Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter dies at 57

In a rough-and-tumble clubhouse filled with dark secrets and

constant conflict, there was always one sunny stall.

Those New York Mets could count on Gary Carter to deliver – a

smile, a spark and ultimately a championship.

The effervescent Hall of Fame catcher whose single for the Mets

in the 1986 World Series touched off one of the most improbable

rallies in baseball, died Thursday. The Kid was 57.

Carter was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor 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.

”Nobody loved the game of baseball more than Gary Carter.

Nobody enjoyed playing the game of baseball more than Gary Carter.

He wore his heart on his sleeve every inning he played,” Mets Hall

of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver said.

Carter’s 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 and bears his boyish nickname – the ”Kid”

forever.

”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 an 11-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner.

His 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. And anyone who watched Carter recognized his

zest.

After Carter’s diagnosis, the Mets began playing a highlight

reel of his 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.”

”His nickname `The Kid’ captured how Gary approached life,”

the Mets said Thursday 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.”

Carter played nearly two decades with the Mets, Montreal, San

Francisco and the Los Angeles Dodgers. He led the Expos to their

only playoff berth and was the first player enshrined in

Cooperstown wearing an Expos cap.

”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 engaging personality as his

talents. He drew 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 defense over 19 seasons,”

reads his Hall plaque.

He was especially pumped during the biggest moment of his

career.

The `86 Mets were a team with big stars, giant egos and huge

expectations. They had a reputation for fighting on the field – and

sometimes among themselves – and partying hard late into the night.

Drug problems derailed the careers of two gifted teammates, Darryl

Strawberry and Dwight Gooden.

Despite all their talent, the Mets were down to their last

chance in the World 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.

”What he added to the team was character. His approach to the

game was contagious. It spread to the rest of us. He helped each of

us understand what it took to win,” Strawberry said.

Carter homered twice over the Green Monster at Fenway Park in

Game 4 and totaled nine RBIs in that Series. Since then, only two

players have gotten 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 with

the Expos, Mets, San Francisco and the Los Angeles Dodgers. 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.

Carter also set the NL record for games caught.

”I relied on Gary for everything when I was on the mound,

including location, what pitch to throw and when. Even when I

didn’t have my best stuff, he found a way to get me through the

game. He was just a warrior on the field,” Gooden said.

Carter, however, 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.

Later, Carter was recognized for his contributions off the field

when he was honored with the Roberto Clemente Award.

Carter 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.

”Learning of Gary’s passing feels as if I just lost a family

member,” former Expos pitcher Steve Rogers said. ”Gary and I grew

up together in the game, and during our time with the Expos we were

as close as brothers, if not closer. Gary was a champion. He was a

`gamer’ in every sense of the word – on the field and in life. He

made everyone else around him better, and he made me a better

pitcher.”

A perennial fan favorite, Carter returned to Montreal in 1992

for one final 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.

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.

”It’s nice to know that even though my body feels like an old

man now, I will always be a kid at heart,” Carter said on his

election.

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 Strawberry, Gooden and Keith

Hernandez.

He made an immediate impression – it just took a little extra

time 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.

”Nobody loved life in a bigger way than Gary,” said former

Mets manager Davey Johnson, who now has the same job with the

Washington Nationals. ”Gary’s brave battle has ended, but his

from-the-gut laughter will be heard and his vitality and spirit

will be felt forever. I loved him very much, and I know he is

finally at peace.”

A two-sport athlete as a boy, Carter won the 7-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.

Carter made it to opening day for Palm Beach Atlantic University

on Feb. 2, shaking hands with each player on the team. He watched

about three innings and received a standing ovation from the crowd.

The Mets had invited him to spring training, which opens

Wednesday.

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 marveling at

how his big right hand had swallowed up theirs.

Current Mets pitcher Jonathon Niese played under Carter in 2005

and 2006.

”The one thing Gary stressed to us was team. He said individual

goals were meaningless,” Niese said. ”He said the name on the

front of the uniform was more important than the name on the back.

That’s what I’ll take from my two years with him.”