Gary Carter often says he's living the dream. After growing up idolizing Hall of Famer ballplayers, Carter followed in their footsteps — most notably with the Montreal Expos and New York Mets — right up to his induction to Cooperstown in 2003. After the track to becoming a major league manager did not take him where he wanted to go, Carter decided to step back and get into coaching.
Entering his second season as head coach at Palm Beach Atlantic near his home in Florida, Carter still enjoys the competition of baseball, but seems more focused these days to giving back to the game that gave him so much. While visiting the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., Carter took time out for an Answer Man session that tried to cover the good old days, along with what might be ahead for "The Kid."
David Brown: How have you taken to being a college baseball coach?
Gary Carter: It's quite the transition, I can tell you that. Last year, when I took over the position, I found it rewarding in some ways, but I got so caught up in making sure the kids got their grades, that there was nothing that went on in the dorms, and different things that you're not concerned about in affiliated ball at the professional level. But, it's rewarding to see some kids have that burning desire to one day make it to the professional level and maybe having a dream of making it to the majors.
DB: That kind of youthful enthusiasm seems to fit your personality, right?
GC: Definitely, and that's why I also wanted to get involved with Subway and the Baseball DeSigns program. The kids have drawn on the baseballs and have gotten them signed by some pretty famous ballplayers, other athletes and stars. It's going to benefit the Urban Initiative with the Little Leaguers, and they're trying to reach out to the inner cities.
DB: You're kind of going full-circle here, kind of getting back to the reason you loved the game in the first place.
GC: My job as a college coach is to inspire these kids and get them, hopefully, excited about playing at the professional level. And it's baseball, OK? I've always loved the game. I played it as a player in the majors for 18 years; I was a roving catching instructor for four years; I managed for two years for the Mets and then I managed two years in independent ball. I just didn't really see it going anywhere at the professional level.
DB: So that's why Palm Beach Atlantic?
GC: I saw an opportunity for me to go back home, be with my family — my grandkids and my own kids — because my daughter (Kimmy Bloemers) is the head softball coach at the same university. And, you know what? I still get to do what I love to do. I love throwing batting practice, I love teaching, and I love to see the kids try and excel on the baseball field.
DB: How does your pedigree as a Hall of Famer, being a known personality who played in the majors, give you an edge for recruiting?
GC: No question that it does, though I have to give a lot of credit to my assistant coach, Ryan Holmes. He's done a tremendous job of investigating and researching and doing whatever it takes to sign some of these great recruits. You know, a lot of kids get influenced into thinking that, if they go to a Div. I school, that they're going to get more recognized and more notoriety. But I feel that you can get the same kind of result playing at the Div. II level.
DB: What kind of results are you having so far?
GC: I took a team that won seven games the year before and we won 17 last year. This coming year, with the influx of new players we have coming in, out of a 50-game scheduled, we're going to win 30-plus games. It's a nice feeling, because a lot of kids want to come to PBA and play for me.
DB: This seems like a long-term commitment.
GC: The great thing that's going to be happening here soon is, they're going to be building a facility that's going to accommodate opportunities to have [NCAA] regionals. We can have that, and we can have tournament play. I'm also going to be offering to the university to put a museum together using a lot of the memorabilia I've collected throughout the years. It's really going to be a nice venture for the future of the university, as well as my foundation which I've been raising monies for.
DB: You seem to be focused on giving back.
GC: When this opportunity came about, to represent Subway for these kids, I said, "What a great program." I was excited to come up here to Williamsport — in the organization where my dream began, as a Little Leaguer — and now, I still get to live the dream. I still get to wear the uniform and I get to work with these guys and I really believe we're going to have the best Div. II program in the country someday.
DB: When you were a kid, how far did your Little League teams go? Did you ever get to Williamsport?
GC: I didn't, though it was something that every Little Leaguer dreams of. We had a good team, we just unfortunately lost out in regional play. Two years later, the same nucleus of players we had at the Little League level, we came very close to going to Williamsport for Pony League. We came within one game.
So I was disappointed as a kid to not make it to the World Series and it took me 12 years as a major leaguer to make it to the World Series. All I ever dreamed about, coming up in our back alley, was thoughts of playing in a World Series. One day, I was Mickey Mantle, then the next I was Willie Mays, then pitching I was Sandy Koufax or Don Drysdale, and I always dreamed up these instances.
DB: And then, in 1986...
GC: Yep, it's kind of like when I came up in the bottom of the 10th inning in Game 6 with two outs. You know, I wasn't going to make the last out of the World Series. I had dreamed that dream so many times of setting the tone and imagining what it would be like to be there, and coming up there with the bases loaded and two outs and a two-strike count and coming through with a big hit. I lived the dream. As a kid, growing up, that's all I ever thought about — one day, being on that stage. It's such a fond memory and it's hard to believe that next year will be the 25-year anniversary of that World Series.
DB: Anyone who's old enough, it's probably one of their favorite World Series. I remember that hit you got, and I remember thinking: You know what? There's a good chance the Mets are going to come back. Did you honestly think that and you were on base?
GC: [Laughs]. Well, we were the "Cardiac Kids" back then. We had 30-some-odd comeback wins that year, Dave, and we were just a team that said never die. We just felt confident that we were going to come back. When I got that hit, and then Kevin Mitchell got a hit and then I'm on second base, signaling to Ray Knight to be inspired then he got the hit to drive me in and sent Kevin Mitchell to third.
Then John McNamara made the change and his only mistake was, he didn't bring in Dave Stapleton as a defensive replacement for Bill Buckner. Then, Bob Stanley throws the wild pitch [with Mookie Wilson batting] and, at that point, I have my catcher's gear on because I feel we're going to go extra innings — kind of like what happened against in the [National] League Championship Series against the Houston Astros. Then, we were down 3-0 going into the top of the ninth inning and Bob Knepper's throwing a three-hit shutout against us. It happened so many times that we were able to come back, it was just livin' the dream, that we felt very honestly that we were going to come back and win.
DB: Who would you like to see elected to the Hall of Fame?
GC: Well, my friend and teammate was elected this year — Andre Dawson — and I'm thrilled that it finally happened. It took them nine years. But I think the next guy that should be inducted is Bert Blyleven. Bert had a great career, something like 60 shutouts in his career. I don't know why the sportswriters have taken so long to consider putting him in. I've got to believe that Bert's next on the list; He got over 70 percent of the votes this last election and then I think another one who's on the verge is, maybe, Robbie Alomar.
Eventually, I think, maybe Barry Larkin will be a Hall of Famer for the great career he had in Cincinnati. Next year, you can probably look and see Bert Blyleven and Robbie Alomar.
GC: I think it could. I would love to see Tim get in. When we managed against each other in the Atlantic League last year, I asked him if that happened one day, which hat he would wear and he said, absolutely, the Montreal Expos hat — which is what Andre Dawson and myself have on our plaques in Cooperstown.
I don't understand ... I know that Tim was caught up in the one drug scandal the one time, and I don't know if that has hurt him. I know that he's third in stolen bases all-time, behind Rickey Henderson and Lou Brock. But I know that Tim had a great career ... I don't think he has the power numbers to be recognized playing the outfield position. I know he has the stolen bases and a lot of runs scored and so on, but I don't know what the sportswriters look at in that regard. He didn't get to 3,000 hits. I know he had a lot of stolen bases and runs scored and was an exciting player. You loved watching his gracefulness, watching him run on a triple, or from first to third — he was just extremely graceful.
But I don't understand, sometimes, the voting by the sportswriters. It took me six years and you wonder why. Or why it took Jim Rice 15 years, or Andre Dawson nine years, or Tony Perez nine years. You just don't understand why there's the process; Why are you, one year, not a Hall of Famer, then nine years later, you are? I don't understand the process; I'm just proud to be a member there.
DB: As an Expo for life, do you regret never having dressed up as Youppi (above, right)?
GC: Me? [laughs]. Oh, God no. Why, did somebody as a player that you know of dress up as Youppi?
DB: No, it just seemed like it would be too tempting not to.
GC: That's not my gig. I would leave it to somebody else to do that with Youppi. We had fun with Youppi, though. He's a part of the [Montreal] Canadiens organization and you knew that, as big of an icon as he was — and many people thought he was bigger than the Expos.
GC: The other good thing I saw happen with the Expos was, I was a part of the honoring of Andre Dawson with the Nationals in Washington. They have now put a ring of honor together and both Andre and myself are a part of that. That's really a thrill, to be recognized at that facility. They didn't retire the numbers, but they are starting to recognize the history of the Expos, which lasted for 37 years. And it's really a shame, Dave, that the organization is no longer around. I didn't feel the fans of Montreal were going to let Youppi die. He's now on skates with the Canadiens.
DB: So, did you ever see the finished YouYube video of the guy giving you a hard time in the autograph line?
GC: Well, the guy was trying to set me up. I think he had a game plan all along and it basically came down that it was premeditated and he was trying to catch me in a situation. I've always been accommodating to fans as far as autographs go, and it was predetermined we were going to just sign "Fan Fest" things. But this guy had a game plan.