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Keidel: Time To Salute ‘The Kid’ Gary Carter

By Jason Keidel
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At the risk of sounding like an elitist, I consider myself a New Yorker – a New Yorker before I’m a writer, an American… before I’m even a human being. Perhaps you must be from here to understand that pride which borders on bloodlust for a time and a town that no longer exists.

And I think you must be a real New Yorker – not an Oberlin grad chasing some Sex and the City fantasy, but rather born and raised and lucid in the 1980s – to truly understand how good Gary Carter was with the Mets. And, as paradoxical as it sounds, I think perhaps you need to be a Yankees fan to feel his full effect.

There were two channels on which we watched our baseball back then: WPIX and WOR, which broadcast the Yanks and Mets, respectively. On Channel 11, we got the hopelessly charming shill and Huck Finn refrain of Phil Rizzutto, and on Channel 9 we saw Tim McCarver’s no-nonsense, professorial precision and catcher’s eye dissecting the Metropolitans.

And depending on your baseball allegiance, you went to one channel or the other for horror or humor or relief. To those under 30, it’s hard to grasp that New York was entirely a Mets town in the 1980s. The Yankees weren’t awful, but they were never expected to win a World Series, and they obliged every year. And thus we who worshipped the Yankees secretly and quietly nudged the dial two clicks to see how baseball should be played. (Yes, there was life before cable, remote controls and cell phones.)

In Queens, there was a grand convergence of timing and talent, like clouds joining off the deep blue part of the map, starting with Doc and Darryl spawned by the farm and the arrival of Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez. And, finally, the eye of the storm, making the Mets ready to rain on the rest of baseball, was a catcher named Gary Carter. Carter, who came to Queens from Montreal, was eager to win after toiling in Canada, where baseball was liked but not particularly loved. He landed in America’s media vortex not afraid of the glare, but rather basking in its glow.

Carter’s numbers speak for themselves, as does his dexterity in the field. Indeed, entering the Hall of Fame really silences any debate about his deeds as a ballplayer. But what made this Yankees fan so nauseated on summer nights was the fact that the hated Mets, led by Carter – affectionately and appropriately coined “The Kid” based on the glee he brought to the game, his curly hair sprouting from his blue helmet – were simply better than the Yankees at nearly every position, particularly at catcher, where the Bronx Bombers had a turnstile of deficient backstops spin through Yankee Stadium, from Rick Cerone to Butch Wynegar to Ron Hassey to Don Slaught to Joel Skinner.

Those Mets had the talent to win a fistful of World Series rings, yet only one won, in 1986. In fact, Carter often said (and was seconded by Hernandez) that the best Mets club of that epoch played in 1985. Even as late as 1988, they were by far the best team in the game, but melted before the meteoric season had by Orel Herschiser, whose science fiction stats and unbreakable will lay waste to the entire sport.

Aside from Darryl Strawberry, no Met was monstrous at the plate. But they had a sublime starting staff – handled flawlessly by Carter – a fine bullpen, and nearly every batter was big when it mattered. And no Met was more clutch than Carter, who was a big rung on the rally ladder that led the Mets back from the brink against the cursed Red Sox, who were a strike away from beating the Mets in six games. You know the rest. And Mets fans will almost say in unison that those teams don’t dominate as they did without Gary Carter, who doubled as team leader and pitching psychiatrist, coddling or prodding a rather diverse staff.

As an Expo, Carter hit .421 in the 1981 playoffs against Philadelphia, and batted .438 against the Dodgers in the NLCS. He hit two homers and collected 9 RBI against the Red Sox in the ’86 World Series, including that line drive that kept his club alive in the 10th inning of Game 6, a game I could practically hear from my 14th floor apartment in Manhattan while a senior in high school. The entire city trembled after Game 7, from Coney Island to the Cloisters, and Carter was the epicenter.

Now we learn that Gary Carter has died. At 57, he is far too young to be forever benched. It’s always incongruous, if not maddening, to see the giants of our youth shrivel into dust. Even as adults, we still need heroes.

Another nice thing about New Yorkers is that even when we root against someone – from Jordan to Reggie Miller to Reggie Jackson to Tom Brady – we respect their talent. And somewhere deep in the folds of our small brains we are applauding some great aesthetic even when completed at our expense. And now, 25 years later, we applaud Gary Carter, a special player, because 25 years ago he made New York a special place.

Feel free to email me:

Please leave your thoughts on ‘Kid’ Carter in the comments below…

  • Christine Ahlbrand

    Gary Carter, no words can I saw in what a great player he was. He played the game of baseball 100%. I cannot say there is another player out there who does this anymore!!!! I am still a Met fan no matter what, don”t forget fans out there!!! I ever thought he was a great player before he became a Met !!! Also, lets get alot of word out there we Seriously Need to really HONOR GARY AND RETIRE #8 !!!!!

