Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter passed away today at the all-too-young age of 57, tragically taken down by some relentlessly vicious brain tumors. It's a sad day for a lot of baseball fans out there; I know my NY/NJ friends who still vividly remember "The Kid" leading the Mets to the World Series title in 1986, are especially broken up.
To me, however, Carter will always be an Expo, a key member of the 1976 team that played its final games at the quaint and tiny Jarry Park, the 1977 squad that moved into the ill-fated Olympic Stadium, and the Dick Williams-led 1979 powerhouse that surprised the shit out of the National League and very nearly beat the "We Are Family" Pirates to the NL East title. I was thousands of miles away from Montreal (a beautiful city that I've only visited once, long after the Expos were no more) at the time, but I was fascinated by that '79 Expos squad. Bill Lee, Steve Rogers, Scott Sanderson, Ross Grimsley and the unfortunately named Dan Schatzeder in the rotation; a surprisingly tough bullpen that featured both a 39 year-old Woodie Fryman and a 21 year-old David Palmer, as well as wily vets Stan Bahnsen, Rudy May and Elias Sosa; Tony Perez at first base; the unbelievably bad-ass outfield of Ellis Valentine, Andre Dawson and Warren Cromartie; and, of course, the perpetually-smiling (yet totally hard-nosed) Gary Carter behind the plate.
Carter was 25 that year, already playing in his fifth full major league season. He hit .283 with 22 home runs, 26 doubles, 5 triples, and 75 RBI; he also threw out 47% of the guys who attempted to steal a base on him that year, and made only 9 errors all season. It was a fairly typical season for "The Kid," who managed to play 'til the early 90s, making post-Mets stops in San Francisco and Los Angeles before returning to Montreal for one final season. A fan favorite everywhere he played, Carter was also widely respected by the fans whose teams he played against; you hated to see him in the lineup, but you couldn't hate on the man himself — he was just too good, too "pro", too obviously filled with the joy of being able to play baseball for a living. How could you hate a guy like that?
And now the man, "The Kid," is gone. It'd be easy to say that a little bit of my childhood has left with him; but every time I see a clip of the guy in action — even in this sweet 7-Up commercial from 1980 — it takes me right back to the same joy I felt when I was a kid running onto a baseball diamond, going to a ballgame, or opening up a wax pack of Topps cards and finding Gary Carter in there. Rest in Peace, Kid. You'll always be a part of us.