Rest in Peace, Kid

Gary Carter, the Hall of Fame Catcher who made his mark with the Montreal Expos and then later with the New York Mets leading their pitching staff to a World Championship in 1986, died yesterday of brain cancer. He was a mere 57.

It was hard to pick a favorite player on that 86 Mets team, but Carter was mine. Filled with a child-like enthusiasm for the game that earned him the nickname, “The Kid”, Gary Carter was a rah-rah guy. Opposing hitters used to hate him because he never shut up behind the plate, being an apt distraction.

Carter was also a devoutly religious man, and a big member of the Christian organization Baseball Chapel. When I was a producer at WFAN, I got to speak to him directly on the phone once. He was extremely friendly and I asked him about his experience with Baseball Chapel and he reported that it was a great experience and something that he often encouraged young players to participate in. “It helped remind me to have a heart for others and for my teammates.” I remembered early in the 86 season, Mookie Wilson was hit in the eye with a baseball, shattering his sunglasses. Carter rushed to him and calmed him down. “Did the glass break, Mook? Oh God it did! OK just stay put, we got you!” Carter admitted thinking that Mookie might lose his sight right then and offered a few prayers and hoped that he’d return soon. As we now know, he certainly did and played a big role in the 86 championship.

Carter was a different guy on an arrogant hard-drinking, partying team like the 86 Mets. Mets Today has a good depiction of Carter’s relationship and then how he continued to influence his teammates later in their lives.

If you read The Bad Guys Won (and you should), you’d know that — off the field — Gary Carter was one of the outcasts on the heavy-drinking, hard-living 1986 Mets. At the time, he was seen by many of his teammates as a “goody two shoes”; they were annoyed by his choice to live by values of his choosing, rather than “going along with the crowd”. Those same teammates, 25 years later, effusively praised him for living life “the right way”. Darryl Strawberry said “I wish I made the choices he did, and lived my life the way Gary Carter did.” Ron Darling echoed similar comments, admitting that while some of his Mets teammates took many years to figure out that family and being a good father were the most important things in life, Carter did it “right” his whole life. Darling also said, “Gary Carter was everything you wanted in a sports hero: a great talent, a great competitor, a great family man, and a great friend.” None of that is smoke-blowing; Gary Carter WAS as close to being “perfect” as an athlete could be — an ideal example for others to follow.

Carter was a great leader on the field, coupled with Keith Hernandez as a second field general, they seemed unstoppable that year.

Carter was coaching college before he got sick and leaves behind a family and a ball club who dedicated themselves to him. He recently went and watched his team probably for a final time, leaving them with the thought that in some way he’ll always be with them.

And that is true for us fans as well.

Number 8 should have been retired long ago in my opinion, along with a lot of other players from that 86 team. We forget that Yogi Berra also donned number 8 when he led the Mets to the 73 League Championship and he was also a coach on the 69 Championship. I always thought the Mets should have retired the number for both men on August 8th (8/8). Some are not in favor of retired numbers, but I think they provide a measure of class to an organization and they honor those who were stars. I’ve always maintained that Gooden, Darling, Ojeda, Fernandez and even reliever Jesse Orosco would not have been half the pitchers they were that year without Carter’s guidance. Carter also started that last inning rally in the 86 world series with a two out single that kept the Mets heartbeat alive and led to the famous slow roller hit by Mookie Wilson that went between Bill Buckner’s legs and tied the series up and demoralized the Red Sox who were one strike away from a World Championship.

Mets fans know that the Sox didn’t choke. The Mets came back all year like that. They just always seemed to be able to come back when the chips seemed down. I credit Carter for that “never say die” attitude that permeated the team.

And so, because we believe that as Christians, we, in fact, “never say die”…

“Eternal Rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May Gary’s soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”

By the way, if you have an extra shekel or two, you might want to Stand Up 2 Cancer in honor of Carter today. I love this PSA which features Ron Darling standing up for cancer in honor of “my catcher” towards the end of the ad.

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