Remembering “Kid,” Gary Carter

When we were following baseball in the late 1970s, three National League catchers stood above the rest. No. 1 was Johnny Bench, the standard-bearer for catchers who hit with power and shut down the opposition’s running game. The third-best catcher was Ted Simmons, a terrific hitter who deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

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In between Bench and Simmons was Gary Carter, who died Thursday at 57. He was a power hitting force of energy who knew how to massage struggling pitchers and who knew how to lead a clubhouse.

So as a catcher, Carter ran second to Johnny Bench, at least for awhile. But when it came to human qualities, Carter didn’t have to run second to many other people.

In the past, I’ve heard cynics accuse Carter of being less than sincere in the way that he talked to the media, especially during his days as a player. They said Carter was putting on “an act” so that he would receive favorable press and publicity from writers and broadcasters. If it was merely an act, then Gary Carter must have been the finest actor this side of Laurence Olivier, or in a more contemporary sense, Robert DeNiro. The notion that Carter was some kind of “phony” is nonsense.

I met Gary Carter five or six times and was blessed with the opportunity to interview him the day after he received news that he had been elected to the Hall of Fame. Each time I met Carter, he behaved the same way: He was friendly, full of energy, charming, upbeat, optimistic and legitimately interested in what I had to say. Some act, huh? It all seemed very real to me.

In January of 2003, I interviewed Carter in a suite at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, exactly one day after the press conference that announced him as the newest elected member of the Hall of Fame. The interview was videotaped by the Hall of Fame’s multimedia department for two reasons, so that it could be used in creating a celebratory video for Carter‘s induction, and then so that it could be added to the Hall of Fame’s video archive.

Moments before the interview, Bruce Brodersen, a friend of mine who heads up the Hall’s multimedia efforts, was talking off camera to Carter. Bruce eyed Carter’s 1986 World Series ring. So Gary took the ring off his finger and gave it to Bruce, telling him that he could wear it for the duration of the 20-minute interview. Bruce is a diehard Mets fan; I’d have to think wearing that ring ranks as one of his top memories of working at the Hall of Fame.

I cannot imagine too many players, Hall of Famers or otherwise, allowing a near-stranger to wear his World Series ring. But that was the kind of guy Gary Carter was. He didn’t do it because he wanted publicity, or was hoping that some sportswriter would pick up on his charitable act; there were no writers in the room with us. If I had to guess why Carter did that, why he allowed the ring to be “borrowed,” I’d have to say that it was simply because he cared. He cared about other people and what they might be feeling.

There’s nothing phony about that. Gary Carter was a good man — for real.

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Comments

  1. Karl Magnuson said...

    ‘Kid’ says it best. That was no act…it’s called joie de vivre. We should all be so lucky to love life like Gary Carter did…and we should all be thankful that he brought joy to a lot of people. RIP, for sure.

  2. Deborah Mattina said...

    I watched him in 1986 play the best baseball World Series that I have ever seen to date.  I fell in love with him then.  May God speed to comfort his family.  We all grieve on this day to loose the best catcher I have ever seen. My prayers are with you.

  3. Bruce Markusen said...

    Drew, I don’t think anyone’s doubting his baseball talent. If I were to rank the top catchers of my lifetime, I would have Bench number one, followed by Mike Piazza, Carlton Fisk, Pudge Rodriguez, then Carter, and Ted Simmons.

    The next batch would have Freehan, Posada, and Munson. I’m sure I’m leaving someone out, but those are the names that come to mind.

  4. Bruce Markusen said...

    Something that I picked up on after submitting this tribute. There is a strange twist to yesterday’s sad news about Carter. February 16, the day of Carter’s death, also happens to be the birthday of former major league catcher Barry Foote, who was born on that day in 1952. Foote and Carter came up in the Montreal Expos system together in the mid-1970s. For awhile, they competed for the starting job as Montreal’s catcher.

    Several of the Expos wanted Foote to be the No. catcher. But Expos manager Dick Williams ended up going with Carter, whom he felt was the better defensive catcher and could extract more from the pitchers. Of course, Williams ended up making the right choice. Foote settled in as a journeyman catcher, mostly a backup, while Carter became one of the best catchers of the seventies and eighties.

    Carter proved that Williams made the right choice.

  5. Michael Caragliano said...

    The Kid was one of my favorite players before he even got to New York- I kept my right elbow up when I batted in Little League, just like Gary- but when the Mets pulled off the deal to get him, that put him over the top in my book. When I heard the news he passed away, I remember thinking of Yankees fans when Mickey Mantle died in 1995. You saw grown men crying outside Yankee Stadium that day because a large piece of their childhood died with the Mick. I can kinda relate to how those men felt.

    Years later, when I got into radio and talked to a couple of sports reporters, when Carter’s name came up, they had the same view on him, Bruce- he wasn’t playing any angles or trying to buy favorable press; he just liked to talk. One of them told me he went into the locker room after a tough loss down the stretch in 1987 and needed sound, and it was clear the Mets weren’t in a mood to talk to anyone. Another reporter mumbled, “Give Carter five minutes to shower and we’ll get the word.” Sure enough, five minutes later, out came Gary Carter, and he was still talking twenty minutes later.

    So long, Kid…..

  6. Dennis Corcoran said...

    Here’s a trivia question. Who is the only Hall of Famer to invite a former president to his Hall of Fame Ceremony? It’s Gary Carter who invited George H. W. Bush to his 2003 induction. You can find this and a nice picture of Mr. Bush with his grandson Robert in my book “Inductionj Day at Cooperstown A History of the Baseball Hall of Fame Ceremony” (McFarland-2011).

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