Obituary: Chuck Carr (1967-2022)

RIP to Chuck Carr, who led the National League in stolen bases in 1993 as a popular member of the expansion Marlins. Several friends and family members have posted on social media that Carr died on November 12 at the age of 55 after battling cancer. Carr played for the New York Mets (1990-91), St. Louis Cardinals (1992), Florida Marlins (1993-85), Milwaukee Brewers (1996-97) and Houston Astros (1997).

Charles Lee Glenn Carr Jr. was born in San Bernardino, Calif., on August 10, 1967. He was part of a good Fontana High School Steelers baseball team, along with future major-leaguer Greg Colbrunn. Fohi, as the team was called, surprised many people by reaching the finals of the CIF 4A baseball championship in 1986. The 18-7 team knocked off several favored programs before losing the title game, which was played in Dodger Stadium. It was Carr’s first experience of playing in a major-league ballpark, but he didn’t let the moment rattle him. “As soon as the ump says, ‘Play ball,’ you’ve gotta blank everything out and just pretend like it’s your home field.” he said.

Carr, a switch-hitting center fielder, was known for outstanding defense and great speed in high school. He stole 15 bases in his senior year without getting caught, and he also hit .352 and was named to the third-team All-Southern Section Team. When he graduated in 1986, he was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the Ninth Round of the June Amateur Draft. The Reds loved his speed and defense more than his hitting, but they were intent on turning him into an infielder. In his one season in the Reds organization, Carr played second base for the Reds’ Gulf Coast League team. He fielded fairly well for a new infielder — a .941 fielding percentage — but he hit just .171 and was released after the season.

Carr signed with the Seattle Mariners in June of 1987. The team initially tried him out as an infielder, but he eventually found himself back in the outfield, where he spent the rest of his professional career. His batting average took a while to catch up to the rest of his skills, but he worked to become a good hitter. Carr was a Midwest League All-Star in 1988 after batting .299 with 21 RBIs and 34 stolen bases in the first half of the season. He was promoted to Vermont of the Double-A Eastern League later that season and finished the year with a .281 batting average, 62 stolen bases and 7 home runs. That November, he was traded to the New York Mets, already the third organization of his career. Why did Seattle trade him? One of the other outfielders Vermont had that season was another young, exciting center fielder named Ken Griffey Jr. “I was expecting it,” Carr later said about the trade. “I knew they had their heart set on Griffey.”

The Mets gave Carr a couple of very brief stays in the major leagues. He started the 1990 season by hitting over .300 in his first 14 games with Double-A Jackson. He was brought to the majors on April 25 while pitcher Jeff Innis was sent to the Triple-A Tidewater Tides. Carr appeared in only one game, striking out against Houston’s Juan Agosto as a pinch-hitter on April 28. He was sent back to Jackson days later after the Mets acquired veteran outfielder Daryl Boston from the White Sox. The speedy outfielder was brought back to the Mets for a few games in late August of that year. He struck out in his only at-bat and stole his first major-league base off San Diego’s excellent catcher, Benito Santiago. While in the minors in 1990, Carr stole a total of 54 bases — 6 for Tidewater and 48 for Jackson. He also batted .258. The 1991 season was much the same, as Carr was bounced between New York and Tidewater. He spent parts of the season laid up with hamstring injuries and hit .182 for the Mets and .195 with the Tides. Carr got his first major-league hit on August 16, 1991. He singled off Pittsburgh reliever Bob Kipper. He picked up his first big-league RBI with a base hit off the Braves’ Tom Glavine in his first career start on August 28. Unfortunately, Carr also misjudged a fly ball in center field that let two runs score, and he hurt his hamstring trying to chase the ball down and had to be helped off the field. He was placed on the disabled list and had just one more at-bat with the Mets over the rest of the season.

Carr leaps high to make a catch. Source: South Florida Sun Sentinel, August 29, 1993.

Carr was traded to the Cardinals in December 1991, in exchange for minor-league pitcher Clyde Keller. He worked with minor-league coach Johnny Lewis to improve his hitting, and he started hitting the ball with more authority. He languished in Double-A Arkansas because the organization had a wealth of outfield talent in the system. He finally caught a break when injuries in St. Louis created room for him in Triple-A Louisville. He batted a combined .297 in the minors with 61 stolen bases, bringing back some memories of another great Cardinals speedster, Vince Coleman. (One of Carr’s brief opportunities with the Mets came about because of an injury to Coleman, in fact.) The Cardinals gave Carr a promotion in September of 1992, and he started in the outfield to close out the season. He stole a base in each of his first four starts, and he hit over .300 for a time. However, Carr’s average dropped as he started to hit more fly balls than grounders, and he ended the year with a .219 average in 22 games, with 10 stolen bases and 8 runs scored.

Carr was left unprotected in the expansion draft that brought the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies into the league, and he was drafted by Florida. Dan O’Neill, writing for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, pointed out that Carr’s athleticism and disruptive speed were intriguing, but he said that the outfielder was known for missing too many games when he was injured. “At one point last season, the Louisville team called a clubhouse meeting in which two players — one of them [Brian] Jordan — chastised Carr for not being in the lineup.”

