Terribly sad news that Gary Carter has passed away. A great player, and by most accounts a good man and teammate. Here’s the USA Today obituary.
Even as the world watched the Grade 4 brain cancer wither his body, Gary Carter was still, and is always, Kid. It is a testament to Carter’s passion for the game, and for life, that the nickname that at times was applied derisively by crusty veterans ended up on his Hall of Fame plaque.
With his boyish enthusiasm, wide smile and constant hustle, Carter forged a 19-year career that included a memorable five-season stretch with the New York Mets. He died at 57, less than a year after being diagnosed with the disease.
“I am deeply saddened to tell you all that my precious dad went to be with Jesus today at 4:10 p.m.,” Carter’s daughter Kimmy Bloemers wrote on the family website. “This is the most difficult thing I have ever had to write in my entire life but I wanted you all to know.”
“‘The Kid’ was an 11-time All-Star and a durable, consistent slugger for the Montreal Expos and the New York Mets, and he ranks among the most beloved players in the history of both of those franchises,” Commissioner Bud Selg said in a statement. “Like all baseball fans, I will always remember his leadership for the ’86 Mets and his pivotal role in one of the greatest World Series ever played.”
Many stars come to New York and shrink on the big stage. Carter seized the platform from his very first game.
On Opening Day 1985, the newly-acquired catcher hit a walk-off home run in the 10th inning to defeat the St. Louis Cardinals. The Mets won 98 games that season, but finished three games behind the Cards.
The next year, they blew away the division, winning 108 games and taking the NL East by 21½ games, as Carter won his fifth Silver Slugger award and finished third in NL Most Valuable Player voting.
He struggled at the plate in the ’86 postseason, but still contributed several crucial, and historic, hits. His game-winning single in the bottom of the 12th of Game 5 of the NL Championship Series against Houston gave the Mets a 3-2 series lead, setting the stage for the now-legendary 16-inning win in Game 6. He homered twice in Game 4 of the World Series, helping the Mets win and pull even with the Boston Red Sox at two games apiece.
And he is the man who started the Mets’ historic rally in Game 6 of the Series. With his team trailing 5-3 with two out and nobody on in the bottom of the 10th, Carter lined a single to center off Calvin Schiraldi. Three batters later, Mookie Wilson hit a ground ball that went through Boston first baseman Bill Buckner’s legs, giving the Mets one of the most improbable victories in World Series history. They won the championship two nights later.
“You just expected that out of him. When he was playing for me, I always knew good things were coming. He was awfully clutch,” says Davey Johnson, the Mets’ manager during Carter’s five-year stint in New York.
“He was just a perfectionist. He wanted to be the best, and he was the best.”
A fan favorite, Carter never shied from the limelight (prompting a less well-known nickname, “Camera”). He was viewed in some quarters of the clubhouse as too friendly with the media, considered self-promotion. His cheerleading demeanor and straight-arrow lifestyle –â€” he never smoked, rarely drank and was a devoted family man — left him outside many of the cliques in the free-wheeling Mets’ clubhouse.
Bob Klapisch, a columnist for The Record in New Jersey who covered the Mets in the ’80s, wrote that Carter was never part of the team’s inner circle:
“Kid, Nails, Mex, Straw, Doc — it didn’t matter whether they signed autographs or not, because the Mets ruled the world — including the bars and clubs — on the other side of midnight,” Klapisch wrote in a column after Carter was first diagnosed last spring.
“Carter didn’t live that way. Like Mookie Wilson, he was happily married, faithful to his wife, Sandy, didn’t drink, didn’t touch drugs. That made Carter an outcast in the clubhouse. Carter knew he often was mocked by Hernandez and Darryl Strawberry, among others. But The Kid never returned fire, either on or off the record, instead concentrating on playing hard and interacting with the media.”
Jeff Pearlman, author of a 2004 book on the ’86 Mets titled The Bad Guys Won!, wrote in January this year that he felt the need to apologize to Carter for his portrayal of the catcher.
“It was a celebratory look at a team I loved as a boy, and while I praised the uproarious antics of men like Gooden, Strawberry and Dykstra, I juvenilely needled (OK, mocked) Carter. Why, the first sentence of Chapter 6 reads, “Gary Carter is a geek” —- a reference to his Boy Scout ways and Theodore Cleaver goodness.”
Over the years, writers and his former teammates changed their view.
“Gary figured it out way before we did how to treat people,” former Mets infielder Wally Backman told Klapisch. “We used to make fun of him, the way he’d sign every damn autograph. We had to hold the bus for him sometimes, because he didn’t know how to say no. He didn’t want to say no. But you know what? He was right. He really loved the game.”
And he proved an invaluable cog for the Mets’ championship club. Ron Darling, the Mets’ No. 2 starter behind Gooden in that era, said Carter was “the missing piece” for the club, an invaluable resource for he and Gooden. Before the days of Moneyball, says Darling, Carter was a walking computer program on the tendencies of opposing hitters.
“Gary had all that in his brain. He had the entire National League,” said Darling at a fund-raising dinner in January. “For a young pitching staff, we never had to go over pages and pages of documents. All we had to do was listen to Gary. It made it pretty easy.”
For all his highlights in Mets pinstripes, Carter’s Hall of Fame plaque features him wearing a Montreal Expos cap. And no one complains.
He played 10-plus seasons with the Expos before being traded to the Mets, and closed his career with them in 1992 (after one-year tours with the Dodgers and Giants). Of his 324 career home runs, 220 came in an Expos uniform.
He was the face of the Canadian franchise for years, making seven of his 11 All-Star appearances with Montreal. In 1981, he led the Expos to the only playoff appearance in franchise history. (They lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS).
After a September call-up in 1974, Carter broke in with the Expos in ’75, playing the majority of his rookie season in right field because the Expos had first-round draft pick Barry Foote behind the plate.
Carter’s arrival was much heralded, and by some accounts, a less-than-flattering origin of his nickname. Pearlman writes that veteran Expos used to goad Foote about the gung-ho rookie, mockingly saying, “Look at the kid’s hustle!”
Veteran New York baseball writer Marty Noble of mlb.com says it’s his understanding the nickname came because Carter never played cards and as such was often unoccupied in the pre-game clubhouse. When the card-playing veterans wanted coffee, they’d say, “Let the kid get it.” After the nickname was established, it became just “Kid.”
Carter took over fulltime behind the plate in 1977 and never moved again (although he played a little first base at the end of his career).
For his career, he is fourth all-time, and first in NL history, in both games caught and putouts as a catcher. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2003, his sixth year on the ballot.
The baseball world was stunned last May when Carter revealed he’d been diagnosed with Grade 4 glioblastoma, a rapidly-growing cancer. Characteristically, he vowed to fight it aggressively, but his family announced in late January that his condition had worsened, as more tumors were found.
Associated Press photos