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: