In my old neighborhood, if you were born a little too soon or a little too late, you were a New York Mets fan.
Everyone else got to be Yankees fans.
So it was with withering sadness I learned Thursday that, after a helluva fight, Gary Carter was gone, from brain cancer.
The Kid was, inexplicably, 57.
In a little corner of Westchester County, when the heroes were Reggie and Guidry and Chambliss but you’d been cast on the wrong side of New York baseball allegiances, Gary Carter will forever be waving from the top step of the dugout, Shea Stadium crazed.
While he rightfully went into the Hall of Fame as a Montreal Expo, for years being the face of that franchise, he was perhaps as accurately the soul of the best of the Mets. At the very least he was their conscience, loose as it may have been.
You remember them – a little too sure of themselves, a little too earnest, a little too happy to win. A little too good. That was Gary Carter.
It was not terribly surprising to learn that on that Saturday night in late October 1986, the scoreboard had given up on the Mets, indeed some Mets had given up on the Mets, but Carter had not. His single with two out in the 10th inning sent that Game 6 of the World Series winding in the direction of Mookie Wilson and Bill Buckner, and the series off toward something special and the last truly great baseball moment in the lives of anyone who ever gave a damn about the Mets.
He spent five summers in New York; five of his 19. He played them with the joy of a boy in a sprinkler on the hottest day of August, like it was the first game he’d ever played, or like he was the only one who knew it would be the last.
He’d arrived from Montreal that way, then went off to San Francisco, then Los Angeles and, even with his body surrendering, back to Montreal that way.
He weathered the glares of the veterans of the country club-ish major leagues, and showed up the next day just as eager, just as buoyant, just as relentless. If it was cool to have seen it all and done it all, to be unimpressed by the life they’d been granted, then Gary Carter was the biggest dork on the roster.
And what did it get him?
Only 324 home runs, only 2,092 hits, only three Gold Gloves, only 11 All-Star games and only a place in Cooperstown.
The Mets issued a statement Thursday that read, “He was a Hall of Famer in everything he did.”
It must have been true, too, because it’s what everyone else said Thursday.
One of his daughters wrote on the family website she’d lost “my precious dad,” and, “I believe with all my heart that dad had a standing ovation as he walked through the gates of heaven to be with Jesus.”
Commissioner Bud Selig described him as “Among the most beloved players in the history of [the Expos and Mets.]”
Former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda called him, “A Hall of Famer as a player and a man.”
And upon an announcement of his passing Thursday night, the crowd on hand for a New York Rangers game at Madison Square Garden stood and cheered the Met he once was, the player he always was, and the man he will forever be.
[ Big League Stew: Photo, video and interview tributes to the 'Kid' ]
Mets third baseman David Wright told Newsday, “If you strive to be half the player and half the person Gary Carter was, you’ll be all right.”
That seems about right.
So, we mourn for his wife, his son, his two daughters and his three grandchildren. He fought for life. Man, did he fight.
And, man, did we always adore him for it.
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