2003-08-01 / Sports

Gary "The Kid" Carter Is Alright In Cooperstown

Baseball Columnist
By Bryan Hoch
Gary "The Kid" Carter Is Alright In Cooperstown

Gary "The Kid" Carter Is Alright In Cooperstown


By Bryan Hoch

Baseball Columnist

Gary Carter was the king of the curtain call on those swaggering, world-beating 1986 Mets; thrilling the customers at Shea Stadium and infuriating New York’s beleaguered opponents.

Time and time again, as the Mets rolled over the entire National League to the tune of 108 victories, "The Kid" would be the one rising to the top step of the dugout, flashing his camera-friendly grin as wide as possibly could be. In one hand, a clenched fist, and in the other, his batting helmet, pumping toward the skies in triumph.

GARY CARTER, (AP/Kathy Willens).GARY CARTER, (AP/Kathy Willens).

Those kind of scenes have been few and far-between at Shea these days, with the current Mets resembling absolutely nothing of their ’86 predecessors. The fans may have roared with joy back then, a simpler time when the comedy of Joe Piscopo seemed edgy and entertaining, but here in 2003, it seems that an obligation to boo Roger Cedeno is clearly printed on the back of each Mets ticket stub.

Tuesday’s celebration of Carter’s Hall-of-Fame career at Shea Stadium was a great excuse for Mets fans to try and block out the fact that their team would have to take the field yet again, playing out the string in a meaningless game against the Milwaukee Brewers.

For Carter, it was one more stop on the whirlwind tour he’d been desiring for so long – after being denied his rightful place in the Hall for years, Carter was truly enjoying life in the fast lane, leading up to last Sunday’s ceremonies on the streets of Cooperstown, New York.

It wasn’t as though the numbers weren’t there. Over a 19-year career with the Expos, Mets, Giants and Dodgers, Carter belted 324 home runs, stroked 2,092 hits, collected 1,225 RBI and scored 1,025 runs. He first became eligible for the Hall of Fame six years ago, but each time, the phone call came: sorry, Gary, maybe next year.

"As time went on," Carter recalled this week, "you looked at the guys who were already in. Comparing my numbers to theirs – Carlton Fisk, Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench, Gabby Hartnett – you’ve got to say, ‘The Kid’s deserving."

It was so frustrating to the 11-time All-Star, he recalled spouting off at an unfortunate sportswriter one year who had to deliver the bad news via telephone.

"My knees are so shot, I’m not going to be able to get back behind the plate," Carter recalled telling him. "I’m not going to be able to add any more numbers to what I’ve accomplished." Carter laughed, then continued, "But I know that when you’re patient, good things happen."

Indeed, they do – as in being lavished as an immortal. You can have your World Championships, your MVP awards, and your batting titles, but there is truly no higher honor in the game than induction into the baseball cathedral in upstate New York.

That’s the feeling Carter got last weekend.

"Oh, to be there in Cooperstown and see the Hall of Fame, and then see (my) plaque already in place next to Dave Winfield’s and right next to Eddie Murray’s, gosh, that’s what dreams are made of," he said.

This summer’s ceremonies in Cooperstown were nearly picture-perfect for Carter. Still, it was impossible to overlook the fact that one significant cornerstone of Carter’s life was unable to attend – his father, Jim, passed away in January at the age of 84, shortly after learning of his son’s induction.

"I knew he was there in spirit," Car ter said. "I knew just how much it meant to him. He was my coach from Little League to Pony League to American Legion – through it all, he was always there. It’s even tough, to this day, to realize that he’s not around."

Carter spent the majority of his career with the Montreal Expos, and even though he won his only World Championship with those ’86 Mets, the Hall deemed that Carter was most worthy to become the first (and possibly only) Expo player in Cooperstown.

It was a blow to the Mets, who had hoped to have their second logo in the Hall (Tom Seaver became the first in 1992), but the team took steps to rectify that Tuesday. GM Jim Duquette presented Carter with a replica of the plaque displayed in the grand hall of Cooperstown, with one minor alteration: an interlocking ‘NY’ on his cap.

It was a gesture that Carter seemed to truly appreciate.

"New York has been great to me, and I appreciated every moment of the five years I played here," Carter said. "There’s a place for this city in my heart. I can say, just like the T-shirts say, I do truly love New York."

Bryan Hoch appears regularly in the Wave. He can be contacted at bryanhoch@yahoo.com.

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