2003-01-11 / Sports

Baseball Hall of Fame Calls for ‘The Kid’

Baseball Columnist
By Bryan Hoch

Baseball Columnist

Gary Carter helped the New York Mets win the World Series in 1986 after being acquired in a 4 for 1 trade from Montreal.Gary Carter helped the New York Mets win the World Series in 1986 after being acquired in a 4 for 1 trade from Montreal.

Gary Carter was the last ray of hope for the New York Mets back on Oct. 25, 1986, with the Boston Red Sox just one, gripping, all-important strike away from their first trip to the top of baseball’s mountain in 68 years.

You know the story by now: the taste of champagne itching to find its way into the mouths of Shea Stadium’s visiting dugout, the bitter flavor of beer already swilling in Keith Hernandez’s mouth back in the Mets clubhouse.

With two men already down in the tenth and the Mets trailing 5-3, Carter digs into the batter’s box, only to glance up and see Shea’s giant scoreboard prematurely congratulating the Red Sox on their ’86 World Championship.

Except things didn’t quite work out that way. The enthusiastic, grinning face of the Mets – the player regarded as "the final piece to the puzzle" by manager Davey Johnson when New York swindled the Montreal Expos to acquire Carter for four players in Dec. 1984 – came through that October night, slashing a single to left to keep the Mets’ dream alive.

"Have you ever seen one of those freeze-frame replays on television? That’s what I felt like as I brought my bat around," Carter recalled for his 1993 autobiography, The Gamer. "It was as though Shea Stadium had suddenly emptied … then, just as suddenly, the entire world was back with me at Shea, roaring through my ears. A breath of fresh air swept through Shea."

Bob Stanley’s wild pitch and Bill Buckner’s error were to follow, and as Ray Knight pranced home with the Mets’ winning run in Game Six, it was a definite in everybody’s mind at Shea that the Mets were going to be champions.

Gary Carter was the man who made it so, and it’s only properly fitting – however overdue – that "The Kid" will finally get his day in the sun of Cooperstown, joining longtime Oriole Eddie Murray on July 27 as the 2003 inductees into Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

One of the "Good Guys" along with players like Mookie Wilson, Tim Teufel and Sid Fernandez on those mid-1980’s Mets teams that, in retrospect, probably could have used a few more decent citizens, Carter certainly did his share of resume-building over his 19-year career with the Expos, Mets, Dodgers and Giants: 11 All-Star selections, two Most Valuable Player awards, 324 career homers (including 298 as a catcher, a mark just passed this year by the Mets’ Mike Piazza), three Gold Glove Awards and the all-time major league records for putouts (11,785) and total chances (12,988) by a catcher.

"I played on ten straight All-Star teams, and had the pleasure of playing on some great teams, including a World Championship team in ’86," Carter told ESPN Tuesday. "I just always let everything else speak for itself."

But despite Carter’s credentials, his Hall of Fame hopes have still twisted helplessly in the wind since 1998, his first year of eligibility.

It wasn’t until last year that he seemed to be a near-lock for selection, with a wave of media hype boasting his case and preparing for the big moment at his Florida home. But as Carter waited on the couch for his phone to ring, flanked by an army of newspapermen and photographers, a sinking feeling began to set in.

Finally, the call: "Sorry, Gary, maybe next year."

In an embarrassing scenario that turned the former catcher’s squinting eyes to tears, Carter failed last year to garner the necessary 75% of ballots cast by the voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA), falling just eleven votes shy.

This year, Carter took a far different approach, denying comment to the dozens of media members who tried to contact the 11-time All-Star, except to say "I’m deserving." Turns out, most of the voting community agreed, as 387 writers (78%) boosted Carter toward Otsego County, bumping him right over the bubble into baseball immortality.

That’s not to say he wasn’t crossing his fingers on Tuesday afternoon, wrapping up a round of golf with friends in Palm Beach Gardens when the phone call for which he’d been waiting his whole life finally came.

"I got overly excited and screamed," Carter told the Associated Press. "Now we can do a little celebrating."

We all can. The Kid’s right where he belongs.

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