Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Gary Carter’s cancer is terrible news

The article is devastating. One of the greats of not only Mets baseball but also baseball in general is losing his battle with cancer.

Doctors have found more tumors on Gary Carter’s brain. It makes me so sad.

There was a time when Gary Carter was a dreaded batter. He was a catcher, and one of the game’s greatest, and he wore the uniform of the now-gone Montreal Expos. That bat was a holy terror, though.

One of the greatest joys in my life was when the Mets traded to get Gary Carter. Here was an experienced catcher needed to handle Mets pitchers and a dangerous power hitter who could turn the game around with a swing of the mighty bat. In 1985, the ownership of the Mets had some hot players coming up from the farm system, but was not averse to a trade or two to make things work. Another great player they obtained – one of the greatest Mets players ever, in my view – was Keith Hernandez. But that’s for another posting.

Mets fans had some cause for optimism as the 1984 season ended. Players like Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry showed great promise, Hubie Brooks (who was traded for Gary Carter) and Mookie Wilson were proving to be greats in their own right, and every player seemed to be ready for a great season in 1985.

When the Mets traded for Hernandez, then signed him to a long-term contract, and landed Carter, it really hit home. The ownership was serious. They really wanted the Mets to contend. It wasn’t about next year. It was this year.

Gary Carter set the tone for 1985. In his first game in the orange and blue, on April 9, 1985, at Shea Stadium against the St. Louis Cardinals in the 10th inning of a tie game, he crushed a game-winning home run into the left-field bullpen on Opening Day. I still remember the call, and the announcer saying, “Welcome to New York, Gary Carter.”

Those were the days. He was young and great, and beloved in a city that could be cruel to athletes. That big swing was now on the side of the good guys, and went to work dismantling National League pitching. Behind the plate, he was the master of defense with an arm that could make a runner think twice about trying to steal.

Rounding third and trying to score on the Mets? Good luck getting past Gary Carter.

Under manager Davey Johnson, it looked in 1985 like it was the Mets’ year. Despite a 26-7 drubbing at the hands of the Phillies, the Mets plowed through their schedule, winning mostly, losing occasionally, but always in the running. Still, the St. Louis Cardinals were the team to beat, despite having traded the great Keith Hernandez to the Mets the previous year. The Mets won 98 games that year.

It may have been 26 years ago, but I remember it so well. On October 1-3, 1985, with the Mets three games back, it all came down to a three-game series in St. Louis. A sweep of the Cardinals would put the Mets in a tie. One loss, and the Mets would be out of the running, barring a miracle.

The first game in St. Louis was a nail-biter until Darryl Strawberry crushed a homer in the 11th inning off the façade in right field. The Mets won that game, and the next one.

But they lost the third game, and returned to New York for the final series of the season. I wanted to cry.

But the Mets’ fans then were not ready to give up, and cheered their team and its great players, including Gary Carter. They’d given us thrills galore in 1985. “Wait till next year” wasn’t just a cliché in 1985. The season ended with the Mets so close but so far away.

It was 1986 that was the year when it all came together, and Gary Carter was in the thick of it all. He was a leader on the field and the Mets achieved their first World Series win since 1969, with Carter delivering a key single in the bottom of the 10th inning of game six against the Boston Red Sox. The Mets were down, and seemingly out. With two out and the Mets down by two runs, he got a hit, advanced to second base on another hit, then scored on Ray Knight’s single. Soon the great Mookie Wilson stood in and fought his way through a series of pitches that included one that got past the catcher, causing the tying run to score.

Wilson fought off and fouled off a series of brutal 3-2 pitches as the tension built and built, then finally topped a ball to first base. Bill Buckner missed the ball, the winning run, Ray Knight, raced around to score, and the Mets were alive again.

In game seven, the Mets fell behind early but came back, eventually winning that game and the World Series.

The Mets couldn’t have done it without Gary Carter. And knowing that we may soon be saying goodbye to him just hurts beyond measure. You can’t even find that great home run on YouTube, the one that turned Opening Day 1985 into a stunning win.

I want only to think about that when I think about Gary Carter. He was a great player, a great Met and, more importantly, he is a great man.

Addendum: I was just thinking that I may have videotapes of some of Gary Carter’s great moments. In addition to having the “Let’s Go Mets” video, I also have the 25th anniversary video. I believe that the latter has Carter’s homer on Opening Day 1985 and Strawberry’s shot in St. Louis. I’ll check my storage unit next week and report back. I have no way of transferring those clips to the web, and it’s probably a copyright violation in any case.

Addendum 2: You can see the “Let’s Go Mets” video online at this site. This includes the “Making of …” featurette. At the end of the song, you see two angles of Carter’s Opening Day homer, though not the actual at-bat itself. One shows the swing, and the other shows him punching the air and rounding first. He was so young, energetic and alive then.

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January 20, 2012 - Posted by | Living in the modern age, The business of sports | , , , , , , , ,

3 Comments »

  1. ’84 through ’88 were the most exciting in Mets history. Gooden was amazing, Strawberry was great, but the Mets would not have done what they did wiithout The Kid and Mex. Unfortunately, the music died the night Mike Sciosia hit one out in extra innings of Game 4 of the ’88 playoffs. Despite the Bobby V. era, the Mets haven’t been the same since.

    Hang in there, Kid. There’s a place waiting for you in a new dugout. I hear they’ve got a great manager up there!

    Comment by Phil L | January 20, 2012 | Reply

    • I agree. I think the best thing about the Mets of those years was that the late 1970s were so terrible for the Mets. After Joan Payson died and her daughters pretty much handed control of the team to M. Donald Grant, it was like the lights went out at Shea. Grant had actually been a key part of the franchise early on, but he mishandled Tom Seaver and so much more. When Fred Wilpon and Nelson Doubleday bought the team, and even then they still sucked, you could see that things were starting to change in the early 1980s and suddenly “the magic is back,” and not just a marketing slogan. You could see it and feel it at the ballpark.

      Back in the late 1970s, when the team sucked, people complained that Shea was a hole, but in the 1980s there didn’t seem to be as many complaints. When a team is going good, no one cares where they play, so long as they win, and the Mets did that.

      Those ’84-’88 teams were really the golden age for the Mets. All sports teams go through ups and downs (too bad we’re in the downs right now) and I think that if there were new owners, the Mets would pull out.

      I do miss Shea Stadium, but understand that it had to come down. I have so many memories of that place, though!

      Comment by Vincent Safuto | January 22, 2012 | Reply

  2. Reblogged this on Vincent Safuto’s Weblog.

    Comment by Vincent Safuto | February 17, 2012 | Reply


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