Friday, February 17, 2012

SO LONG, KID

MY FAVORITE KID CARD FROM '80.

Never got the chance to meet Gary Carter and judge for myself if he was as genuine as he seemed. My earliest recollection was a Joe Garagiola interview before the Game of the Week on NBC in the '70s. I remember thinking, "He sure is happy to be on TV.''

Many thought he was every bit "Camera Carter'' as his fiercest critics said, most of whom were fellow ballplayers.


HAD HIS FIRST 30-HR SEASON IN '77.

"He had some problems among his teammates,'' Expos teammate Andre Dawson told The New York Times after Carter was traded following the '84 season. "(They) felt he was more a glory hound than a team player.''

I don't know about that. I do know he was a card collector. What's not to like about that?


CAUGHT BASESTEALERS 42% OF THE TIME IN '78.

The Kid collected baseball cards.

Naturally.

And because of this, maybe the card companies paid extra attention to picking only his best shots. Of all the millions of players to be featured on cards, I think Carter consistently had the coolest ones.


THE KID WHEN HE REALLY WAS A KID IN '75

He was also an All-Star, World Series hero and Hall of Famer. He also smiled a lot. I liked that. I always figured if I could've played baseball professionally, I'd be smiling a lot, too. And making time for fans, which he did tirelessly.

Carter did all of that but still played the game's most demanding position. He routinely threw out 40 percent of the runners trying to steal. And he did it during a base-stealing era, playing all but two of his 19 seasons in the NL East that had that gold medal track team in St. Louis.


A BEAUTIFUL CARD.

While the arm earned him four Gold Gloves, his bat earned him the big paychecks and corresponding glory, especially in the '86 postseason. His RBI single won Game 5 of the NLCS against the Astros and had two hits in the 16-inning epic in Game 6, which the Mets won to advance to the World Series.

That's when The Kid became The Man, driving in nine runs in the seven-game classic. Down to his and his team's last strike in Game 6, Carter singled to start the rally that became legend.


CAPTURING THAT TRADEMARK SMILE IN '85.
Many who did know Carter said behind the smile was sadness. His mom died when he was 12 from leukemia, and the loss left him questioning his faith. He immersed himself in sports as a way to cope. The fire he brought to athletics led to him excelling in football, baseball and basketball. He was offered a scholarship to play quarterback at UCLA but turned it down to play baseball. He almost immediately became a star for the young and upcoming Expos in the mid to late '70s.

After being the big fish in the little pond of Montreal, Carter was traded to the Mets in '85. In his first game, the season-opener, he hit the game-winning homer and took the first of many curtain calls at Shea Stadium. Camera Carter was right at home in the media capital of the world.


ARMED AND DANGEROUS IN '87.
He probably would've been right home in the dugout managing a major-league team, but he never got the chance despite publicly lobbying for a job. The highest level he reached was Class A. He later settled for managing at Division II Palm Beach Atlantic University.

Come to think about it, maybe Carter wasn't cut out to manage in the majors. Maybe today's players would've scoffed at his genuine love of the game. Besides, his rah-rah personality was perfectly suited for the college game, where he could influence and mold young people instead of babysitting immature millionaires.


CAREER-HIGH 106 RBI IN '84.
Never got the chance to meet Gary Carter. I think I would've liked him.

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