    • Kurt Spitzner

      The only sad thing is that it takes something like this before they honor such a great man and player such as him!

      • JK

        It raises an interesting point, Kurt. When is it appropriate to honor – well, immortalize, really – a player by retiring his number? If memory serves, he was a Met for just five years and was in Montreal for about 12 years. And didn’t he enter the HOF as an Expo? We’ve had similar debates about Reggie Jackson vis-a-vis the Yankees over the years.

        Don’t misunderstand me, Carter deserves ample accolades and, ultimately, it’s the team’s call. Unlike the HOF, where the standards are supposed to be supremely stringent, the Mets could easily retire No. 8 and would get little resistance. I guess I’m just wondering aloud about the criteria for immortality.

        If nothing else, it makes for robust dialogue…

  • Kurt Spitzner

    God bless and Godspeed to a true hero of the game.

    • JK

      Agreed, Kurt. I can only imagine the admiration you have for him.

  • John Z

    Great article. Gary and the Mets gave me and countless other fans our greatest childhood sports memory. I was 11 and would listen to night games on the radio after my parents made me go to bed. I am pretty sure I watched or listened to almost every game of that ’86 season. I have never screamed as loudly as I did when Ray Knight stepped on home plate that fateful game 6.
    Without knowing much about Gary Carter as a person, he just seemed to be one of the good guys and was a hero, in a child’s definition of the word. If I could only own one baseball Jersey in my lifetime, it would be a Mets #8.
    I wish all the best to you and your family Gary and thank you being a true class act on and off the field.

    • JK

      Thanks, John. I too recall the thunderous reaction from all corners of my neighborhood after that game and that series. A shame I couldn’t appreciate it at the time, so swathed in my self-absorption (as most teens are).

  • Jim in VA

    A great tribute to a great player. I will never forget the bottom of the 9th in game 6 of the 1986 WS, when with two outs, Gary Carter lined a single up the middle to start the most incredible rally in baseball history. Gary Carter was a great player and is an even better human being!

    • JK

      Thank you, Jim. At the time I was in agony, as one of the two teams that tormented me the most was assured a championship in 1986. But in reflection, that really was a magical season and series. And NYC was so vastly different – and better – back then.

      Thanks again for reading and responding…

  • johnny

    Fantastic piece on The Kid. You captured the sentiments of Mets fans and Yankee fans alike.

    • JK

      Thank you, Johnny. Even as a Yankee fan I was painfully aware of Carter’s brilliance. Let’s all hope for one more miracle for The Kid.

  • Jonas Altman-Kurosaki

    Doc and Darryl were the homegrown phenoms. Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter, though, were brought in to provide true fire and professionalism to a young group of kids and boy, did they ever. Carter began his Mets career with a walkoff homer in his Shea debut, setting the tone for many wonderful years in Flushing full of clutch hits, emphatic curtain calls and even turning a sparkling double play playing third base after Hernandez charged a bunt harder than ever before. Carter was the quintessential team player, so much so that it sometimes worked against him, particularly in later years when he wanted to manage the Mets without them asking.

    Carter was as clutch as clutch could be, and his postseason numbers speak for themselves. Even after his 0-1 foul ball just missed being caught to end the ’86 World Series, you knew that he wouldn’t make the last out. Although Ray Knight actually won MVP of that series and also led the team in fights started, Carter was the fuel on the Mets’ fire all year long and spread that ferocity to the rest of the ballclub. I’m sure it’s impossible to count the number of young ballplayers who were mentored by, or at least learned a thing or two from the Kid. Here’s hoping the guy who touched the hearts of millions of players, coaches and fans alike has a little more fire left in him.

    • Jonas Altman-Kurosaki

      By the way, it’s probably for the better that Carter never did manage the Mets. He began clamoring for the job right around the Art Howe era – a.k.a. the second-worst team money could buy – and no one could’ve helped that geriatric group of despondent, lame losers. Managing that bunch would’ve surely scarred his reputation among Mets fans.

      The Mets paid tribute to Carter during every home game after his original diagnosis and I expect to see more of the same in 2012. May the Kid fight on!

  • mickeyp

    Hey Jay, great piece. I’m 39 and growing up a Yankee fan was tough in the 80s. My father is a Met fan.
    I remember as a kid my father being so pumped up about the mets it was awesome. He used to tell me to watch Gary play and that how I should play. Have fun and win. Thanks

    • JK

      Thanks, Mickey. I’m 42 and became a man while the Yanks played, well, unmanly. It was painful to play second-banana to the Mets, but I’m not too jaded to admit Carter’s brilliance.

  • Nick Reiner

    Nice one, Jason. We are a particular breed of New Yorkers and yes, our perspective on that period of time is ours alone. As a Met fan it was beyond description. I was in the upper deck for game 6 and it cemented the fanatical side of my allegiance to all things Met. All love and strength go out to The Kid.