Carr would have been the Marlins’ starting center fielder in 1993, but he rubbed manager Rene Lachemann the wrong way, and Scott Pose was given the job. Carr took over center field and the leadoff spot after about two weeks, and before the 1993 season was over, he had won over the hearts of the new Marlins fans. In a vote held by the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Car was voted the team’s most popular player — by a landslide. For one, his defense in the outfield was stellar. He ran down fly balls that nobody else could catch and dove with disregard for his own health — he injured a ribcage muscle that way and ended up on the DL, in fact. He also had a throwing arm that was powerful if not always accurate. Then there was his speed — he led the National League in both stolen bases (58) and caught stealing (22). In his first opportunity to play regularly, Carr turned in a .267/.327/.330 slash line, with 147 hits and 75 runs scored. He hit 4 home runs that year, and his first career homer was a grand slam against the Montreal Expos pitcher Chris Nabholz on May 12. He finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting, which went to Mike Piazza of the Dodgers.

Carr was a larger-than-life character, and stories about him made the rounds. Like the time he was called out on a double play in Chicago and immediately looked at the umpire and pointed at his eyes. “If you are blinded by the speed, don’t make the call,” he said. Or the time he was so distracted by the appearance of a skunk during a game in California that teammate Orestes Destrade grabbed his ankle and scared him half to death. “I didn’t even know they had skunks in California,” Carr said. “I thought skunks were only from Wisconsin.” Or the leather jacket he liked to wear that had a picture of a bare-chested Carr painted on the back. He wore it as a joke and to keep the clubhouse mood light; his teammates didn’t always get that about him.

His fielding was sensational enough that many on the team felt that he was a Gold Glove candidate. “He can make a highlight show that lasts two hours,” Destrade noted. Pittsburgh’s Andy Van Slyke explained why Carr’s flashy play in the outfield worked against him, though. “Chuck Carr obviously covers as much ground defensively as anyone in the league,” he said. “But…coaches like guys who don’t draw extra attention to themselves. Chuck gives them reasons not to vote for him. His whole package tends to offend.”

Even in the year 1993, players were expected to “play the game the right way,” or “don’t act as if you’re having fun,” if you prefer. Carr’s flashiness would fit in well with today’s players, where bat flips and fist pumps are more common. But nearly 30 years ago, Carr was a hot dog, and hot dogs were disliked by much of the establishment. Lachemann, who had his frustrating moments with Carr from time to time, came around. He said that Carr was the best center fielder he had ever had. And as the above-mentioned poll showed, the Marlins fans loved him. The outfielder was happy to find out he won, too.

“I’m glad I can go out there and excite people. I think a lot of people like me because I’m down to Earth. I want people to know me for me,” he said. As much as he was seen smiling during a game, it didn’t mean his life was care-free. For instance, he and wife Candace had gone through seven pregnancies before finally having a child who survived, son Sheldon. The couple also had another child, Aeron.

Carr played in a career-high 142 games in 1993. He would reach just over 100 in each of his next two seasons with the Marlins, as injuries and uneven play cut into his playing time, as did the player’s strike of 1994. Carr stole 32 bases in ’94, with a .263 average but only a .305 on-base percentage. He had an embarrassing moment against Colorado on July 25. He caught a fly ball with two runners on base and, thinking it was the third out, started trotting off the field. The problem was that it was only the second out of the inning, and before Carr realized it, two runs had scored. Carr redeemed himself by drawing a ninth-inning walk and becoming such a distraction at first base that reliever Willie Blair grooved a pitch to Gary Sheffield, who blasted a game-winning home run. “It was a little bit embarrassing, but it wasn’t like it was the ultimate embarrassment,” Carr said after the game. “I got the last laugh when I got on base, My mental error didn’t make any difference then. Now, who is laughing?”

Carr crashes to the ground after badly injuring his knee running down a fly ball. Source: The Daily Tribune (Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.), May 31, 1996.

Rockies manager Don Baylor was less than amused. “He had been asleep all day. He suddenly becomes a distraction on the basepaths… Leave it up to Carr, he goes from being the goat to on the winning side.”

The Marlins brought in a new hitting coach, Jose Morales, in 1995, and he wanted to turn Carr into a Kenny Lofton-type hitter. However, the outfielder’s batting average dipped to .227, and he stole just 25 bases in 105 games. He temporarily gave up switch-hitting and batted strictly right-handed, but his poor hitting led him to becoming a defensive replacement and pinch-runner. In spite of the down year offensively, he reach career highs with 20 doubles and 46 bases on balls. He struggled with off-field issues that included a divorce and his father’s battle with a tumor in his head. He also had to deal with the fact that his team tried to replace him by courting free agent Marquis Grissom, and he had some past history with some of his new teammates. When new Marlins third baseman Terry Pendleton spoke to the media in April, he was asked about Carr, a former teammate from the Cardinals. “Do we have to talk about Chuck Carr here? I heard a couple of comments from Chuck Carr when he was in the St. Louis organization that I don’t think anybody in the St. Louis organization appreciated. But I guess that’s Chuck Carr.”

