Late Thursday afternoon word first started to circulate that Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter had passed away. The player known simply as “Kid” had been battling brain tumors since late last Spring. He was 57.
Carter was first diagnosed in May 2011. After suffering from constant headaches and forgetfulness, an MRI exam at the urging of his family and doctors discovered four small tumors in his brain. It was initially believed that after undergoing extensive chemotherapy treatments the tumors had at least become manageable but he suffered a number of setbacks starting this past December. He reportedly fell a number of times while at home with family around the holidays, which ultimately led to additional tests that discovered the formation of new tumors. News that his condition had worsened was first made public in mid-January.
Carter’s professional career began when he was selected in the 3rd Round of the 1972 Draft by the Montreal Expos. He signed shortly thereafter and rose quickly through the minor leagues, reaching Triple-A by the start of the 1974 season. That year he batted .268/.354/.488 with 23 HR and 83 RBI in 511 plate appearances, enough to warrant a September callup – during which he’d hit his first career MLB home run off of future Hall of Famer Steve Carlton. Carter would not see the minor leagues again aside from a brief 5 game injury rehab stint during the 1989 season.
He was an MLB regular starting in 1975 and would bat a combined .271/.344/.460 with 214 HR and 788 RBI over the next 10 seasons with the Expos. During that span he’d win three Gold Glove Awards, three Silver Sluggers, and appeared in 7 All Star Games – including appearing as a defensive replacement for Pete Rose during his rookie campaign. He was a vital piece to the 1981 Expos team which earned the lone playoff appearance in franchise history.
After the 1984 season, Carter was traded to the New York Mets for four players – Hubie Brooks, Mike Fitzgerald, Herm Winningham, and Floyd Youmans. Carter would join a developing Mets team that already had the likes of Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, and Keith Hernandez on their roster. The 1985 season opener – his Mets debut – was a sign of things to come. He’d struggle through much of the game – taking a called strike three, allowing a runner to score on a passed ball, and looked over matched by opposing base stealers. Then, in the bottom of the 10th inning, he came to the plate and smashed a game-winning home run that triggered a massive standing ovation from the New York faithful.
Carter’s Mets career would be filled with a number of memorable and gut-wrenching moments. Perhaps what he’s best remembered for, however, would be the 1986 season. That year he’d bat .255/.337/.439 with 24 HR and 105 RBI, finishing 3rd in MVP voting while leading the Mets to the NL East title under the watch of current Nationals Manager Davey Johnson. Despite struggling through much of the series, Carter had a pivotal RBI late in the NLCS that year, keeping the Mets’ hopes alive before the team ultimately advanced to the World Series.
He’d go on to have one of the top World Series performances in history, driving in a total of 9 runs – a total bested by only player since (Sandy Alomar Jr. drove in 10 for Cleveland in 1997). Carter led off the 10th inning of Game 6, singling to left field with the Mets down 5-3 and on the brink of losing to the Boston Red Sox. Two batters later, Carter would score a vital run on a Ray Knight single. Up next was Mookie Wilson, who’s groundball passed through the legs of Bill Buckner and ultimately let the Mets push the series to a 7th game. The Mets would end up winning the World Series the next game, with Carter once again providing a key RBI.
Carter would remain with the Mets until the end of the 1989 season, before joining the San Francisco Giants and then the Los Angeles Dodgers on a pair of one year free agent contracts. He’d return to Montreal in 1992, batting .218/.299/.340 in 325 plate appearances as a 38 year old in what would be his final MLB season. Perhaps in a fitting fashion, his final swing was a memorable one. He hit an RBI double in the 7th inning of a game at home against the Chicago Cubs. Carter would be lifted for a pinch runner, at which point he received one of the largest standing ovations in Olympic Stadium history. The Expos would win the game 1-0.
He’d finish his 19-year career with a .262/.335/.439 batting line with 324 HR and 1,225 RBI in 9,019 plate appearances. He’d make 11 All Star Game appearances, twice winning the game’s MVP Award.
In his 6th time appearing on the ballot, Carter was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 2003, appearing on 78% of the ballots. When asked about his pending enshrinement, Carter expressed a desire for a split cap – wanting to recognize his time with the Expos and the Mets on his Hall of Fame plaque. Of course, the Hall makes the final decisions and Carter would end up being the first player enshrined with an Expos cap.
In addition to the Hall of fame induction, Carter’s post-playing career revolved around the game of baseball. He spent time managing in the Mets’ minor league system and often spoke of a desire to lead the club at the Major League level. Most recently he served as the head baseball coach for Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida.
The Expos retired his uniform number, #8, in 2003. He was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001. He caught the 4th most games in MLB history (2,056). He’s the only player with multi-HR games in the All Star Game (1981) and World Series (1986, Game 4).
Beyond everything he accomplished on the field, Carter always seemed to play the game the way it should be played. He worked hard but simultaneously seemed to enjoy the game with every ounce of his being. That is ultimately what I will remember most about him. Growing up in New York, I often found myself watching the Mets on tv (for awhile I don’t think we even got whatever channel the Yankee games were on during the mid-1980s) and Carter was always one of the players I admired and enjoyed watching the most.
On Thursday, baseball lost one of its greatest heroes. But it’s the memories he provided us all that will keep his legacy living for years to come.