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.