Too often, pro baseball players approach the game with all the intensity of an accountant at a coed company softball game. The season is long, and it’s hard to keep the competitive flame burning for 162 games. Gary Carter was different. Like Jackie Robinson, Pete Rose, and Dustin Pedroia, he was one of those rare players who took every game- every at-bat- as a personal challenge.
With two outs and nobody on base, Gary Carter stepped to the plate with his team trailing the Boston Red Sox, 5-3, in the ninth inning of game six of the 1986 World Series.
Carter’s New York Mets trailed the Red Sox, three games to two.
If the All-Star backstop made an out, the Series was over.
The scoreboard at Shea Stadium briefly flashed the message “Congratulations Boston Red Sox, 1986 World Champions.”
Facing Red Sox reliever Calvin Schiraldi, Carter worked the count to 2-1 before lining a single to left field.
Nicknamed “The Kid” Carter was a straight arrow, playing on as crooked a team as ever took the field. (If you don’t already hate the ’86 Mets enough, check out Jeff Pearlman’s book, "The Bad Guys Won." That Met team makes the 1919 Chicago Black Sox look like a bunch of choirboys).
Upon reaching first, Carter shouted to Mets first base coach Bill Robinson, “I’m not making the last out of this bleeping World Series.”
None of his teammates could ever remember Carter swearing. Ever.
We all know what happened next, Carter’s single ignited an improbable Met rally that ended with Mookie Wilson’s ground ball going through Bill Buckner’s legs. The Mets won the game and went on to win the Series in seven games.
That clutch hit, and that reaction, sum up Gary Carter for me.
Too often, pro baseball players approach the game with all the intensity of an accountant at a coed company softball game. The season is long, and it’s hard to keep the competitive flame burning for 162 games.
Gary Carter was different. Like Jackie Robinson, Pete Rose, and Dustin Pedroia, he was one of those rare players who took every game - every at-bat - as a personal challenge.
By the early '80s, Carter had eclipsed Johnny Bench as the best catcher in the National League. His numbers - 324 home runs, 1,225 RBI, 11 All-Star appearances and three Gold Gloves compiled over 19 years with the Expos, Mets, Giants and Dodgers - were good enough to put him in the Hall of Fame.
An impressive resume, but Carter was about more than numbers. In my book, he was a Hall of Fame person.
In 2002, my family was living in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. My wife, Caitlin, was working as a waitress in the legendary TooJays Gourmet Deli, a popular, very busy local eatery. Carter, who lived in the town, stopped in with his wife one Saturday night before heading to the movies and just happened to sit in my wife’s station.
Now TooJays on a Saturday night was slightly busier than Times Square on New Year’s Eve, but that didn’t stop my wife from giving Carter a hard time.
Page 2 of 2 - “I don’t think I can serve you, Mr. Carter,” she said. “You broke my heart in 1986.”
Carter, seeing the “Boston” under her nametag, gave it right back.
“I’d like to get to my movie sometime tonight,” he said good-naturedly. “How in the world did you become a waitress?”
Delaying his dinner even longer, my wife asked him to sign an autograph for me.
A good sport to the end, Carter signed an order slip “To John, Catch you later, Gary Carter.”
I’m hoping he eventually made his movie.
Carter’s original team, the Montreal Expos, trained in nearby Jupiter, and Carter served as a coach during the spring.
Every year, the Expos would host an annual “Meet The Team” night for local businesses.
The team, by 2002 in its death throes before becoming the Washington Nationals, trotted out a few rookies and coaches for the assembled locals to meet.
The rookies were bored to death, and the coaches, including manger Frank Robinson, looked like they would rather be anywhere else.
Except Gary Carter.
While Robinson sneered at us from behind hot dog stand, Carter was all smiles as he took time to say hello to everyone in the crowd.
I brought my oldest daughter, Molly, then 10 months old, with me that night. She was as irritated as Robinson was that I had dragged her to this event.
Seeing her crying, Carter came over and talked to her, trying to soothe her. He took her from my arms and told her, “There’s no crying in baseball.”
There is plenty of crying in baseball today.
Gary Carter, the Kid, died Thursday after losing his battle with brain cancer. He was 57.
Catch you later, Kid. And thank you.