Gary Carter, the Hall of Fame catcher who helped lead the Mets to the world championship in 1986, died Thursday after a 10-month battle with brain cancer. He was 57. Kimmy Bloemers announced her father's passing on the family's website.
"The baseball world lost one of its gladiators today, and I have lost a friend,'' said former pitcher Ron Darling, Carter's teammate on the '86 Mets, in a statement issued by SNY. "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 . . . ''
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Former Met Wally Backman said of Carter, "He was like a big brother to me. I always went to him for advice. No matter what time of day it was, he always had time for you.''
Carter was last seen in public on the evening of Feb. 1 in Jupiter, Fla., at the season opener of the Palm Beach Atlantic University baseball team he coached the previous two seasons. Carter, seated in the back of a golf cart, greeted his former players and urged them to "get a win,'' which they did over Lynn University. He stayed for three innings before returning home.
Carter, who was diagnosed with grade 4 glioblastoma last May, made an appearance at his charity golf tournament Jan. 15 in West Palm Beach, Fla. Carter knew what he was facing.
"I talked to him in October,'' former Met Bud Harrelson said recently. "He talked about extending this -- he didn't think he would beat it.''
"On behalf of everyone at the Mets, we extend our deepest and heartfelt condolences to Gary's wife, Sandy, daughters Christy and Kimmy and son D.J,'' Mets chairman and CEO Fred Wilpon, president Saul Katz and COO Jeff Wilpon said in a statement.
"His nickname 'The Kid' captured how Gary approached life. He did everything with enthusiasm and gusto on and off the field. His smile was infectious. He guided our young pitching staff to the World Series title in 1986 and he devoted an equal amount of time and energy raising awareness for a multitude of charities and community causes. He was a Hall of Famer in everything he did.''
Commissioner Bud Selig also released a statement: "Driven by a remarkable enthusiasm for the game, Gary Carter became one of the elite catchers of all time. Like all baseball fans, I will always remember his leadership for the '86 Mets and his pivotal role in one of the greatest World Series ever played.''
Carter's former teammates spoke of his impact.
"What he added to the team was character,'' Darryl Strawberry said. "His approach to the game was contagious. He helped each of us understand what it took to win.''
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.''
A spokesman for SNY said Keith Hernandez "was really shaken up from the news and wanted some time to gather his thoughts'' before commenting.
Carter was born April 8, 1954, in Culver City, Calif. After the Expos drafted him in the third round in 1972 as a shortstop, he played for them from 1974-84. The Mets acquired him from the Expos Dec. 10, 1984.
"The genesis of the trade was that we wanted to add a big bat to the lineup,'' former general manager Frank Cashen said. "He did that right away.''
Showing an immediate flair for the big stage, Carter shined in 1985, slugging a career-high 32 home runs. On Opening Day, his walk-off homer in the 10th inning against the Cardinals inspired chants of "Ga-ry! Ga-ry!''
In 1986, he had one of the best seasons of his 19-year career, with 24 homers and 105 RBIs, and finished third in the balloting for National League Most Valuable Player. During the World Series he batted .276 (8-for-29) with nine RBIs, including two homers in Game 4 at Fenway Park. Carter singled to start the two-out rally in the 10th inning of the memorable Game 6.
The three-time Gold Glove winner was an 11-time All-Star and a two-time MVP of the game. He's the only player to homer twice in an All-Star Game (1981) and a World Series game.
The 6-2, 205-pounder was among the best run-producing catchers of his generation, hitting 298 of his 324 home runs at the position, seventh-most for a catcher. He was second to the Phillies' Mike Schmidt for MVP in 1980.
It was Expos teammate Ken Singleton who noticed the boundless energy of the youthful Carter in spring training of 1974. Singleton and infielder Tim Foli coined the nickname "Kid'' that would stay with Carter for the rest of his career.
Singleton, a Yankees broadcaster, said of Carter, "He had this unbridled enthusiasm for the game of baseball. When somebody breaks in, you don't know how good a ballplayer they are going to become. He had some talent. Kid Carter sounded good; it just stuck.''
Carter was an unabashed cheerleader, which sometimes drew digs from teammates. "He chatted a lot, that was his nature,'' said Harrelson, a coach on the 1986 Mets. "Gary really worked hard, got there early. He wanted to catch every single inning of every single game.''
Despite nine knee operations, he holds the record for putouts by a catcher and the NL mark for games caught.
The Mets released Carter after the 1989 season, and after splitting the next two years between the Giants and Dodgers, Carter returned to Montreal in 1992 to finish his career.
He tried his hand at minor-league managing, including a stint in 2009 with the Long Island Ducks, who are co-owned by Harrelson. Carter's one frustration, Harrelson believed, was not getting the chance to be a big-league manager. "I think he really wanted it, maybe too much,'' Harrelson said. "Too much vocally, but that's what he wanted.''
Carter made the Hall of Fame in his sixth year of eligibility in 2003. He wanted to be inducted in a Mets-Expos cap, but officials designated the Expos. His No. 8 was retired by the Expos -- now the Washington Nationals -- and the Mets have not used the number since he was inducted.
"It's nice to know that even though my body feels like an old man now, I will always be a kid at heart,'' he said in his induction speech. "I love this great game.''
With Zach Schonbrun