Gary Carter, a leader of the World Series-winning 1986 New York Mets whose unwavering enthusiasm earned him the nickname “Kid,” has died. He was 57.
Carter, who waged a nine-month battle with brain cancer, died yesterday, his daughter, Kimmy Bloemers, wrote on a website the family used to keep friends and fans informed. “I believe with all my heart that dad had a standing ovation as he walked through the gates of heaven to be with Jesus,” Bloemers wrote. He died in hospice care near his Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, home, Mets spokesman Jay Horwitz said.
In 19 years in Major League Baseball, Carter won awards for hitting and for his defensive skills as catcher, the sport’s most grueling position, while becoming a fan favorite for his exuberant approach to the game.
After 11 seasons with the Montreal Expos, he helped guide the Mets during one of the most productive periods in their history, from 1985 through 1989. During that span, the Mets won 485 games and lost 323, triumphing in the 1986 World Series and winning the National League East again in 1988. Manager Davey Johnson named Carter co-captain of the team, along with Keith Hernandez, in 1988.
“Gary was a one-man scouting system,” Johnson said in a statement released by the team yesterday. “What people didn’t know was that he kept an individual book on every batter in the National League. He was the ideal catcher for our young pitching staff.”
After Carter was voted into the Hall of Fame in 2003, Johnson told the New York Daily News: “He was a joy to manage, except when I didn’t have him in the lineup. Then he was a you-know-what.”
Carter “delighted in relationships,” Ira Berkow wrote in the New York Times. “When you posed a question to him, you’d generally need an alarm on your wristwatch to end the interview.”
Not everyone appreciated Carter’s unflinching rectitude or his nose for the spotlight. In Montreal, some of his less-celebrated teammates called him “Camera Carter.” In New York, he stood out as a religious and straight-laced member of a team known for its partying.
Pitcher Ron Darling, Carter’s teammate in New York and now a baseball analyst on television, said he didn’t like Carter’s habit of expressing displeasure with a pitch by firing the ball back to the pitcher.
“But guess what? That anger got my attention, and I was able to be a little more fine with the next pitch,” Darling wrote in his memoir, “The Complete Game,” co-written with Daniel Paisner. “That’s how it often happened with Kid, by the way: he’d go about his game a certain way, and it might set you off at first, but he knew exactly what he was doing; he helped me lift my game.”
In the Mets’ 1986 championship run, Carter hit 24 home runs and knocked in 105 runs in the regular season, drove home the winning run in the 12th inning of Game 5 of the National League Championship Series against the Houston Astros, and homered twice in Game 4 of the World Series in Boston.
In Game 6 of the World Series, at Shea Stadium in New York, Carter came to bat with the Mets one out away from a crushing end to what had been a stellar season. He singled off Boston Red Sox reliever Calvin Schiraldi. Two more singles, a pitching change, a wild pitch and one of baseball’s most famous errors later, the Mets had won the game to force Game 7, which they also won.
Asked after Game 6 what had gone through his mind when he stepped to the plate against Schiraldi, Carter replied, “I was thinking that I wasn’t going to make the last out of the World Series.”
Gary Edmund Carter was born on April 8, 1954, in Culver City, California, the second son of Jim Carter, an aviation-parts inspector for Hughes Aircraft Co. and later McDonnell Douglas Corp., and his wife, Inge.
When Carter was 12, his mother died of leukemia. He leaned not only on his father, who coached his youth baseball teams, but also on his brother, Gordy. At his Hall of Fame induction in 2003, Carter thanked his brother “for being such an amazing role model to me growing up. It meant so much to me that you would always allow me to play ball with you and your friends even if I did bug you all the time.”
Carter won the National Football League-endorsed “Punt, Pass and Kick” competition at 7 and was a finalist again two years later. Multiple colleges offered him football scholarships, and he signed a letter of intent with the University of California at Los Angeles. But when the Expos chose him in the 1972 amateur draft, Carter decided to skip college and commit to baseball.
Birth of ‘Kid’
At Carter’s first spring training with the Expos, in 1974, veteran players who noticed his extreme enthusiasm started calling him “Kid.”
The team called him up to the majors at the end of that season, and the next year he was named to the first of his 11 All-Star Games.
In the strike-shortened 1981 season, he helped lead the Expos to their only postseason appearance. The franchise would move after the 2004 season from Montreal to Washington, becoming the Nationals.
Carter was traded to the Mets after the 1984 season and hit a game-winning home run in his first game in New York. With Hernandez, who had joined the Mets in 1983, Carter added veteran savvy to a lineup full of young talent, including Darling, Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden.
End of Career
“His nickname ‘The Kid’ captured how Gary approached life,” Mets owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon, and Saul Katz said in a joint statement. “He did everything with enthusiasm and with gusto on and off the field. His smile was infectious.”
Carter finished his playing career with the San Francisco Giants in 1990, the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1991 and a return to Montreal in 1992. He registered 2,092 hits, including 324 home runs. He won three Gold Glove awards.
“It is nice to know that even though my body feels like an old man now, I will always be a kid at heart,” Carter said in his 2003 Hall of Fame speech. “I love this great game.”
Carter went on to manage in the minor leagues. Last year he completed his second season as coach at Palm Beach Atlantic University.
Carter was a philanthropist through his Gary Carter Foundation. He had three children with his wife, the former Sandy Lahm.
Bloemers, their middle child, kept an online journal about her father’s struggle with cancer, expressing the family’s deep faith in God and thanking fans for their prayers.
Describing what would be the family’s final Christmas with her father, she wrote in late December: “Wednesday through Friday were nice (low-key) family days. Dad got in the pool, we had a game night with many laughs and some great food to enjoy. Dad was a ‘gamer’ and tried to be around all the fun for as long as possible.”