For Carter, new team means new hope Toronto seeks leader on field, in clubhouse


DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Since 1984, when his original team, the Chicago Cubs, swapped him to Cleveland, Joe Carter, one of baseball's most reliable run producers, has been traded three times.

So, he wasn't overly surprised last December at the blockbuster deal that brought him to the revamped Toronto Blue Jays with second baseman Roberto Alomar.

"I was never upset about being traded to Toronto," he said. "The only thing that bothered me about San Diego was giving up free agency to sign a three-year contract with them.

"It turned out to be one year, and I felt slighted in that regard. But anybody who knows the game would be a fool not to want to play with this team."

Blue Jays vice president Pat Gillick finally gave up on the George Bell-Tony Fernandez-Fred McGriff nucleus that failed to land the franchise in a World Series.

He is starting anew with Carter at the forefront on a team that he says "is the best I've been on as far as having the key ingredients."

Carter, who has spent most of his major-league career in the baseball muck of the Indians, now can see the possibility of a division title.

The Blue Jays think Carter will be a major influence, not only in the field but also in a clubhouse that too often was ripped apart by factions.

"We can't live in the past," said Carter. "Those guys are gone, and what happened won't change. We're not worried about that. The idea is try to be happy and have fun.

"As far as leading is concerned, it's something you do on the field. Being out there every single day and what you do at crunch time are what matters."

Carter, 31, has knocked in 100 or more runs in four of the past five seasons. In the other year, his total was 98 RBI. Since 1986, he has averaged 29 homers and 109 RBI.

Carter will have to approach those numbers if the Blue Jays are to contend, since Bell, McGriff and Fernandez combined for 240 RBI in 1990.

"It'll help to know a lot of the parks and players," Carter said. "I was new over in the National League. Hopefully, my job will be easier here.

"I like the idea of playing in the SkyDome. You see the ball well, and you don't have to worry about being cold or rained on. It's probably the nicest place to play."

Carter is a better outfielder than Bell, who complained about not being used on defense. And Carter is durable, having played 341 successive games, second only to Cal Ripken's among current streaks.

"My goal is to play 162 games and just let it fall into place," Carter said.

Carter never has made an All-Star team. A new team, an old league and the promise of a World Series might make this the breakthrough season.

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