Despite the turmoil, and despite the fact that he lost his starting center field job to Jesus Tavarez, Carr didn’t lose his smile. He left the Marlins as a free agent after the season but didn’t seem to hold any bitter feelings. “This was a frustrating year,” he said, adding, “I’m happy about the way I’ve played, especially since I’ve been hitting right-handed. I’m happy and content. It’s always good to leave on a good note.”

Florida traded Carr to the Milwaukee Brewers, who were excited to have his speed. Carr was excited to be there, too. “It was time to fill up the car with gas and make a move,” he said about the trade. When asked about the change in temperature from Miami to Milwaukee, he added, “I’ll just have to fill up this car with antifreeze to make sure it’s running right.” For the first two months of the season, Carr played like an elite sports car. In his first game with the Brewers, he had 4 hits in 5 at-bats, including a double and a home run, and he drove in 3 runs in a 15-9 win over the California Angels. Through his first 27 games, Carr slashed .274/.310/.377 and played excellent defense. On May 30, he made a sensational leaping catch of a line drove off the bat of Cleveland’s Julio Franco. He tumbled immediately after landing and had to leave the game with a hyperextended knee. He was hospitalized and underwent season-ending reconstructive knee surgery. He had jumped so high that when he landed, the knee bent backward, and he tore his anterior cruciate ligament, his lateral collateral ligament, his knee capsule and his hamstring. It was such a gruesome injury that Brewers trainer John Adam said that you normally only see it in football or car accidents.

In spite of the serious surgery, Carr reported to spring training in 1997, stating that his knee was as good as new that he was as fast as ever. “I’ve always been a fast healer,” he said. However, the road back to baseball was more difficult than he expected. He had resumed switch-hitting, but the knee injury may have affected his left-handed swing. He started off batting well under .100 for Milwaukee and ended up on the bench. He brought his batting average up to .130, but his time with the Brewers ended on May 16, 1997. During the game, he was given the take sign on a 2-0 pitch. Carr ignored it, swung at the next pitch, and popped out. When questioned about it by Brewers manager Phil Garner, he said, “That ain’t Chuckie’s game. Chuckie hacks on 2-0.” Carr was sent to the minors the next day, refused the assignment and was released.

Carr caught on with the Houston Astros in late June. He regained his hitting stroke with his new team. Over the final 63 games of the season, he hit .276 and slugged at a career-high .417 rate. He hit 11 doubles, 2 triples and 4 home runs among his 53 hits with Houston. The Astros finished first in the NL Central and were swept in three games by the Atlanta Braves in the NL Division Series. Carr struck out in his only at-bat in Game Two and got the start in Game Three against John Smoltz. He fanned in his first two at-bats but then homered off Smoltz in the bottom of the seventh inning. It was his final major-league at-bat.

Source: South Florida Sun Sentinel, April 3, 1994.

Carr signed with the Montreal Expos in 1998 as a non-roster player. He was released by the team toward the end of spring training. He did not return to organized baseball but played in foreign leagues and independent ball through the 2003 season. Carr played for the Mercuries in China and Rimini in Italy, as well as the Atlantic City Surf and Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League. Carr played his final games for Bisbee-Douglas of the Arizona-Mexico League in 2003, when he was 35 years old and a player-coach.

In 8 seasons in the major leagues, Carr had a slash line of .254/.316/.332. His 435 hits included 81 doubles, 7 triples and 13 home runs. He stole 144 bases in 196 attempts and scored 254 runs. He also drove in 123 runs. Almost all of his time in the outfield was spent in center field, where he had a .984 fielding percentage.

Carr was a minor-league coach with the Houston Astros for a couple of years after his retirement. Since then, he kept largely out of the public eye. Facebook posts from friends and family members show that he was beloved by those who knew him, and his family members were by his side in his final days. He still is remembered fondly by those first-generation Marlins fans as well. His 58 stolen bases in 1993 is fourth on the team’s single-season record list, and his 115 career steals with Florida is fifth all-time.

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4 thoughts on “Obituary: Chuck Carr (1967-2022)

  1. Thanks for posting this – I will always remember Chuck Carr for giving my my first MLB baseball at a game as a kid. I was 11, and sitting in the centerfield bleachers in Pittsburgh. It was a Sunday afternoon in summer, and I was reading my program cover to cover in between innings. Carr must have finished his warm up throws and decided to put the ball in the stands. Unbeknown to me, because I had my head down in my program it was heading right for me.

    Luckily, and I can still feel/remember this, I feel my Dad stand up, I look up to see the ball screaming toward me, no time to move, and his right hand dart out right in front of my face and snare the ball. Dad superpower? Dad who waved for the ball? Chuck Carr trying to make a kids day? Send him to the hospital? I don’t know, but I am glad it worked out, and I really appreciated getting that ball. Thanks Chuck! RIP

    Liked by 1 person

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