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Gary Carter's death takes emotional toll on Keith Hernandez

Keith Hernandez, left, and Gary Carter walk off

Keith Hernandez, left, and Gary Carter walk off the field at Shea Stadium after clinching the National League East title. The two served as captains of the Mets. Credit: AP

Keith Hernandez was reduced to tears Thursday when he learned that former Mets teammate Gary Carter had died of brain cancer at age 57.

"I really didn't expect it to have that overwhelming emotional effect on me," the SNY analyst said. "It did. It's not just a former teammate that passed away."

They seemed so opposite during their years on the Mets, and many assumed Hernandez and Carter had a difficult co-existence. Carter was quick to show his emotions and Hernandez kept his under wraps. Hernandez enjoyed the postgame nightlife; Carter did not. There was a stark difference in personalities.

Hernandez knew there was a strong perception that the two captains had a rift. And, with Carter gone, Hernandez wants to set the record straight.

"Our relationship was fine, we got along great," Hernandez said. "We had different lifestyles. Gary had a different life than I had, but on the field, we never had an issue. It was all playing to one end. We were never at odds. I want to be very clear about that."

Hernandez, 58, said he knew there would be a spotlight on both players when Carter was traded from Montreal to the Mets on Dec. 10, 1984.

"The big issue when we made the trade, being in New York, was how was Gary and Keith, two strong personalities, how were they going to mix, how were they going to blend?" Hernandez said. "I went out of my way to make sure that there was never an issue and that we were all in it together. But I just knew the media would be looking to see if there was any rift between Gary and I early on, and there never was.

"Gary was a guy that grated you the wrong way when he was the enemy. There's no question. But as a teammate, he was fine. It was all part of our blend, our chemistry as a team. You can't just have what I see a lot today, 25 bland personalities. You can't have too much of one type. Gary was fiery, I was fiery. We had a lot of fiery guys on our team and a lot of easygoing guys. It was a great blend. I think you've got to have both."

Hernandez said he was thrilled when Carter came to the Mets. "Shoot, we had an All-Star catcher, we had Darryl [Strawberry] and myself, lefthanded hitters," Hernandez said. "This enabled us to put a righthand bat in the middle between us. A great defensive catcher, someone that called a terrific game, an aggressive game. When we got him, I was thrilled, we won 90 games and started to turn things around. It was fun. How can you not be happy with this addition?"

Long after their playing careers ended, Hernandez did publicly admonish Carter when it appeared he was promoting himself to replace then-Mets manager Willie Randolph.

"I didn't get a chance to talk to him after that," Hernandez said. "It's something I probably should have handled better. But it is what it is. We had a lot of other guys that popped off far more than Gary. Gary finished a distant fifth or sixth with some of the guys on our team, with some of the things that came out of their mouth. We all had one thing in common: We wanted to win, we were talented."

All that came back to Hernandez when Carter died Thursday afternoon.

"I was informed three days before that he had gone into the hospital and was on morphine and they were making him comfortable, and I was just awaiting the call that he had passed," he said. "You put blinders on and don't face it until it's right there in front of you. I must admit I was completely surprised it had that kind of impact on me emotionally."

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