Here are some words about Gary Carter, a player from before my time for whom I nonetheless feel a strong affinity.
Carter loved the Mets, and loved facing the Mets. He had an OPS of .873 against the Mets for his career, his best mark against any team. One of his finest games against his future team took place on June 17, 1975 when he was just 21 years old with the Expos. He went 2-for-3 with a walk and the decisive three run home run off John Matlack. Carter's win probability added (WPA) that day was a noteworthy +49.6%. If you can't beat'em, trade for'em.
Carter faced Hall of Famer Steve Carlton more than any other pitcher, logging 135 career plate appearances against Lefty. And Carter owned him, to the tune of a .310/.400/.672 triple slash line and 11 home runs.
When I was young enough for collecting baseball cards to still be acceptable behavior, I set out to acquire every Carter card. A search of my baseball card archives last night reminded me that I failed in that initiative, but it was fun sifting through the collection. Here are some of my favorites:
This is from 1981. Look at those pythons.
It's not often that Keith Hernandez is the least impressive-looking person in a photo.
AHHHH how did that get in there?
This was from the 1993 Upper Deck set, which had some terrific action photos. I like this one because it reminds that Carter played catcher right to the very end of his career, catching 85 of the 90 games he played in 1992. Carter retired after the 1992 season.
Here are Carter's five biggest regular season home runs as a Met, according to WPA:
Howard Johnson tied the game at seven in the top of the ninth with a solo home run and Carter gave the Mets the lead for good in the tenth.
This was Carter's first game as a Met. He sent the fans home happy on opening day with a shot into the left field bullpen.
Description: Game-winning solo home run off Jeff Robinson in the bottom of the ninth inning
Game Result: Mets 3, Pirates 2
Carter was not much of an offensive force by 1988 but he ended this one against the young Pirates of Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla.
Description: Three-run home run off Barry Jones in the top of the seventh inning
Game Result: Pirates 9, Mets 6
Carter provided Mets fans a fleeting high with this one. His home run gave the Mets a 7-6 lead in the seventh, but Randy Myers promptly surrendered it for good in the bottom half of the frame.
Description: Two-run home run off Todd Worrell in the bottom of the eighth inning
Game Result: Mets 6, Cardinals 4
A one run deficit became a one run lead with one swing of the bat against the hated Cardinals.
I met Carter and Tom Seaver at a dinner held at a hotel in my hometown when I was nine years old in 1994. They each spoke about some charity cause, if I remember correctly, then took some time to meet attendees and sign autographs. I recall being far more excited to meet Carter than Seaver, which is less a slight to Seaver and more a credit to Carter. Carter was one of the heroes of Game Six and, more importantly, one of the stars of 1986 Mets: A Year To Remember. He and Keith Hernandez were the leaders of that team, a team full of stories which I had heard from my parents since before I could remember. Plus he frequently sported the same hairstyle as my mother, which I found amusing.
I remember shaking Carter's hand and being amazed at how big it was. Maybe it wasn't that big, but for a nine-year-old not in the habit of shaking many hands it was enormous. He smiled, told me to stick with playing catcher (I didn't) and signed a couple autographs. He lived up to his gregarious reputation. It was so cool.
Despite all this, I can't quite claim Carter as my own, like I would a Piazza, Alfonzo, Olerud or Beltran. He and his 1986 mates remain something of a legend, existing in books, SNY Mets Classics and an older generation's stories. And yet I'll probably spend the rest of today searching for the picture I took with him that night.
"I've always been smiling. I might get ridiculed for it, but it's just me. You can't fake being nice, you know." -- Gary Carter