We knew this was coming, but it nonetheless stings: Gary Carter passed away yesterday, at the too-young age of 57.
How dynamic was Carter as a player? I grew up in New Jersey, and my brother selected Carter as his favorite player - when Carter was on the Expos. Shoot, we took a family trip to Montreal in 1982 largely so we could see Carter and the Expos play in person.
(Unfortunately for us - true story - we left early in Game 2 of a twi-night doubleheader against Houston. So we weren't there when Carter homered in his final two at-bats of the night.)
I still remember sitting in the den of my childhood home in December 1984, watching "Monday Night Football" with Steve from South Amboy and my brother, and seeing a graphic stating that the Mets had acquired Carter from the Expos. And back in those days, you often didn't get a whiff of a trade until it was done. My brother instantly switched his loyalties from the Expos to the Mets.
Watching Carter play so often, once he became a Met, was a pleasure. Man, was he good, particularly in his first two years in a Mets uniform. Before his rally-starting hit in 1986 World Series Game 6, there was his very first game as a Met (a walkoff homer against St. Louis), '86 NLCS Game 5 and '86 World Series Game 4.
I lucked into attending Carter's first game back at Shea Stadium in 1990, after he signed with San Francisco, and the standing ovation for his first at-bat was immense.
I got to know Carter a little only these past few years, when he reached a stage in his life that clearly frustrated him. He badly wanted to manage the Mets, and he wasn't subtle about it. I remember interviewing him in late September 2004, after the Mets announced that Art Howe wouldn't return, and Carter said something to the effect of, "Well, they're telling me that I need to manage in the minors first, but I won't need much time. So they need to make sure that whoever they hire now, understands that he's going to do the job for only a short while."
He said this with complete sincerity, not seeming to appreciate how odd it sounded. He emitted the same vibe nearly four years later, when he tried to explain why he openly lobbied to succeed Willie Randolph (the man hired after that '04 campaign) while Randolph still held the job.
It was during the latter episode when Keith Hernandez ripped into Carter on SNY, and that brought to light just how unpopular Carter was among his old Mets teammates.
He managed to stay quiet these past few years, prior to his brain cancer diagnosis. Shoot, Newsday, thinking that Carter could generate some news with his too-honest public thoughts, hired him to write a blog when he managed the Long Island Ducks in 2009. But no fireworks emerged.
And when Carter's diagnosis became public last year, it seemed to bring out the best in everyone. The Mets, who had been understandably aggravated with Carter, wished him well on the Citi Field scoreboard during every home game. Old teammates like Hernandez, Ron Darling and Wally Backman softened and spoke about what a good, earnest teammate Carter was.
Carter let his daughter Kimmy share health updates on a public blog, inviting the world into the Carter family and preparing us for what was coming.
So ultimately, Carter was human, just like the rest of us. It's not a huge leap to suggest that the same drive and confidence that drove Carter to such greatness on the field contributed to some of his post-retirement missteps - and then helped he and his family confront adversity in heroic fashion.
Always, regardless of the arena, Carter was a powerful presence. It drew you to him, and sometimes it repelled you. A base of kindness and decency overrode the negatives, though, and had everyone rooting for him at the end. And it has us mourning his loss now.