By Joe Capozzi |
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Posted: 5:17 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012
Gary Carter, the Hall of Fame catcher who built his career on clutch hits, gritty play and an infectious personality that earned him the nickname "The Kid,' died today. He was 57.
Mr. Carter, who lived in PGA National and made a decades-long impact on Palm Beach County through his charity work and as a coach after his playing career ended, had been battling brain cancer since May.
His daughter, Kimmy Bloemers, announced his death this afternoon on the family's online journal. He died at 4:10 p.m. at Good Samaritan Hospital in West Palm Beach. He had been admitted two days ago.
"We've always been aware of how remarkable a human being he is. Forget the baseball part of it - we all know he's a Hall of Fame baseball player. But he's a Hall of Famer off the field, too,' retired pitcher Jim Palmer, another local resident, said recently.
"Can you think of anybody other than Jack Nicklaus who has done more for Palm Beach County?"
Mr. Carter won three Gold Gloves and five Silver Slugger awards and was runner-up in the National League MVP voting in 1980 while with the Montreal Expos, the team he played for during 12 of his 19 big-league seasons. He played in 11 All-Star games and was named MVP in two of them, 1981 and '84.
But perhaps his biggest moment came in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series when he came to bat with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning and his New York Mets trailing the Boston Red Sox 5-3.
Determined to not make the last out of the series, Mr. Carter singled off reliever Calvin Schiraldi, sparking a three-run rally that ended when Mookie Wilson's grounder bounced through Bill Buckner's legs to give the Mets an epic 6-5 win.
Two days later, the Mets won Game 7 to clinch their first World Series title since 1969.
More than 23 years later, Carter would use the story of his clutch hit as a teaching tool at Palm Beach Atlantic University, where he was hired in 2009 as the head baseball coach.
"Listening to him tell that story, you feel as though you've got resin on your hands and the grass at Shea (Stadium) is permeating your nostrils," said PBA interim president William Fleming.
"Gary had an acute attention to detail. He could capture the vibe of the game and share it with you, even though the game might have happened a decade earlier.'
After he was diagnosed last year with an aggressive form of brain cancer, Mr. Carter told friends he planned to fight the disease with the same determination he showed in Game 6 on Oct. 25, 1986.
"He used to tell us a story of 1986 ... how the guys in the dugout said, 'I'm not going to be the one to make the last out.' He said that's how he's going to battle it, like Game 6,' said Marlins broadcaster Tommy Hutton, Mr. Carter's close friend.
The Expos held spring training in West Palm Beach during part of Mr. Carter's career with the team, and he was active in the South Florida community after retiring. He was the Marlins' first television analyst from 1993-96, when he was succeeded by Hutton.
Aside from golf, Mr. Carter was passionate about philanthropy. He launched The Gary Carter Foundation after he read a newspaper article about disadvantaged students struggling to read in Palm Beach County.
"Gary figured, 'You know what? They're in need. I can help.' That's kind of how our mission started and why we started focusing on the 'Reading Counts' program in the local schools,' recalled Jessica Werts, the foundation's treasurer.
The foundation has raised more than $600,000, including more than $360,000 for reading programs in local elementary schools.
Mr. Carter always said he wanted to manage, and he excelled when he got the chance. He was the Gulf Coast League's manager of the year in 2005 and led the Class A St. Lucie Mets to the Florida State League championship in 2006.
He was named Palm Beach Atlantic University's baseball coach in October 2009.
"Just him being who he was helped turn this program around,' said retired big-league pitcher Kent Bottenfield, was who hired as PBA's associate coach in July after Carter got sick.
Mr. Carter - who once said he hated to lose "even at Monopoly, even at cards' - retired with a .262 career batting average, 324 home runs and 1,225 RBI. His 298 home runs as a catcher rank sixth all time.
Mr. Carter wore No. 8 on his uniform and a toothy, made-for-TV smile on his face. He was a team leader and always the go-to guy for reporters, prompting his former Expos teammate Andre Dawson to joke that Mr. Carter "could never find a camera he didn't like.'
"He always had that smile,' Dawson recalled. "He always made himself accessible at all times. When guys didn't want to talk, the writers would go to Gary. That's why he was one of the leaders. Over a period of time, it came to the forefront that the club was building itself around Gary.'
Mr. Carter, who was born in Culver City, Calif., was taken by the Expos as a shortstop in the third round of the amateur draft in 1972 after signing a letter of intent to play football at UCLA. After a brief stint with the Rookie League Cocoa Expos, he played 20 games for the West Palm Beach Expos in the Florida State League late in the 1972 season.
Mr. Carter once said he was first nicknamed "The Kid" during the Montreal Expos' spring training camp in 1974 by veteran teammates "because I was trying to win every sprint. I was trying to hit every pitch out of the park.'
Marlins radio voice Dave Van Horne, an Expos broadcaster in 1974, recalled talking to Montreal manager Gene Mauch that spring about The Kid's exuberant style.
"We heard all this business how he's a nonstop talker, stand-up guy, runs and dives at first base, runs the bases like Pete Rose,' Van Horne recalled.
"I said (to Mauch), 'Are you at all concerned about this hyperactive kid coming up?' And Gene says 'Not at all. It's much easier to turn a player down a notch or two if you have to than to light a fire under one who has no fire in him. I can't wait to get him here.' "
Published in The Palm Beach Post from Feb. 17 to Feb. 18, 2012