“There’s no way I’m making the last f___ing out.”
Gary “Kid” Carter died today at just 57, apparently after a long bout with cancer.
Carter had the hard luck of coming up just behind possibly the greatest catcher ever, Johnny Bench, and another top-10 catcher, Carlton Fisk. Had Carter had a generation to his own, his stature in the game would have been even higher. Still, he’s generally considered one of the top eight or 10 catchers of all time, made the Hall of Fame without controversy and left a mark on the game at least as broad as his shoulders or his smile.
He went into the Hall of Fame as a member of the Montreal Expos, even though he said at the time he wanted to go in as a Met. For many of us Expos fans, we were glad to see Carter win a World Series ring, but we’ll always remember him in powder blue and red, not navy blue and orange pinstripes.
I honestly didn’t think the Mets deserved him. Because he was quiet and religious, the core of that World Series team — Darryl Strawberry, Doc Gooden and Keith Hernandez, all serious coke heads — made him the butt of the locker room jokes. But Carter did what he did best — play his ass off, win a lot of games and collect a lot of big hits.
He was also the starting catcher for the legendary 1981 Expos, which was the best team in baseball when the season was disrupted by a labor dispute and ended after 108 games. Carter was second on that team to Andre Dawson in most categories, including starting an astonishing 100 games, 84 of them behind the plate. Sixteen were at first base, which counted as a day off for Carter because the ‘Spos couldn’t afford to take him out of the lineup. The scary thing is that he was the third-best hitter on that team, behind Dawson and Tim Raines. The other thing I noticed is that, way before Moneyball and sabermetrics telling us the value of a walk, five starters on that team had at least as many walks as strikeouts, including Carter.
He was Bench’s equal defensively. Bench had a marginally better arm, I think. But Carter was agile, not for a big man with a dozen knee surgeries, he was agile, he framed pitches better than pretty much any catcher I’ve ever seen, blocked balls, blocked runners off the plate. He also exuded authority behind the plate. The cliche is that a catcher “Calls a good game.” Hack broadcasters use the expression to explain why managers run out has-beens like Jason Varitek — it’s easier than explaining the front office doesn’t have a viable option in the system — and it’s parroted by fans who don’t understand baseball. It fit Carter, though. It was clear that he was calling the game, not the pitcher. He set good targets, worked the hitters and the counts, and, when a play went wrong or a pitch went the other way for a big hit, my lingering memory is Carter patting his chest protector, telling his pitcher, “That one’s on me.”
The quote up top is from a really nice piece by Tim Kurkjian. May the road rise up to meet you Kid, and may you always be hitting on a 2-0 count.