    • JK

      DIsclaimer – though I went to high school with Mr. Reiner, I did not pay him to print that.

      You’re spot-on, Nick – that was your team, but our time and our town. NYC in the 1980s was a special place: a bit more dangerous but a lot more exciting and real. Manhattan died sometime since then, perhaps when Disney bought The Deuce.

      I even remember Game 6 against Houston. We used to sneak into MJ Goodies (remember that spot?) and listen to the game on their radio. The entire island hushed for a few hours while they played extra innings, knowing that Mike Scott was ready to pitch Game 7.

      Good to hear from you, dude. Let’s not wait another 20 years before a reunion.

  • fritz von

    A game player is not a hero.

    • Jonas Altman-Kurosaki

      Dude, what? Heroes can be whoever you want them to be – there’s no set definition on who can and can’t be one. Sports stars are very often heroes, especially if their greatness extends beyond the physical aspects of the game, and beyond the game itself. Carter was a great man on and off the field, and inspired countless children and adults with his fire and his ability to stand up to a challenge. I, for one, still get goosebumps watching or even just thinking about the highlights of Carter’s career (among many others’), and they inspire me to try to be as great as they were. To me, that’s a hero. Sorry if that doesn’t fit your definition; I shudder thinking about how unhappy your life might be with such strong, unfounded opinions on things like the qualifications for heroism.

    • JK

      Well, that was brilliant, fritz. No doubt you’re the universal arbiter of who is and isn’t a hero. Why did you even bother posting?

  • Mikeybrooklyn

    The Kid was one of my idols as a 15 yr old kid in 1986 along with Keith. I have truly magical memories of those great days. A class act. God bless him and his family. They will be in my prayers.

  • chris

    It’s hard to believe we are at this point. I have such great memories of Mr. Carter and all the Mets of the era. Had the good fortune of meeting him a few times and always a gentleman. Not always true with today’s ball players. I wish and pray nothing but the best for Gary, and hope that a miracle can find a way to him.

    Well done JK

    • JK

      Thanks, Chris. I never had the pleasure, but perhaps I had the vicarious pleasure through those who did meet him. He certainly was classy enough on the diamond.

  • Jeanne

    I grew up with Gary and his wife, Sandy. We are the same age from the same hometown and same neighborhoods and schools and sandlots. This is just so heartbreaking b/c he (& they) have always been so endearing to those of us who “knew him when”. He was amazing then, and they amaze me still with their enduring love, faith & the beautiful family they have raised. He is a hero to my kids, and will ever remain so. We are witnessing “true grit” and the heart of a champion. Gary truly loved baseball. I hope baseball will always love him back.

    • JK

      Indeed, Carter was (and is) a hero to countless kids, even if some happen to now be adults.

  • lou scala

    I had the great pleasure of meeting The Kid, Gary Carter, at a LI Ducks baseball game. My daughter is a friend of his son DJ. I told him what a blessing it was to hear him give his God and Savior Jesus Christ the glory for his talent and the victory. Soon he may be in His presence and hear the words, “well done good and faithful servant.”–Great piece Jason

    • JK

      Thank you very much, Lou. Carter deserves every word of it.

  • MikeD

    As a long time and continual Yankee fan…………….I had wished the “Kid” was a Yank. All the best Gary, we all await your comeback!!!

  • kerri a

    that was beautiful

    • JK

      Thank you, Kerri.

  • Joe

    Met’s must retire NO 8…it was no secret upon his arrival sealed the Mets as a dominate baseball club but more that that he polished the chemistry with his gleeeming smile and always the kid I love hearing him being interviewed and broght the young pitching staff to there potential and as a Christian I see the Lord shines through him. What a guy but always Kid. He looked so great in a Mets uniform Get well Gary

  • Steve C.

    You captured this Yankee fan’s perspective on Carter and the 80’s Mets. I hope the Kid gets a miracle bigger than 1969.

    • JK

      Thank you, Steve. Indeed, the ’80s were a dark decade for us. But we can’t be so jaded that we can’t properly salute a star of Carter’s gravitas.

  • Kathleen Walker

    I am praying so hard for Gary Carter! He has always been a class act! He will always be my favorite player of all time and a true gentleman!! God Bless him and his family and I am praying he will be ok.

    • JK

      thanks for reading and responding, Kathleen. We all pull for The Kid.

      • Tommy C

        Wondeful article for a wonderful man.The Kid deserves every word and then some . I’ve been a Yankees fan since i could walk.But, I have always loved the way THE KID played the game,,,,,, all out all the time., ear to ear smiile , tough but clean .I truly hope and pray he makes it.When god made this man ……he truly broke the mold……..GODSPEED KID

        • JK

          Thank you, Tommy. Indeed, if anyone has a comeback left, it’s Gary Carter.

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