Gary Carter went into the Hall of Fame in 2003, as an Expo. In Montreal he had played 12 of his 19 seasons, from 1974 to '84 and, for one last hurrah, in '92; hit 220 of his 324 home runs; and helped deliver the team's only playoff berth, in '81. A Californian who took French Berlitz classes and embraced the Quebecois culture, he was beloved in the City of Saints in ways that it had seemed only a Canadien could be.
Yet Carter, who died last week of brain cancer at age 57, left his most lasting impressions during five seasons as a Met. It was cold when the Kid came to New York, a raw and windy Opening Day at Shea Stadium, 1985. The Mets, in the midst of their own baseball winter, had brought in the power-hitting catcher to fill the middle of their lineup and guide a young pitching staff that included 20-year-old Dwight Gooden. The opener against the Cardinals was 3½ hours old and tied 5--5 in the 10th, when Carter lined the second pitch over the fence—6--5!—and as he rounded the bases, he raised his arms high. The Mets mobbed him at home, the fans jumped, and the chill was suddenly gone. And so began the most successful stretch in the franchise's history, a run gilded by the world championship in 1986.
Carter's catalog of big hits for New York—the 12th-inning single to win Game 5 of the 1986 NLCS against Houston; the two Game 4 homers in that year's World Series versus Boston; his 10th-inning single to start the Mets' fabled, two-out comeback in Game 6—is augmented by so many snapshots: blocking a runner at home and holding the ball aloft, bounding out to greet a winning pitcher, or, on a drizzling September Sunday at Shea, 1987, laying down a two-out squeeze bunt, surprising everyone. The go-ahead run crossed the plate, and there was Carter, safe at first, pumping that ample fist, his face alive with joy, a burst of light on a rainy day.
RON VESELY/MLB PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES (CARTER)
MIRACLE MET As an Expo and a Met, Carter's exuberance led some to think him a self-promoter, but he delivered when the spotlight was brightest, most notably during the '86 postseason.