I’ve been a bit busy, and missed noting a very sad moment last week.
I don’t believe for a moment that athletes are heroes. Gary Carter comes close though. Carter was a catcher who spent most of his career with the Montreal Expos, and was nicknamed “The Kid”. He was an outstanding athlete (could have gone pro in football or basketball), but chose baseball. He was converted to catcher in the minors, and went on to become one of the greatest catchers in history. He was a part of the great Expos teams of the early 1980s (with Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, and Steve Rogers, among others).
In 1985, he was sent to New York and took over catching duties for the Mets. While there, he instituted regular meeting with the pitchers to plan on how to pitch to hitters. On a team that had its fair share of problems (cocaine was rampant in MLB at the time, and the Mets were practically ground zero for that), Carter provided stability and a moral center. In 1986, he was a key part of the Mets drive to the World Series Championship. In the infamous tenth inning of Game 6, with the Red Sox one out from winning the World Series for the first time since 1918, it was Kid Carter who got a single to begin the surreal two out rally that won the game for the Mets, ending with the slow roller to Bill Buckner. He ended his career an 11-time All-Star, a 3-time Gold Glove winner, a 5-time silver slugger winner, and was elected to the Hall-of-Fame in 2003; the first player to play a large part of his career with the Expos to make it in. His number 8 was retired by the Expos.
He has spent many years involving himself in charitable causes. I never met him, but I do have a neat story. When I was in junior high, I briefly tried sending some baseball cards to players to get autographed. Most of them were never returned. I sent a few cards to Gary Carter. I got them back, but they were unsigned. There was a form letter in the envelope explaining that he was under contract with a charity, and could not sign baseball cards unless he charged money and turned it over to the charity. It then asked me to accept the enclosed instead. Inside was a postcard-sized glossy picture of Carter, autographed personally to me. It was a real treasure of my childhood.
Last year, I was hoping to finally meet him and thank him for the generosity. He was due to appear at an autograph show, and I had bought a ticket, but he had to cancel. We found out why: he had been diagnosed with a brain tumor; inoperable and aggressive. I never visit “official sites”, but I decided to visit his and leave a note wishing him hte best, and expressing my gratitude for his gift of so many years ago.
He died this last week. One of the rarest of the rare: a gifted, heard working athlete who seemed by all measures to be a good guy to the core. There are never enough people like this around in any human endeavor.