Gary Carter, Hall of Fame baseball catcher, dies at 57

February 16, 2012

Gary Carter, a Hall of Fame baseball catcher whose timely hitting helped lead the New York Mets to a dramatic World Series championship in 1986, died Feb. 16 at his home in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

He had been treated since 2011 for glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer. His death was announced by the the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Mr. Carter, who spent 19 years in the major leagues, became known for his rifle arm and potent bat while playing catcher — baseball’s most physically demanding position. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2003 and is ranked by baseball historians as one of the 10 finest catchers of all time.

After beginning his career with the Montreal Expos, Mr. Carter was traded to the Mets before the 1985 season. He reveled in the spotlight of New York and was the team’s highest-paid player and its most prolific run producer.

He was the cleanup hitter for a team that won a club-record 108 games in 1986 under Davey Johnson, now the manager of the Washington Nationals. As catcher, Mr. Carter guided a pitching staff that included Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez and Bob Ojeda.

In the sixth game of the 1986 World Series, the Mets were trailing 5-3 in the bottom of the 10th inning against the Boston Red Sox, who were one out away from clinching their first championship since 1918.

The Mets were down to their last out when Mr. Carter came to the plate. He lined a solid single to left field and eventually came around to score on a hit by teammate Ray Knight.

After the Mets tied the game on a wild pitch, outfielder Mookie Wilson hit a slow ground ball toward Bill Buckner at first base. It was a routine play, but the ball managed to squirt through Buckner’s legs, allowing Knight to score the winning run in one of the most thrilling comebacks in baseball history.

In the seventh and deciding game, the Mets rallied from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Red Sox, 8-5, and claim the World Series title. Mr. Carter — who had a team-leading nine RBIs in the series — drove in one run and caught the game’s final pitch. When Jesse Orosco struck out Red Sox second baseman Marty Barrett, Mr. Carter raced to the mound and leaped into Orosco’s arms.

“That was the greatest accomplishment and the greatest thrill of my career,” Mr. Carter said in 2003.

With his enthusiasm, his eagerness to speak to reporters and his beaming smile, Mr. Carter earned the nickname “Kid” — which not all of his teammates used in complimentary way. Some called him “Camera Carter” or simply “Lights” and thought his affable, easy-to-please manner was a phony act of self-promotion. Sports Illustrated magazine once named him the most disliked player in baseball.

At a time when several of his teammates with the Expos and Mets, were caught up in drug scandals, Mr. Carter was a clean-living throwback who attended prayer meetings. He never lingered at the hotel bar and, in the words of Los Angeles Times writer Mike Downey, used “more ‘gees’ and ‘wows’ and ‘holy mackerels’ than a Batman comic book.”

Over time, Mr. Carter proved his mettle by playing through nine knee operations and 14 major surgeries during his career. No player worked harder at staying in shape, at preparing for a game or at being a leader on the field.

Knight, his Mets teammate, called Mr. Carter “the nicest man I ever met in baseball.’”

But it took more than a smile to lead the Mets to their 1986 championship — the most recent in team history.

“Nobody,” sportswriter Tom Verducci wrote in Newsday in 1989, “did more to establish the Mets as winners than Carter.”

Gary Edmund Carter was born April 8, 1954, in Culver City, Calif. When he was 7, he was the national champion for his age in the Punt, Pass and Kick football competition sponsored by Ford Motor Co. He was 12 when his mother died of leukemia.

A three-sport high school star in Fullerton, Calif., Mr. Carter was recruited as a quarterback by more than 100 colleges. But, after a knee injury, he chose baseball and signed in 1972 with the Expos.

In the minor leagues, Mr. Carter was converted him from a shortstop to a catcher and outfielder before making his big-league debut in 1974. He became the Expos’ full-time catcher in 1977, when he had a breakout season of 31 home runs.

While playing in Montreal, Mr. Carter learned some French and made appearances for the team throughout Canada. He became so popular that Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau joked, “I’m certainly happy that I don’t have to run for re-election against Gary Carter.”

Mr. Carter was recognized as the finest catcher of the 1980s, with three Gold Gloves for fielding and five Silver Slugger awards as the best hitter at his position. He made the All Star team 11 times and was twice named the most valuable player in the All Star Game.

After one-year stints with the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers, he returned to Montreal for his final season in 1992.

Mr. Carter hit 324 home runs during his career and had four season of at least 100 runs batted in, including a National League-leading 106 in 1984. He set the National League record for most games caught and held the major-league record, since broken by Ivan Rodriguez, for putouts by a catcher.

In 2003, his sixth year of eligibility, Mr. Carter entered the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was the first player elected to the Hall after spending the majority of his career with the Expos. (The franchise moved to Washington in 2005.)

After his playing days, Mr. Carter was a broadcaster in Montreal and Florida and a successful minor-league manager. His health began to deteriorate in 2011, when he was the head baseball coach at Florida’s Palm Beach Atlantic University — where his daughter Kimmy Bloemers, an all-American catcher at Florida State University, is the softball coach.

Survivors include his wife of 37 years, Sandy Lahm Carter; three children, Christy Carter, Kimmy Bloemers and D.J. Carter, and three grandchildren.

Mr. Carter lived for many years in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., where he raised millions of dollars for charities, including the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. He also organized a reading program for underprivileged children.

In later years, several of Mr. Carter’s early detractors recanted their criticism and said they had come to realize that his enthusiasm was a genuine reflection of his love for baseball.

Ron Darling, a standout pitcher on the Mets’ 1986 championship team, said in 2001, “We were better pitchers because of Gary Carter — and better people.”

Matt Schudel has been an obituary writer at The Washington Post since 2004.
SECTION: {section=sports, subsection=nationals}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=3, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: {allow_comments=true, allow_photos=false, allow_videos=false, comments_period=14, comments_source=washpost.com, default_sort=, default_tab=, display_comments=true, is_ugc_gallery=false, max_items_to_display=15, max_items_to_display_top=3, moderation_required=false, stream_id=}!!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=3, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Comments
SECTION: {section=sports, subsection=nationals}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=3, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: {allow_comments=true, allow_photos=false, allow_videos=false, comments_period=14, comments_source=washpost.com, default_sort=, default_tab=, display_comments=true, is_ugc_gallery=false, max_items_to_display=15, max_items_to_display_top=3, moderation_required=false, stream_id=}!!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=3, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Show Comments