For someone who earned a football scholarship to play at UCLA, Gary Carter was born to play baseball.
Straightaway, in his very first spring training, his exuberance shone through. Seeing his hustle, spirit and competitiveness, veterans such as Ken Singleton and Mike Jorgensen gave him the nickname “The Kid,” as they watched him try to hit every pitch out of the ballpark.
Carter was drafted as a shortstop by the Montreal Expos in the third round of the 1972 draft, but was converted to catcher before he ever made his major league debut in 1974—ironically against the New York Mets. He only appeared in nine games, but after dominating in Triple-A that season, he was a full-time player with the Expos the next year, at the incredibly young age of 21.
Gary was a hit right away, making the All-Star team and finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting that season. After starting in the outfield for a couple of seasons, by 1977 the Expos traded away their starting catcher, Barry Foote, and Gary found his way home.
In his first season as a full-time catcher, he hit .284 with 31 home runs and 84 runs batted in. It took a little while for to Gary establish himself in the league, but by the end of the 1970s, Gary had become one of the best in the game.
From 1979 through 1988, Gary made 10 consecutive All-Star teams, finished in the Top 10 of the MVP voting four times and won three Gold Gloves and five Silver Slugger awards. He even averaged 140 games played per season, which is good for anyone, but for a catcher, it is incredible. Carter’s knees were terrible, but he stayed with the trainers for hours before and after games in order to be on the field with his team.
Not only was he outstanding offensively during that time period, averaging 27 home runs and 99 RBI with a .268 batting average, but his impact on the defensive side was equally impressive. According to the defensive metric FLD, Carter was the third-best defender in all of baseball from 1978-1987, ahead of defensive legends like Keith Hernandez and Mike Schmidt.
By the time the 1980s rolled around, he began to establish himself on the big stage, winning two All-Star Game Most Valuable Player awards in 1981 and 1984. After the 1984 season, with the Expos rebuilding, Carter was traded to the biggest stage of them all, New York. He was the final piece to the Mets' puzzle.
Carter was a leader immediately, and in his first game as a Met, The Kid did not disappoint. Gary hit a walk-off home run over the Mets’ then-rival St. Louis Cardinals. Despite not winning the division in 1985, the loss inspired the Mets going into the 1986 season, leading to one of Gary’s finest hours on the baseball field.
Not only did Gary finish third in the MVP balloting, but more importantly, he led his team to the World Series title against the Boston Red Sox. He was the leader for a young pitching staff, a key cog in the middle of their lineup and played with an enthusiasm that motivated the rest of the team.
He was the one who started the two-out rally in Game 6 of the World Series that ended in one of the most dramatic comebacks in baseball history, giving the Mets their second World Series title.
By the end of the 1986 season, Carter’s career was in decline, but his persona and character on and off the field were continuing to grow.
After retiring at the end of the 1992 season, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2001. He also started the Gary Carter Foundation, which raised money for the education of impoverished children. He also had a brief coaching career, and after winning titles in 2006, 2008 and 2009, it seemed he had a bright future.
Unfortunately, however, it was cut short, as four malignant tumors were found in his brain in May of 2011. Numerous surgeries were performed, and he went through a series of chemotherapy treatments, but his condition never improved.
His family then reported in January of 2012 that several new tumors were found. Despite that, his true spirit persevered, and found “the kid” in him to make it to his college team’s opening-day game.
Gary has and always will be known as a family man and leaves behind his wife of 37 years, Sandy, and three children, Christy, Kimmy and DJ, along with three grandchildren.
We will always remember you for your spirit and love for the game of baseball and the game of life. R.I.P.