Gary Carter Dead: Baseball Hall-Of-Famer, Former Expos Star Diagnosed With Malignant Brain Tumour Last May
NEW YORK, N.Y. - Gary Carter was nicknamed "Kid" for good reason.
His smile, bubbly personality and eagerness to excel on a ballfield made him a joy to watch at the plate and behind it.
Even his Hall of Fame bronze plaque at Cooperstown shows him with a toothy grin — the Kid forever.
The star catcher, the first player enshrined in the Hall of Fame wearing an Expos cap, died Thursday. He was 57.
Carter was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour last May, two weeks after finishing his second season as coach at Palm Beach Atlantic University. Mets spokesman Jay Horwitz said Carter died at a hospice in the West Palm Beach, Fla., area.
"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."
Carter was revered in Montreal, where he began and ended his career.
He started with the Expos as a late-season call-up in 1974 and became the face of the franchise in his 12 seasons with the team. He led Montreal to its only playoff berth — in 1981.
In all, Carter played nearly two decades with the Expos, Mets, San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Carter was an 11-time all-star and three-time Gold Glove winner whose bottom-of-the-10th single in Game 6 of the 1986 Series helped the Mets mount a charge against the Boston Red Sox and eventually beat them.
With curly, blond locks flaring out from beneath his helmet, and a rigid, upright batting stance, Carter was immediately recognizable.
"His nickname 'The Kid' captured how Gary approached life," the Mets said in a statement. "He did everything with enthusiasm and with gusto on and off the field. His smile was infectious. ... He was a Hall of Famer in everything he did."
"Gary was one of the happiest guys in the world every day," Mets teammate Mookie Wilson once said.
Carter was known as much for his effervescent personality as his talents. He earned his nickname as an eager teen in his first major league camp and the label stuck for the rest of his career, and beyond.
"An exuberant on-field general with a signature smile who was known for clutch hitting and rock-solid defence over 19 seasons," reads his Hall plaque.
He was especially pumped during the biggest moment of his career. The powerful Mets were down to their last chance in the '86 Series when Carter stepped up with two outs. No one was on base and New York was trailing Boston 5-3 in the bottom of the 10th inning in Game 6.
Carter said he had just one thought in mind: "I wasn't going to make the last out of the World Series."
True to his word, he delivered a clean single to left field off Red Sox reliever Calvin Schiraldi. Kevin Mitchell followed with a single and when Ray Knight also singled, Carter scampered home from second base.
As Carter crossed the plate, he clapped his hands, pointed at Wilson on deck and clapped again. Moments later, Bill Buckner's error scored Knight for an amazing 6-5 win. Carter rushed from the dugout to join the celebration at home plate, catcher's gear already on.
Overshadowed by the rally was the fact that Carter had tied the game with a sacrifice fly in the eighth. Then in Game 7, Carter drove in the tying run in the sixth inning, and the Mets went on to win their most recent championship.
Carter homered twice over the Green Monster at Fenway Park in Game 4 and totalled nine RBIs in that Series. Since then, only two players have got more in a World Series (Mike Napoli for Texas in 2011 and Sandy Alomar Jr. for Cleveland in 1997 each had 10).
Overall, Carter hit .262 with 324 home runs and 1,225 RBIs. He set the major league record for putouts by a catcher, a testament to his durability despite nine knee operations.
"Driven by a remarkable enthusiasm for the game, Gary Carter became one of the elite catchers of all-time," commissioner Bud Selig 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."
Carter twice was the MVP of the all-star game. He won the award in 1981 by homering twice in baseball's first game after a players' strike that lasted two months. He remains the lone player to have a two-homer performance in an all-star game and a World Series game.
He set the NL record for games caught, but spent his first full season in the majors primarily as Montreal's right fielder. His first all-star appearance came that year, in 1975, as a defensive replacement in left field for Pete Rose.
Carter was recognized, too, for his contributions off the field when he was honoured with the Roberto Clemente Award.
He hit his first major league homer in September 1974 off future Hall of Famer Steve Carlton as a 20-year-old rookie — Carter homered 11 times against the ace lefty, his top victim.
Carter spent his first 11 years with the Expos and was part of a solid core that put them into the 1981 playoffs. They beat the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies in a new first round created after the strike split the season into two halves, but lost to the Dodgers in the NL championship series.
After moving around the league, he returned to the Expos on waivers in 1992 to play his final major league season.
His last swing was a memorable one — he hit an RBI double in the seventh inning at Olympic Stadium, left for a pinch-runner to a huge ovation from the home crowd and walked away after that 1-0 win over the Cubs.
"I saw (Cubs outfielder) Andre (Dawson) going back on the ball and I said to myself, 'Please don't catch it,''' Carter said at the time. "Then, when it got by him, it was like, 'Wow! Awesome! What a great way to finish.'''
Then Expos second baseman Delino DeShields, commenting on Carter's influence on the club's young players that season, said, "I grew up on Gary Carter. He was like Wheaties to me.''
