The obits you’re going to be reading tomorrow for Gary Carter, who died of brain cancer yesterday at age 57, will probably tell you everything about him except this: many New York area sportswriters laughed at him behind his back. I know — I was there. I saw it.
In their defense, Gary Carter, nicknamed “Kid” for his omnipresent grin, was hard to believe in. He was a glad-hander, open with the media at all times — whether the Mets won or not, whether he had a good or bad day. And he always managed a smile, if sometimes a shrugging, self-deprecating one.
Carter was as much a Christian as Tim Tebow, but I never saw him make open displays or proselytize. If you asked, he would smile and tell you. In other words, he lived his faith he way it was supposed to be lived: by example. He was the best example of a Christian athlete I’ve ever known.
That he was also shunned by many in the Mets clubhouse should come as no surprise.
In the mid-1980s, the Mets were the biggest collective mess of any team imaginable, drinkers and users of all types of drugs from recreational to performance enhancing. Carter was involved in none of the numerous cliques that riddled the team. Some of his teammates said openly that they didn’t understand him; what they didn’t understand, apparently, is that he was the same person in front of a camera as off it, the same guy out of the clubhouse as he was in the clubhouse.
John Morthland, who wrote for the Voice in the mid-80s and often joined me at Mets games I was covering for the paper, made a curious and, I think, accurate observation in the clubhouse after a game: “Some guys are scorned by their teammates because they’re phony. But there’s a lot of guys here who don’t like Carter because he’s exactly what he appears to be.”
On the field, he was probably one of the ten greatest catchers in baseball history. He played for 19 seasons and made 11 All-Star teams, retiring in 1992. One of the great disgraces in New York baseball is that from 1998, his first year of eligibility for the HOF through 2002, no major campaign was mounted by local baseball writers to get him elected. Carter never complained about the injustice of the voting or the humiliation of being made to wait in line. He finally made it in 2003 with 78 percent of the vote. He should have been first ballot with 90 percent.
And here’s something else: the 1985-1988 Mets had as much talent, at their peak, as any team baseball has ever seen. They were loaded with young players who seemed destined for the Hall of Fame. Who could have watched Dwight Gooden or Darryl Strawberry at that time and not thought they would eventually rank with the game’s immortals?
Keith Hernandez, Ron Darling, Jesse Orosco, Howard Johnson, Kevin Mitchell, and Lenny Dykstra all had the talent to be in Cooperstown. To doubt this is to remember them as they were when they hung around too long, just trying to make the roster and collect a paycheck. But at their best, they played like Hall of Famers.
But only one of them made it. RIP to you, Kid.