Gary Carter, In Memoriam
It was 1988 and I was in my second month as the sports director of the CBS television station in Los Angeles and I was suddenly in desperate trouble.
The Dodgers were hosting the Mets in the National League Championship Series, I was doing the obligatory live sportscast from the field, and our prearranged interview with Orel Hershiser had suddenly blown up, five minutes to air, because manager Tom Lasorda had called a sudden team meeting. Orel was almost red with embarrassment but as I told him then, I wouldn’t have even thought about getting mad at him.
I don’t think Hershiser and I got animated or anything, and frankly I didn’t think anybody had even heard his friendly regrets, nor my friendly acceptance. But apparently Gary Carter of the Mets had been running past us, or something, as we spoke. Because as I turned around to try to figure out which of the Mets we might appeal to out of desperation, he was ten feet away and closing ground fast. He introduced himself – as if I wouldn’t have known who he was – and reminded me we had once done an interview while I was with CNN – as if I’d forgotten it. In point of fact, the first time I ever got paid to write about baseball players, the first time, was writing up the biographies on the backs of a set of baseball cards highlighting the stars of the International League in 1974, including the great catching prospect of the Memphis Blues, Gary Carter. I had known about him, and in a sense covered him, since I was fifteen years old. And Gary Carter was trying to pull my live shot out of the fire. “We’re supposed to be hitting,” he said. “But if Orel had to bail out on you, and you’re stuck for an interview, I can help you out.”
Just like that. Overheard that a guy he barely knew was in a spot, and he managed to shuffle a few things around – an hour before a game that helped decide whether or not his team would go to the World Series.
Because of this odd notion of his thatallof us on the field contributed to baseball’s success – not just the ones wearing the uniforms – some players called Gary Carter “Camera.” The premise was, he always knew where the camera was, and whether or not it was on him. In point of fact, I think his ceaseless cooperation with the media actually wound up hurting him in the Hall of Fame voting, as I think it has hurt Dale Murphy. The writers are afraid that voting in a guy whose geniality towards the media was legendary, but whose credentials could be interpreted as Hall/Not Hall, might look like favoritism.
We even talked about it in a tv interview in 2001. Of course he dismissed the idea. He was frustrated by being passed over for election, but still upbeat and enthusiastic, and he told me that if somehow his cooperation delayed or even prevented getting into Cooperstown, so be it. He wouldn’t have changed his attitude just to get another award, even if that award meant baseball immortality. As it was, Gary Carter had to wait until 2003 to get in to the Hall.
Today, after months of agonizing and dispiriting struggles with brain cancer, Gary Carter, a great catcher and leader and hard-nosed figure on a baseball field, yet simultaneously an aggressively nice man off it, passed away. And I am not ashamed to say it has left me in tears.
Hopefully the Mets will retire #8 for Carter (and Yogi) if they haven’t already. And that the Nationals will continue the Expos retirement of the same.
PS Gary Carter OWNED Steve Carlton with 11 HRs off him.
PPS Carter also played with the Giants in 1990 and the Dodgers (who KOed Carter’s teams TWICE one game form the World Series) in 1991
So sad. Rest in Peace, Kid.
RIP, Kid. You played the game with enthusiasm and heart, as it should be played. One the greatest catchers of my (or any) lifetime.
As Montreal’s La Presse sports columnist François Gagnon wrote in a blog post a few moments ago: “The Expos left Montreal in 2004. They died today at 4.10 p.m. this afternoon”. Rest in peace, Kid!
That’s beautiful. Thanks for sharing that!
thanks for sharing that. would be nice if the planet had more people like him. i understand that when persons like that meaning so much to your life pass on, a part of you dies.
but your eulogy to him keeps his spirit and presence alive and meaningful. hopefully, some of that fire from that torch can also be passed.
I’m so sick of Cancer!!!! I had such a crush on Gary Carter, so handsome. Didn’t hurt he was a great athlete. Say hi to Harry Kalas for me.♥ Even though he was A Phillies guy 🙂 RIP, Gary
Greatness is not just a measure of accomplishments in one’s lifetime. Greatness is found in the heart and what measure of decency it imparts to those who you meet. Well written Keith.
A beautiful love letter to a terrific baseball player, and a better human being. For so many memories, a life well lived–a New Yorker thanks you.
I saw Gary Carter play for the Memphis Blues at just 4 years old. It was my first pro game and I was taken there by my late Grandpa. I can’t remember Carter in that game, but he was my first favorite baseball player. I’ve shed my own years as well.
Excellent column. I would suggest everyone go read Jeff Pearlman’s also. Carter took a lot of grief from teammates because he was different from most ball players. I hope they apologising for their actions today.
Lovely tribute, Keith.
In that way, Carter reminded me of Steve Garvey. Many have called him phony. So be it. But he was incredibly cooperative with the media and the public, and I think he believed it was an important part of what a baseball player should do. It certainly hurt him in his relations with his teammates and eventually even with the media.
Sweet here. Sorry for your loss, sir. And the world’s. Your memorial reminds us that goodness–even greatness–has little to do with what a man does and much to do with what a man is. The losses seem so frequent now. Hard to believe that it death comes for us all…at some point. But only that physical form goes, lovely as it was (eh, Rosalie?)…and the essence lingers like the smell a new catcher’s mitt.
I will never, ever forget the 1986 World Series and how proud the Mets made me. Gary Carter especially made all of us Mets fans believe! RIP Gary. We will never forget you. Beautiful tribute, Keith. As always.
Another great article Keith maybe one of the best about one of the best. I always thought Carter was a great kind of guy, not just ball player, and that confirms it even more. He definitely will be missed and he definitely belonged in the Hall of Fame.
I grew up a Reds fan in the late 1970s and did not like Gary Carter at that point. I hated comparisons to Johnny Bench. Later, I couldn’t stand the brash Mets, and Gary Carter was part of it. Fast forward to 1991, and I was visiting Dodgers camp at Vero Beach. After a game against the Expos, I was walking near the players’ parking area and ran across Gary Carter, then with the Dodgers. I could tell which car was his: the vanity plate was “Kid 8,” and the frame around it said, “Baseball has been very, very good to me.” We exchanged greetings and he proceeded to share about five minutes of his time with me as he gave me an autograph. Watching the ’86 Mets retrospectives, I still wish Boston had won, but I am glad Gary Carter got a ring. I was glad to meet him and find out that “Camera” was completely genuine. Gary Carter had nothing to gain by being kind to me – it was just his way. Baseball was better for having him and he will be missed. God rest his soul!
I hope that Mets ownership, for a change, does something right and remember the history of their their team, rather than that of the Brooklyn Dodgers and retire No. 8 (followed by 1, 3, 16, 17, 18, 31, 36 and 45). It should have been done while Gary was around to enjoy the honor and get the salute that he deserved from Mets fans (and what a wonderful salute he received from the Montreal Canadiens!!!). He was a truly great player and class person.