Wright, former Mets speak fondly of Carter

Catcher Gary Carter leads the cheers as the

Catcher Gary Carter leads the cheers as the New York Mets start celebrating after defeating the Boston Red Sox in Game 7 of the World Series. (Oct. 27, 1986) (Credit: Getty Images)

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- "Gary Carter did it the right way."

Those words were spoken last night by former teammate Darryl Strawberry during an interview with SNY, but that feeling was shared throughout the Mets family and beyond after the Hall of Fame catcher succumbed to brain cancer.

"The one thing I remember about Gary was his smile," Mookie Wilson said. "He loved life and loved to play the game of baseball."

Loved it so much, in fact, that Carter called David Wright a handful of times during the past year just to talk about baseball, something that the Mets third baseman will always remember.

"That was amazing," Wright said. "With all that he was going through. You could hear the excitement in his voice. As far as I'm concerned, if you strive to be half the player and half the person Gary Carter was, you'll be all right."

The Mets learned of Carter's passing Thursday afternoon, only four days before pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report for spring training. A banner of Carter -- following through with a bat in his hand -- hangs from one of the two large pillars at Digital Domain Park. Inside the stadium, there are many more photos. Carter is smiling in just about every one of them.

"No one loved the game of baseball more than Gary Carter," Tom Seaver said. "No one enjoyed playing the game of baseball more than Gary Carter. He wore his heart on his sleeve every inning he played. He gave you 110 percent and played the most grueling position on the field and that was something special."

Like Seaver before him, Carter was the anchor of his Mets, and the trade that brought him from Montreal helped deliver one of New York's most beloved championships. Even on a team as talented as the '86 Mets, Carter stood out. He earned respect from a group that played hard and partied harder.

"What he added to the team was character," Strawberry said. "His approach to the game was contagious. It spread to the rest of us. He helped each of us understand what it took to win."

Said Davey Johnson, his former manager, "Gary was a one-man scouting system. 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."

Dwight Gooden added, "I relied on Gary for everything when I was on the mound, including location, what pitch to throw and when. Even when I didn't have my best stuff, he found a way to get me through the game. He was just a warrior on the field."

Ron Darling echoed that sentiment. Carter played with an intensity that burned just as brightly in his other pursuits, whether it was as a minor-league manager for the Mets or working with his charity organizations.

"The baseball world lost one of its gladiators today and I have lost a friend," Darling said. "Gary Carter was everything you wanted in a sports hero: a great talent, a great competitor, a great family man and a great friend. To know Gary was to care deeply for him and I am deeply saddened."

Wally Backman, now the manager at Triple-A Buffalo, described Carter as an unselfish mentor. "He was like a big brother to me," said Backman, who will wear No. 8 this season in honor of Carter. "I always went to him for advice. No matter what time of day it was, he always had time for you."

That continued after Carter was through playing, and his influence as a manager made a lasting impact on some still in the organization. Carter was named Manager of the Year for his work with the Gulf Coast League Mets and won a championship with Class A St. Lucie the following season. Mets lefthander Jonathon Niese pitched for him on both of those clubs.

"The one thing Gary stressed to us was team," Niese said. "He said individual goals were meaningless. He said the name on the front of the uniform was more important than the name on the back. That's what I'll take from my two years with him."

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