Friday, February 17, 2012

The 1977 Montreal Expos Mourn The Loss of Gary Carter

Taken Father's Day 2010 in Cooperstown
Sadly real life has forced me to take time out from our fantastic 1977 replay to honor the passing of "the kid" Gary Carter.  #8 was a man's man, who played hard day in and day out and always had a smile for the fans.  He never met a camera that didn't like him.  He was the "genuine article".  He played ball in an era where it was cool to be a "bad boy" and have a chip on your shoulder and a scowl on your face.  That wasn't Carter's way. He enjoyed playing and it showed.  He was one of those guys who "got it".  He understood what a privilege it was to be able to put on a major league uniform and receive a paycheck while doing it.  He gave back to the fans and the community.  There were days when things didn't go well for him, but he just kept on smiling.

I had the good fortune to have seen him play as both and Expo and a Met.  While in Montreal he had the burden of being the "face of the franchise".  Many of his teammates would mock him behind his back.  Some said he was a phony, while others just felt like he was showing them up.  "Kid" wasn't a phony.  I can tell you stories about him that can easily back that up.  He did show up his counterparts who were more into "self" than "team".

I had the pleasure to have met him a year and a half ago up in Cooperstown during the 201 HOF game, which was played on Father's day.  "Kid" was busy signing autographs for some VIP's when I yelled through the fence, "Hey Kid, I've got some Met fans here who want to talk to you about that walk off homer on opening day 1985".  He turned and looked at me and winked and said, "Give me 1 minute".  A minute or two later he walked over and chatted w/us about that event and he signed my friend's son's Met hat.  We all shook his hand and took some pictures of him, which I'm going to post here.  What a guy.  He could have continued to talk to the VIP's, but he took a few moments out to spread some cheer our way.  Moments like that are unforgettable.

Bob Feller, Phil Niekro, Gary Carter, Goose Gossage & Bill Madlock
If I had to think about his greatest baseball moments I would have to go with one that touched me personally.  Back in August of 1989 I took a ride down from NYC to Philly to see the Mets play the Phils in a getaway day game.  The Mets were barely hanging on in a pennant race that they would eventually lose to the Cubs by 6 games.  The team was in transition.  You could just feel that swagger from 1984-88 was now gone.  Dykstra, McDowell, Mookie and Maz were all traded mid season.  Mex's legs were shot and he spent more time watching Magadan butcher first base than playing.  Carter was fading quickly himself.  Entering the game he was hitting about a buck twenty.  He hadn't caught a game in 5 or 6 days.  He was virtually the 3rd string catcher sitting behind the forgettable Barry Lyons and Mr. Yipps himself, Mackey Sasser.  When I saw that he was pencilled into the starting lineup I kind of thought, "Let's hope he can still make contact".  "Kid" not only made contact he went 4 for 4 with 2 doubles.  One of those doubles hit off the top of the wall and could have been a homer.  It was one of those magical days when the great one's find a way to dig down deep and turn back the clock to a time when the game was so easy for them to dominate.  The Mets won that game easily with Bobby Ojeda shutting out a very pedestrian Phillies club.  The whole trip home on the Turnpike we were all talking about how this was the spark that the Mets needed and that with Carter back in form the team was definitely going to jell and win the division.  Of course that was not going to happen.  Kid finished the season hitting .183 in just 50 games.  Not the way you want to go out.  Not what we had expected or wanted.  I think we all knew deep down inside that August 9th, 1989 was his swan song, but we weren't willing to accept it.  Fans can never accept the reality of an aging hero becoming a mere mortal.

Over the past day I have seen numerous posts on Facebook and other sites talking about what Gary Carter meant to them.  My friend Torey might have put it the best, "A piece of my childhood died with Gary Carter!! Thanks for the memories Kid!!"

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