Gary Carter, the Mets’ indomitable catcher, died 10 years ago Wednesday. The Hall of Famer and former Met co-captain was only 57 when he passed away from glioblastoma — an aggressive form of cancer — in what was a loss that his old teammates still find hard to believe.
“It kind of felt like he was indestructible,” said Ron Darling. “Of all people you didn’t think it would happen to him.”
“I still have his cell number in my phone,” Dwight Gooden added. “I won’t delete it. I still look at some of the text messages we had just to reminisce.”
Carter is remembered in many ways. On the field, he was the embodiment of the consummate professional, amassing 2,092 hits and 11 All-Star appearances while also providing a steadying presence to any clubhouse he inhabited.
The most famous of those clubhouses belonged to the championship-winning 1986 Mets. Known for living fast and loose but also beating the living tar out of their opponents, it was Carter who often found himself acting as the adult in the room. Famously averse to profanity and a man of faith, Carter was considered a godsend for that group, according to those who were in the trenches with him.
“It was a team of characters that lacked character,” Bobby Ojeda said of the ‘86 bunch. “Gary was one of the few guys on the team that had character. He and Ray Knight would hear about what was going on and have this puzzled look on their face like, ‘Really?’ I’ll never forget those looks from Gary when people were telling stories.”
A longtime Montreal Expo, Carter went to the Giants, Dodgers and back to the Expos before calling it quits after the 1992 season. When Carter would reconnect with his guys during retirement, they were typically reminded of his unwavering devotion to those he loved.
“I remember the last conversation I had with him,” Gooden told the Daily News. “I was in Citi Field signing autographs and Gary was on the phone. He said he was going to keep battling this thing (cancer) until it took him out. He goes, ‘Whatever you’re going through, I want you to battle it. Turn your mess into messages and you can help someone.’”
Darling also recalled the last time he saw his former battery mate, whose youthful purity earned him his famous nickname — The Kid. Darling said the two had a special handshake during their playing days. When he saw Carter for the final time, they were able to immediately remember it and share a special moment together.
“I remember how warm and fuzzy that made me feel,” Darling remembered. “That’s how I’ll remember Kid. I’ll remember the last time I saw him, having that handshake.”[More Mets] Ex-Mets star Matt Harvey admits to cocaine use, providing drugs to Tyler Skaggs in explosive testimony »
Tim Teufel was one of Carter’s closest friends. The two spent four years together on the Mets, and Teufel admired the catcher’s outlook on life every single day.
“Gary was always optimistic,” Teufel shared. “He was not the negative guy in the clubhouse. He wasn’t a complainer. He was the guy that came into the locker room with a big smile and pretty much left with a big smile. It was never surprising that every game he gave it his all. I just remember him always being well-prepared.”
The impact that Carter left on his teammates is palpable. With each interview, their appreciation for The Kid comes through in a very real way, almost like they’re talking about a mentor, teacher or parent rather than a peer. Because of this, many of them recall their last interactions with Carter, but also where they were when they learned of his passing.
Ojeda was working as an analyst for SportsNet and remembers getting the news as he was leaving the studio.
“I was walking towards the ferry and I stopped into Smith & Wollensky and had a couple martinis,” Ojeda said. “I just reflected on what a good guy he was and how fortunate I was to get to play with him.”[More Mets] Dominic Smith goes yard in high school alumni game »
Gooden says the news made its way to him while he was at home, flipping through the channels on his TV.
“It was one of those things where you hope it’s just a rumor,” Gooden said. “When everything sinks in, you have these questions. The team we had, you wouldn’t have thought he’d be one of the first to go.”
A common theme in talking to the prominent Mets of the ‘80s is their shock that Carter was the one from that group who died so young.
“The faith he carried, (the way he) took care of his body, you thought once he became a Hall of Famer he was going to enjoy his Hall of Fame life for a long, long time,” Teufel said. “Life just takes different turns, even for good people.”
Ten years removed from his death, the people in Carter’s orbit are also able to pull up memories of their favorite, more lighthearted moments with him. Darling laughed when remembering a grand slam Carter launched off him at Shea Stadium in 1984. Ojeda said that when most catchers came to the mound, they “might as well be the ice cream man, because they got nothing to say that I want to hear,” but that never applied to Carter.
Gooden thought back to the 1984 All-Star Game — when he was 19 years old and struck out the side while throwing to Carter — and the bit of clairvoyance that the catcher spouted.
“I remember going into the dugout and he said, ‘Wouldn’t this be nice to do every fifth day?’”
Throughout the last 10 years, Darling, Gooden, Ojeda and Teufel have all made peace with the fact that their beloved friend is no longer suffering. Though he lives on as just a memory, he occupies a place in each of their hearts that can never be matched.
“As all of us get older, I think we admire Gary more and more,” Darling offered.
“Gary loved being Gary,” Ojeda said. “He loved being himself. He didn’t want to be anything else. He was real good at being Gary.”