Saying goodbye to ‘The Kid’

It was impossible not to shed a tear or two at the news that Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter passed away yesterday after a fight with brain cancer. Just 57 years old, Carter was as well known for his enthusiasm for the game as for his prowess on the field, where he established his reputation as the preeminent catcher of his era.

For me, a native of New York City, seeing Carter pass from the scene was especially painful. Though he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a member of the Montreal Expos, Carter never won a championship with that team. Instead, he’s best remembered as the final piece in the puzzle that helped the swaggering New York Mets win a World Series in 1986.

If Carter was worried that the fans in New York wouldn’t embrace him, he wiped away all doubt in his first game in a Mets uniform at Shea Stadium in April 1985. After coming to the plate in the bottom of the tenth inning in a tie game, Carter belted a pitch from St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Neil Allen over the left field wall to give the Mets a win.

To say the stadium erupted would be an understatement. With one swing of the bat, Carter not only won the game, but he captured the hearts of his teammates and an entire generation of New York baseball fans. But that was Gary Carter, always seeming to come up with the big play at a critical moment to power his team to victory.

The situation was never more dire than when Carter came up to the plate with the Mets trailing by two runs in the bottom of the tenth inning of Game Six of the 1986 World Series. With the Mets down to their last out and trailing the series three games to two, Carter hit a single to spark a rally that would win the game and save the season. Two nights later, the Mets won Game Seven with Carter behind the plate.

But as great as Carter was on the field, that wasn’t the total measure of the man. Widely known as a committed man of faith, Carter was known throughout baseball as someone who never let the trappings of stardom change him or his commitment to his wife and family. So while he might have been taken from us too soon, he used the 57 years he had to the fullest, leaving an exemplary life that provided lessons that could be applied far beyond any baseball field.

Eric McErlain blogs at Off Wing Opinion, a Forbes “Best of the Web” winner. In 2006 he wrote a “bloggers bill of rights” to help integrate bloggers into the Washington Capitals’ press box. Eric has also written for Deadspin, NBC Sports and the Sporting News, and covers sports television for The TV News. Follow Eric on Twitter.