"Eat my Wheaties and watch Gary Carter play baseball.''
Carter was elected to the Hall in 2003 on his sixth try. He had joked that he wanted his Cooperstown cap to be a half-and-halfer, split between the Expos and Mets. The Hall makes the ultimate call on the logo.
Carter pleased Canadian fans by delivering part of his induction speech in French. Born and raised in California, he took a Berlitz course to help him learn the language after the Expos drafted him.
Carter was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001.
Carter led in a group of young talent to emerge from the Expos' farm system that included outfielders Dawson, Ellis Valentine and Warren Cromartie, and infielder Larry Parrish.
Together they would form one of the best teams in baseball in the late 1970s and early 1980s, although they reached the post-season only once in 1981.
''Gary was kind of the glue to the ball club,'' Dawson recalled recently. ''He was full of life, full of energy.
''Always with one goal _ to be in the lineup every day and contribute to winning as much as possible.''
When both their careers were over, first Carter and then Dawson became the only players to enter the Hall of Fame in Expos caps.
Carter split time in his early years between catching and playing in right field until incumbent receiver Barry Foote was traded in 1977. By then, Carter had become one of the best catchers in the game.
He also won over Montreal fans by learning enough French to do television commercials and was always had time for the media, which also rubbed some teammates the wrong way.
''He was perceived unfairly by some of his teammates,'' added Dawson. ''They felt that Gary loved the limelight.
''It wasn't that. It was just that he was so energetic. Gary talked to the media all the time. That was his make-up. He got along with everyone. It rubbed off on the younger guys. Like me, he had knee injuries, and he'd go out and play one of the toughest positions in the game and not complain.''
Carter backed up his talk with performance. In the 1981 playoffs, he batted over. .400 and was an on-field leader as Montreal lost a heartbreaking five-game series to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In 1,503 career games as an Expo, he batted .269 with 220 home runs and 823 runs-batted-in in 5,303 at-bats.
His best season was his last of that string in Montreal in 1984 as he hit .294 with 27 homers and a career-high 106 RBI.
The passion the city felt for the Expos never seemed quite the same after Carter was traded away and the so-called 'Team of the 80s'' came apart.
The Expos traded him to the Mets after the 1984 season for Hubie Brooks, Mike Fitzgerald, Herm Winningham and Floyd Youmans. Carter turned out to be one of the last missing pieces on a New York team that already had the likes of Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden and Keith Hernandez.
He made an immediate impression — it just took a little extra to get it right in his Mets debut in 1985. In the season opener at Shea Stadium, Carter took strike three, had a passed ball that gave St. Louis a run and watched Cardinals pitcher Joaquin Andujar steal a base against him.
But in the bottom of the 10th inning, Carter hit a home run that won the game and drew a standing ovation plus chants of "Gary! Gary! Gary!"
"What a way to start," Carter said with a grin afterward. "Hit by a pitch, strike out looking, a stolen base, a passed ball and then the home run."
"There's not enough words to describe what it feels like," he said. "I'll certainly remember this the rest of my life."
It wasn't the only time he bounced back from a rugged start. Slumping badly in the 1986 NL championship series, Carter hit a winning single in the bottom of the 12th to beat Houston in Game 5, putting the Mets within one win of the World Series.
A two-sport athlete as a boy, Carter won the seven-year-old national division of the NFL's first Punt, Pass & Kick skills competition in 1961. He was a pitcher and shortstop in Little League and switched to catching in high school after a scout suggested it was the fastest path to the big leagues, turning down a chance to play football at UCLA.
Carter stayed in baseball after his playing days ended. He became a broadcaster for the Florida Marlins, coached and managed for the Mets in the minors, managed two independent minor league teams and coached in college.
The only hint of negative publicity Carter drew came a few years ago when he appeared to be campaigning for the Mets' managing job though it was already filled.
Carter, however, always had a winning touch. At the ballpark or away, he greeted fans with a hearty handshake — many marvelling at how his big right hand had swallowed up theirs.
After his diagnosis, the Mets began playing a highlight reel of Carter's accomplishments on the video board during games at Citi Field and posted this message: "Our thoughts are with you Gary. From your millions of fans and the New York Mets."
At the Hall ceremonies in July, new inductee Bert Blyleven mentioned Carter. "Gary, keep battling the way that you always have," he said to the crowd.
Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt said Carter continued to inspire him in later years. In a 2006 column for The Associated Press, the former Phillies star recalled the pure elation that enveloped Carter when he was voted into Cooperstown.
"No player ever appreciated that call to the extent he did. The joy it brought him, his family, and friends, especially me, was so real and pleasantly genuine, I ate it up and still do," Schmidt wrote.
"He does not take it for granted. He will wear his emotion, from this election, on his sleeve the rest of his life," he wrote. "His induction actually made me appreciate mine all the more."
With files from The Canadian Press