CLEVELAND -- From where he stands, Joe Carter has heard the jeers. He has watched entire sections of Camden Yards rise in mock appreciation of him doing something simple, shagging a fly ball. At 38, likely in his last season and possibly five years removed from serious Hall of Fame consideration, Carter is too old for this kind of stuff.
At the same time, he's past excuses.
Thrust into the uncomfortable role of semi-regular right fielder while Brady Anderson recuperates from a strained right shoulder, Carter admits he has experienced much in his short exposure to the outfield.
"I know it hasn't been what I would want it to be," Carter said. "I've had some difficult days out there. I've got no excuses."
Carter arrived as a $3.3 million free agent in December. The Orioles told him he would serve primarily as a designated hitter and act as insurance in case Eric Davis' recovery from colon cancer reached a roadblock. Instead, Anderson went down with an injury, leaving Jeffrey Hammonds and Davis to play some center field and Carter to make more regular appearances in right.
A year ago, Carter worked primarily in left field for the Toronto Blue Jays. He worked mostly on an artificial surface within a domed stadium. Now he finds himself guarding a different corner on a different surface on legs a year older.
"The outfield is the outfield. If you can play one of the positions, you should be able to play the other two if need be," Carter said. "Using any of that would be excuse-making. I've played outfield my entire career. It doesn't make that much difference going from left to right. It's not like moving from the outfield to second base or shortstop. That would be an adjustment."
Tied for the team lead in errors with second baseman Roberto Alomar at three, Carter has taken bad angles on balls and suffered poor jumps on several others hit at him. Coincidentally, most of his misplays have occurred at home.
Manager Ray Miller notes Carter's chronic quadriceps pull as being responsible for his limited range. He also notes the reality of a player asked to do more than originally intended.
"He wasn't brought here to play right field every day, to be honest," Miller said. "But he's also been one of the most consistent bats we've got."
Carter, who did not play last night, is hitting .309 with 10 RBIs in 97 at-bats. He has often served as offensive protection for first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, off to a strong start. Yet at times Carter appears haunted by the ghost of his predecessor at the position, Geronimo Berroa.
"There's an adjustment involved when you're not out there every day," Carter said. "You take balls before the game. You plays balls off the bat during batting practice. It's not the same, but you try to make it close."
Carter does offer one defense. Compared to most American League ballparks, Camden Yards offers a low-slung background that makes it difficult for an outfielder to pick up the ball. Right field is also Camden Yards' sun field.
"I've gotten some poor jumps on balls simply because I couldn't pick it up. Once it's up, it's usually too late. Once you've lost it, it's hard to catch up," he said.
Carter made three errors in 51 games in the outfield last season compared with seven in 115 games there in 1996. He has never been an elegant fielder but did manage double-digit assists in three consecutive seasons (1990 to '92).
"I know it hasn't exactly looked good sometimes out there. I expect more of myself," he said.
Pub Date: 5/07/98