"The Kid" Canada's baseball hero Gary Carter dies in Florida
Death is forever relentless, rendering even sports immortals painfully mortal. The sad news of Gary Carter's passing came on Thursday, just after 4:00 p.m., succumbing to cancer at his home in North Palm Beach, Florida with his wife Sandy and his children, Christy, Kimmy and D.J. by his side.
The iconic Hall-of-Fame catcher passed away at age 57, due to the reoccurence of an insidious form of cancer known as glioblastoma. Carter, the first major-league player inducted to Cooperstown to wear the Montreal Expos colours, was diagnosed with the disease last May.
Feeling not quite right, with headaches and issues with memory, Gary went in for tests and then underwent treatment at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina. After Carter showed signs of improvement late in 2011, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) discovered more cancerous tumours on his brain. His family in January flew to New York to receive a special award from the BBWAA at their annual banquet where son D.J. read a message of hope, inspiration and gratitude from his dad.
Carter, in his 12th major-league season, won his only World Series ring as a member of the New York Mets in '86, but for generations of Canadian baseball fans, born prior to 1980, he was one of this country's most recognizable and beloved athletes, the face of the Expos franchise. He was The Kid.
A third round draft pick of the Expos in June '72, the product of Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton, California was a breath of fresh air for a franchise struggling to find a hero after the trade of Rusty Staub to the Mets. From the moment he arrived on the major-league scene in September of '74, he captured the hearts and the imagination of the Expos' faithful at Jarry Park and across the country.
At first he roamed the Expos outfield because of the presence of another talented young catcher, Barry Foote, who had established himself behind the plate, but after a series of injuries born of exuberance, Carter moved behind the plate fulltime in '77 when the Expos moved to Olympic Stadium.
Carter's major-league debut was on September 16, 1974 in the second game of a doubleheader against the Mets. In the lineup as a catcher, he led off the third inning for his first MLB plate appearance against righthander Randy Sterling, hitting a grounder to Wayne Garrett at third base and sprinting out of the box, all the way through the bag on a routine groundout. It became his signature.
Carter would race down the line on every grounder. He flipped his bat on every ball four and sprinted to first base. He rounded every base hard thinking about the next 90 feet, not the last. Opponents and some teammates were exasperated, but fathers with their sons and daughters watched on television and at the ballpark and insisted to their kids that that was the way they wanted them to play the game. Gary smiled, he did interviews, he signed autographs, he enjoyed life and his celebrity.
There was another side that involved pai, but it never slowed him down. Carter played much of his career with injury and never complained publicly. In his early days as an oitfielder, in '76 he raced toward centre field to make a catch running into Pepe Mangual and breaking his thumb. He leaped against the short fence at Jarry Park on a flyball by Dave Cash and broke two ribs. At spring training that year, he had crashed into the brick wall that served as the left field fence in Winter Haven and took 12 stitches above the eye. His teammate Larry Parrish's dad was the stadium architect.
As an Expos' catcher, he suffered an untimely broken thumb in September in the '79 pennant race, that likely allowed the Pirates to go on to the World Series. There were times when his knees were so ravaged by flap tears that he could not bend down to get into a crouch, but he manipulated the flaps manually until they were temporarily out of the way so that he could squat and so he could play. He believed he could always have them fixed in the off-season. But through the pain there was that hustle.
He always found ways to maximize his talents. In his first two seasons on the fast artificial turf at the new Olympic Stadium, Carter noticed how deep the infielders were playing him and so he laid down 24 bunt hits to help his team. When he was traded to the Mets following the '84 season, the country was devastated, but it turned out to be the best thing for both Carter and the Expos.
The Expos' franchise re-stocked after a tough stretch of drafting and recruiting, acquiring Hubie Brooks, Mike Fitzgerald, Floyd Youmans and Herm Winningham, all of whom played a significant major-league role in the mid-'80s, while Carter went on to establish his Hall-of-Fame credentials as a key contributor to the '86 World Series championship over the Red Sox.
Throughout the ordeal that has ended his life, Carter and his family were strengthened by their faith. When Carter arrived as a 20-year-old rookie, he had already lost his mother, while his dad, Jim, was constantly battling his own issues with disease. After finishing '75 second to John Montefusco for NL rookie of the year honours, the Kid battled through a true sophomore jinx in '76, beset by batting slumps, unfortunate injuries and self doubt. In a realization that would carry him through his life, he later described in Guidepost, a Christian publication, how his faith was strengthened through adversity.
“I read about how God takes care of us, watching over all of us all the time,” Carter wrote, quoting the New Testament. “'For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.'
“God makes. God sends,” Carter explained. “No place for superstition there. Any lingering doubts I might have had were erased when I read about Paul. If anyone had cause to blame his problems on bad luck, he did, yet what did this beleaguered saint write? 'Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal, for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.'
“(Paul) wrote about faith and perseverance and hard work overcoming adversity and he didn't worry about why things had gone against him,” Carter continued. “The more I read, the more I realized the one thing that I was to do during a tough spell, a long slump, a jinx, was to look forward, trust the One who truly controls my life.”
Carter truly lived his beliefs and remains one of Canada's greatest baseball heroes.
Rest in Peace, Kid.