After a nearly nine-month battle with brain cancer, Gary Carter passed away on Thursday, February 16th, 2012 at 4:10 pm. Nicknamed “The Kid” for his infectious smile and enthusiasm. Carter was inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003 following a brilliant 19-year playing career, playing mostly for the Montreal Expos and New York Mets. Gary is most famously remembered for helping lead the Mets to a World Series Championship in 1986 as he started a two-out rally in Game Six to help propel the Mets to an improbable victory in seven games. Gary Carter was 57 years old.
When someone passes who you have followed and admired, the sadness you feel is often mixed with a rush of crystal clear memories. And so it is for me as I try to cope with the fact that Gary Carter is no longer with us. For someone who uses words and communication as the crux of his profession, when it comes to someone leaving us, I often have difficulty finding the right words.
So the best I can do, as someone who has followed the game closely for so many years, and now covers it up close, is share the unique memories and personal observations I have collected about the man. Carter was a hero to many Mets fans, and in my travels as both a fan and professional, I have seen first-hand how he touched people as both a person and player. I grew up in Flushing, New York, and Shea Stadium was my second home during my formative years.
One of the most vivid memories I have of Carter during his playing days with the Mets was him actually kissing a baby at Shea. I was hanging out near the Mets dugout and Carter was honoring the requests of every single fan. At one point, he pulled a baby out of the stands, kissed it, posed for a picture and then gently handed the baby back to its mother. That, my friends, was Gary Carter.
Carter, for all the memories flooding in about what a warm person he is, was a focused, aggressive hitter at the plate. I will never forget the exclusive access I used to get to watch Mets batting practice back in the mid-80s when I worked at Shea as a vendor. Well, I was really not supposed to use my access to the stadium to get up close with the players, but I did. I’ll never forget the day I saw Carter take batting practice up close at Shea, and saw first-hand how fearsome he could be to an opposing pitcher.
Carter had a deliberate, upright stance that somehow generated tremendous bat speed and power through the zone. What I still remember vividly is how Carter generated tremendous power with the quickest and strongest wrists I had ever seen. With a flick of the wrists, Carter drove bombs into the old picnic area at Shea.
I was there when Carter hit a game-winning homer against the hated Cardinals in the 10th inning of his first game as a Met. I’ll never forget how the place thundered, as the Mets hit a beginning stride in their most memorable era. As a Met fan then, you knew championship glory was not far away.
Gary Carter owns a signature single in the immortal Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. He hit a pair of tremendous home runs in Game 4. New Yorkers also saw the lighter side of him in Ivory Soap commercial, one that prompted us to yell “What’s that got to do with clean” from the stands.
What may not be mentioned enough when Carter is discussed, is how important he was as a presence behind the plate. The mid-to-late 1980s Mets were well-known for their terrific pitching, and Carter was highly responsible for much of their success. When Dwight Gooden was rising like a comet, or Ron Darling was motoring through another quality start, Carter was guiding the path.
My one encounter with Gary Carter in person was at one of the very first Fantasy Sports Trade Association conventions in the late 1990s. Carl Foster, who was running the conferences at the time, hired Gary as a guest speaker. Carl was aware of my deep ties to the Mets as a fan at the time, and positioned me in a spot to meet Carter just before he addressed the attendees. Carl introduced me to Gary, and I informed him that I had grown up in Flushing and had watched many of his greatest moments from the red upper deck seats at Shea. Carter flashed a broad smile and poked fun at me. “With that New York accent, I should have been able to tell!” He then gave me a warm handshake and moved on.
When I saw Carter take the stage that night, I saw him turn grown men into little boys again. One of them was Rick Wolf, who was running the Fantasy division I was working in at the time at CBS SportsLine. Rick commented how he was in awe that he was sitting next to the guy that used to be his hero, the player on his No. 8 New York Mets T-shirt.
Because of Gary Carter, there will always be that little boy in many of us, and he will never be forgotten.