Last week we lost another Icon. Former New York Met Gary Carter, who lost his battle to brain cancer. His statistics will suggest that he will go down as one of the best all-around athletes to play catcher. But, the way he carried himself on and off the field made him one of the most beloved athletes of his generation.
In his first MLB camp, he was given the nickname, The Kid, because of the enthusiasm that he displayed every time he stepped on the field and how he enjoyed life. Nineteen years later, he still processed those same characteristics he did in his rookie year, despite playing with more bumps, bruises and injuries than the law allows.
If you were to ask any of his teammates what they admired the most about Carter, they would in unison, talk about how he would take the field even when he was hurt. Playing a 162-game schedule during the dog days of summer is grueling enough, but the position of catcher is borderline sadistic. Nevertheless, Carter always answered the bell. He virtually never took a day off, often pleading with Manager Davey Johnson to let him play in an afternoon game after a night contest. It seem like every time he squatted behind the plate, he was grimacing. Yet he would still find the energy to throw someone out at second or block the plate with a runner barrelling down the third-base line.
He caught and managed one of the best starting pitching rotations in baseball history in Dwight Gooden, Bob Ojeda, Ron Darling and Sid Fernandez. These pitchers raved about how Carter controlled the tempo of the game, keeping opposing batters off guard.
For all of the highlights that The Kid compiled over his storied career, he will be best remembered for Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. You have to remember that at the time, the Mets ruled the Baseball World. They had won 106 regular season games and just steamrolled their way through the playoffs. They had the most talent from the top of the roster to the bottom. It was hard to pitch around their lineup that featured Keith Hernandez, Darryl Strawberry, Ray Knight, Lenny Dykstra, Mookie Wilson, Wally Backman and Carter.
The Houston Astros put up a great fight in the NLCS but the Mets prevailed. Then they went up against the Boston Red Sox, who had the Metropolitans down 3 games to 2. Most folks thought it was a given that the Sox were going to win when Carter stepped in the batter box with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth. Everyone was ready to concede the Series to Boston, except The Kid.
Carter refused to make the last out of the game and battled his way to smacking a single to centerfield, fouling off several two-strike pitches in the process. That determination led to one of the most amazing comebacks in World Series history. Most remember Wilson’s ball going through Bill Buckner’s legs, but that play would not have taken place if it were not for Carter’s dramatic at bat earlier in that inning. That at bat just epitomized The Kid’s career. Determination, guts and coming through in the clutch were on display in that moment.
Some felt that The Kid’s enthusiasm was a bit over the top. Some even felt that he was phony. If you ever had the chance to be around Carter for an extended period of time you knew that he was like that all of the time. Here was a man that rarely cursed or said an ill word about anyone. The Mets of the eighties were known as a modern day Gashouse Gang wreaking havoc wherever they went. Although Carter did not participate in any of those wild episodes that team was known for, his teammates loved him. Ron Darling called him the moral compass of the team. I know that they wished they had listened to him more. Perhaps then this talented bunch would have won more than that one championship in ’86.
It was ironic that some teams had pitchers and catchers reported to camp on the day that The Kid transitioned to the great ballpark in the sky. He represented all that was good in the sport and he will be truly missed.