Gary Carter, nicknamed The Kid, was undoubtedly one of the best catchers to ever play the game of baseball. He succumbed to brain cancer, which had been diagnosed last May, on Thursday at the age of 57.

While several obituaries claim that his nickname was born out the catcher’s grit, determination or youthful exuberance, we learn from a Jeff Pearlman piece in the Wall St. Journal how Carter actually received his famous handle.

As [Carter] was rising through the Expos’ minor league system in the early 1970s, Montreal’s players used to irritate the team’s starting catcher, a gruff beer barrel named Barry Foote, with taunts of, “The Kid’s coming! The Kid’s gonna take your job! Watch out for The Kid!”

To his credit, Carter embraced the moniker. The way he saw it, he was a man being paid big dollars to play a child’s game. Hell yes, he was a kid.

It’s not certain whether or not Carter was actually even aware of his nickname’s origins as he was once quoted by the New York Times, near the end of his playing career, giving a different version:

I got that nickname my first spring training camp with the Expos in 1974. Tim Foli, Ken Singleton and Mike Jorgensen started calling me Kid because I was trying to win every sprint. I was trying to hit every pitch out of the park.

There are several positive obituaries that were published last night and this morning, including, perhaps most notably, the Los Angeles Times which quoted Tom Seaver as saying:

Nobody loved the game of baseball more than Gary Carter. Nobody enjoyed playing the game of baseball more than Gary Carter. He wore his heart on his sleeve every inning he played. For a catcher to play with that intensity in every game is special.

However, for my money, there’s no quote about Carter quite like the one from Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, speaking about the difficulties of campaigning in Montreal, where Carter played for parts of a dozen seasons.

I am certainly happy that I don’t have to run for election against Gary Carter.

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig had this to say:

Driven by a remarkable enthusiasm for the game, Gary Carter became one of the elite catchers of all-time. Like all baseball fans, I will always remember his leadership for the ’86 Mets and his pivotal role in one of the greatest World Series ever played.

On WFAN, Mike Francesa spoke with Daryl Strawberry, a former teammate who once picked a fight with Carter on a team bus.

I wish I could have lived my life like Gary Carter. He was a true man.

Among fans, the outpouring of emotion has been immense.

However, there was another side to Carter that’s not as likely to get mentioned in the sentiment being expressed because of his passing. It’s a side that garnered him the less known moniker “Lights.” His reputation as an attention seeker often put him at odds with teammates, and his pride likely cost him a post playing career in Major League Baseball as a coach or manager.

As fans, we tend to project a player’s style on the field to their personality off of it. Many who dealt with Carter on a daily basis during his playing days, and even afterwards, wouldn’t describe him as the person we’d like to imagine him to be.

A telling article from the L.A. Times in 2008 visits Carter as a manager in an independent baseball league. The bitterness of the egomaniacal man is almost palpable, as he makes himself out to be a martyr, describing himself as more deserving of a managing job at baseball’s highest level than Joe Girardi. He also recalls his playing days, suggesting that he was a better option than Mike Piazza during his time with the Dodgers.

In his previously mentioned piece in the Wall St. Journal, Jeff Pearlman reveals more of Carter’s lesser known reputation:

In Montreal, where Carter established himself as a star from 1974-84, he was derisively tagged “Teeth,” “Lights” and “Camera Carter” for his apparent love of the spotlight and his willingness to grant any and every interview request. Such behavior didn’t sit well with many of the Expos, who mocked him (cowardly, Carter would later tell me) behind his back and made him the butt of their juvenile jokes.

Whether or not Carter was a good person isn’t an issue I particularly care to investigate. What we do know is that he was a very good baseball player, and this is the final memory with which he left baseball fans:

Comments (10)

  1. More than just a great catcher, Carter was the first true baseball superstar in Montreal and did a lot for the sport in Quebec. He won with the Mets, but he will forever be remembered as an Expo. That last hit is a great memory for a lot of baseball fans in Montreal.

    His passing is even more sad because it reminds us that we used to have a great organization, a great team and great players in this city, and now we have nothing to show for it. RIP, Kid.

  2. Someone (forget who) on Twitter commented that in the early 80s Carter rivalled Gretzky as the most popular athlete in Canada. It’s very true, and hard to explain to those who are too young to remember it.

    One thing that stands out for me is how hard his managers rode him – catching 150+ games in some years. I always remember him running down the line to back up behind first base on EVERY ground ball. Too bad his knees gave out – the last few years of his career he was definitely breaking down.

    He was a childhood hero of mine – of course I was too young and disconnected to know about the ego issues. I recommend the book ‘The Expos Inside Out’ by Dan Turner for those interested.

    That video clip is too much to handle – Harry, Gary, and a full and emotional Olympic Stadium. What a void now.

    • It’s strange for me. He left the Expos in ’84, and I would’ve been just becoming interested in baseball in ’85, so I totally missed out on all of the nostalgia now being expressed. My mom was more of a Tim Raines and Tim Wallach fan anyway.

      • I didn’t hit my baseball stride until 88′, when I started playing at age 5.

        Still, I will always have a soft spot for the Spo’s, and Carter was my favourite Spo. Followed by Larry (at least I got to watch him play!).

      • Meant to also mention that as much as I loved Carter with the Expos, I dropped my allegiance to him like a hot potato when he was traded to the Mets. We HATED the Mets. They were well known as being a team of assholes; and although Gary was not, he was guilty by association in our eyes.

        Of course, all was forgiven when he eventually came back to Montreal at the end.

    • I remember the early 80s. My heart belonged to the Jays but I was very aware of Gary Carter. (Being cute helped.) When I got to watch an Expos game you could see he had that spark you couldn’t help but notice.

      I had never seen that clip and now I’m crying here in my office. Wow. That was something else. Can’t imagine what it would have been like to have been there.

      • Ahh ha ha, glad I’m not the only one shedding a tear. Also, I’m overtired. But seriously, great clip.

  3. I loved Andre Dawson but the Kid was not far behind. As a big fan of the Expos growing up, I always admired Gary Carter’s love of baseball. Always smiling, always working hard and always leading by example.

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