remains one of the most fascinating athletes of the late 20th century.
Prior to becoming a professional ballplayer, the well-built Carty starred as a boxer. Although the two sports require far different skills, Carty found common ground in one area: his ability to hit. He hit live pitching with the same ferocity that he hit live opponents in the ring. By the mid-1960s, his decision to turn to baseball seemed justified, as his minor league batting prowess earned him a promotion to the Milwaukee Braves. After moving with the franchise to Atlanta, Carty continued to build his reputation as one of the National League’s most feared hitters, combining the ability to bat for average and power, while rarely striking out. A number of scouts, coaches, and managers described Carty as the best two-strike hitter of his era.
Still, there were setbacks. One year, Carty hurt his back, forcing him to miss half of the season. In another year, Carty contracted tuberculosis, sapping him of much of his strength and rendering him unavailable for much of the season.
In 1970, a healthy Carty reached the peak of his playing career when he led the National League with a thunderous .366 batting average and a .456 on-base percentage. He had also hit for power, accumulating career highs with 25 home runs and 101 RBIs. Then, during the offseason, Carty’s career came to a crossroads. During a winter league game, he collided with fellow Dominican outfielder Matty Alou. The incident resulted in a crushed kneecap, which forced Carty to the sidelines for the entire 1971 season. He returned to the active roster the following season, but found himself hamstrung by a pulled muscle in his leg.
The injuries to Carty represented only part of the problem. Carty’s personality sometime put him in conflict with teammates and managers. During his years with the Braves, Carty brawled with six-foot, six-inch right-hander Ron Reed in one incident and with the team’s best player, Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, in another. Carty’s continuing problems with Aaron eventually influenced his trade to the Texas Rangers after the 1972 season. While in Texas, Carty sparred with manager Whitey Herzog, which resulted in his mid-season departure. The Rangers traded him back to the National League, this time sending him to the Chicago Cubs. Carty proceeded to butt heads with another popular star player, Ron Santo, one of the Cubs’ senior veterans and most prominent clubhouse leaders. Within a few weeks, the Cubs traded him back to the American League, where he landed with the Oakland A’s. Upon his arrival in Oakland, Carty pointed the finger at Santo, labeling him a selfish player. Carty bitterly predicted the Cubs would never win a division title or league pennant until they ridded themselves of their longtime third baseman. Although Carty’s criticism likely had little to do with it, the Cubs traded Santo to the cross-town White Sox after the season.
Carty could make controversy with the best of them, but he was colorful in a good way, too. He proudly called himself the "Beeg Boy," using his heavy Spanish accent to change the pronunciation of the word "Big." He also brandished a distinct style at the plate. Unlike many hitters who step out of the batter’s box and tug at their uniforms between pitches, Carty stood firmly planted in the batter’s box throughout each bat. He remained virtually motionless, all the while glaring at the opposing pitcher. Given his enormous hitting talents, Carty’s stance and stare only made him more intimidating to rival hurlers.
When healthy, Carty made pitchers very nervous. After a stint in the Mexican League, Carty found himself a new major league home with the Cleveland Indians. He revived his career in the Midwest, making himself one of the American League’s most productive designated hitters. The DH rule allowed Carty, even with his chronic knee problems, to continue his career until 1980.
In many ways, Carty’s splendid hitting skills and off-the-field histrionics overshadowed his intelligence. After his playing days, he became a political figure in his native Dominican Republic. In May of 1994, was elected mayor of his hometown, San Pedro de Macoris and was scheduled to be sworn in mid-August. political machinations then wreaked havoc on Carty’s career. On August 2, a recount gave the mayoral job to Carty’s principal opponent
If Carty had won, he had planned to repair many of the city’s streets and step up efforts to fight pollution in San Pedro de Macoris. He also wanted to ask the United States for help in bringing equipment—specifically bats and baseballs—to the Dominican Republic. Although Carty’s political desires were grounded, he still managed to earn the honorary rank of General in the Dominican army.