Thursday, February 16, 2012

RIP Gary Carter.

Well, We knew it was going to happen. I just hoped it wouldn't happen until at least he had a day for him at New Shea in 2012. Gary Carter died today of brain cancer at the age of 57. As a Mets fan, It's tremendously sad news. Mets fans aren't used to having things go our way when it comes to our favorite team. Especially when compared to the crosstown team with much more success. But back in the mid to late 1980s it was good to be a Mets fan. And Gary Carter was the piece that finished the puzzle.

I became a hardcore Mets fan in 1976 when Gary Carter was on the Montreal Expos. He was a up and comer at the time with a cool baseball card to boot.

The Mets would go through some really tough years in the late 70s and early 80s while Gary Carter rose to become the best catcher in the game after Johnny Bench hung up his mask. And man did he annoy me. He was so good in a Derek Jeter sort of way but in Montreal, He wasn't able to bask in World Series glory like Jeter did. Montreal made only one playoff appearance (their only one to this day) in the strike shortened 1981 season. If he wanted to win it all he needed to be traded. Fortunately there was a team that needed one more player to win it all and Gary Carter was that player and the New York Mets were that team.

Starting in 1980, The Mets new ownership were making serious strides into being a competitive team. They had built up a good farm system that took advantage of their losing records to get high draft picks. they made some trades, good and bad. The best was getting Keith Hernandez for Neal Allen and Rick Ownby. the Mets started winning in 1984 with 19 year old rookie Dwight Gooden and Daryl Strawberry's first full season. They rose up to challenge the Chicago Cubs (Another hard luck team) for the Eastern Division. The Cubs would win out in a tight race lead by MVP Ryne Sandberg and Cy Young Award winning Rick Sutcliffe. The Mets were for real and knew they were just one piece away from winning it all.

Gary Carter became available for a trade and the Mets traded fan favorite Hubie Brooks and non hitting rookie catcher Mike Fitzgerald and others for Gary Carter. He paid dividends on the very first game he played for the Mets (A game I'm watching as I write this, on SNY.) by hitting a home run to win the game. The Mets in 1985 would do even better than 1984 but would lose out to the St. Louis Cardinals on the last weekend of the season and in the pre-wild card era of baseball, It wasn't enough. Gary Carter had a great season leading the Mets in home runs and RBIs, a feat he did for much of his time on the Mets.

Of course 1986 was another great year for the Mets, the best in fact and Gary Carter was a key component especially handling the great pitching they had that year. Calling games for Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Bobby Ojeda, Sid Fernandez and the great relief corps of the Mets. They would win 108 games but would have some adversity in the playoffs. The firs round of the playoffs was facing the Houston Astros and the mighty former Met Mike Scott. Gary Carter struggled at the bat, hitting less than .100 in the series but came up big in game 5 by driving in the winning run in the 12th inning. In game 6, He was behind the plate catching nothing but screwballs from Jesse Orosco in the 16th inning when they finally beat the Astros to get into the World Series to face the Boston Red Sox.

The Mets started off badly, Losing the first two games at home. They bounced back to win the next two with game 4 being won on the strength of Gary Carter's two home runs. However, they lost game 5 and face elimination when they headed back to Shea to play game 6. they fell behind early 3-0 and tied it up only to give Boston the lead courtesy of a Ray Knight error. Gary Carter tied it up with sac fly in the 8th and the score remained that way until the 10th.

We all know the story. The Red Sox took the lead in the 10th and were up by two when the Mets came up to bat. The Mets made two quick outs and were down to their last out when Gary Carter came to the plate. On a 1-1 count he got a single to keep the game alive. According to Mets folklore when Gary Carter reached first base he told first base coach "There’s no way I’m making the last fuckin' out." Remarkable in that Gary Carter was a noted "goody two shoes" who was a good Christian who according to Ron Darling never swore. The moment was that intense. He would score ahead of the two runs that tied and win the game for the Mets when the ball went through Bill Buckner's legs. They would win game 7. And Gary Carter would have his one and only ring.

After a good 1987 season, Gary Carter struggled in 1988 when the Mets would win 100 games and would lose to the team of destiny of 1988, The Kirk Gibson led Dodgers. He would play his last year on the Mets in 1989 and would play for the Dodgers, Giants and returned to the Expos to finish his career.

A hall of fame career. It took awhile, In the years he was eligible for the Hall of Fame, Baseball had changed to being a very offensive oriented game and Carter was overlooked in the steroid era. Finally he was inducted, well deserved in that he was the BEST catcher in the game in the early to mid 1980s bar none.

His retirement was relatively quiet. He wanted to go into the HOF as a Met, But in reality his best years were with the Montreal Expos and the HOF felt SOMEONE needs to represent the defunct Montreal Expos. He was worthy and the Expos retire his number 8. The Mets haven't done that yet. They're stingy with retiring numbers. They're not the Yankees for God's sake. Hopefully they might change their mind. The Mets need something to look forward while they slowly try to get back to respectability.

He got brain cancer last year that was deemed inoperable. Like another beloved Met, Tug McGraw he would lose the battle and I'm sad. He gave us Mets fans great memories and true respect.

Rest In Peace.

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