Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter, who left an indelible mark on baseball in Canada during his 12 years with the Montreal Expos, died on Thursday.
The man nicknamed "Kid" or "Kid Carter" for his ever-smiling face and cheerfulness is free from the inoperable brain cancer that sapped his energy and took his life at age 57.
Carter played his first major league game on Sept. 16, 1974 for the Expos, and for the next 11 seasons became a fan favourite and face of the franchise.
'The opposing team didn’t like him because of the energy he brought. I know, I was on the opposing team at one point.' — Mookie Wilson, Carter's New York Mets teammate in 1986
Perhaps best known for helping the New York Mets win the 1986 World Series, Carter wowed crowds in Montreal, hitting 220 of his 324 home runs in an Expos uniform and becoming the club's first player enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 27, 2003.
"Gary was one of the happiest guys in the world. That’s why we called him ‘The Kid,’" Carter’s Mets teammate from that ’86 championship season, Mookie Wilson, told ESPNNewYork.com in May 2011. "He would just hug guys all the time. Sometimes the guys didn’t want him hugging them as much as he did but, that’s just the way Gary was.
"The opposing team didn’t like him because of the energy he brought. I know, I was on the opposing team at one point."
Carter, who was diagnosed last May with four malignant tumours, developed a reputation over his 19 big-league seasons as a camera-hog who was more interested in self-promotion than team harmony.
But no one could ever knock the one-time San Francisco Giant and Los Angeles Dodgers backstop for his talent. Carter is considered by some to be the premier catcher of the post-Johnny Bench era in the National League.
An 11-time all-star who played his final game for Montreal in 1992, Carter hit .262 in 2,296 games with 1,225 runs batted in and a .335 on-base percentage. He won three NL Gold Gloves, two all-star MVP awards and sits second on the Expos’ career list in games (1,503) and walks (582).
Carter was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont., in 2001 and his No. 8 is one of only four retired Expos jerseys.
He grew up in Fullerton, a middle-class suburb southeast of L.A., and was raised by his father after his mother died of leukemia when Carter was eight.
A third-round pick by Montreal in the 1972 amateur draft, Carter was traded by the Expos on Dec. 10, 1984 to the Mets for outfielder/infielder Hubie Brooks, catcher/outfielder Mike Fitzgerald, centre-fielder Herm Winningham and starting pitcher Floyd Youmans.
New York released Carter five years later and he went on to play a season each with San Francisco and L.A. before Montreal brought him back as a free agent for 95 games in the 1992 campaign when he batted .218, the second lowest average of his career.
Carter played his final game on Sept. 27 of that season and turned to broadcasting for the first 13 years of his retirement. In 2005, he accepted his first managerial job with the Mets’ rookie-league team in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and won a pennant while also capturing Gulf Coast League manager of the year honours.
Another championship followed the next season in the Florida State League, in the same city, with New York’s class-A team.
Carter was former Mets catcher Josh Thole’s first minor league manager with the 2005 Port St. Lucie squad. He remembered being taught how to win.
"He always told us," said Thole of Carter in an interview with ESPNNewYork.com, "if I teach you how to win, everybody’s gonna get their hits, everybody’s gonna know how to bunt the baseball. Everybody’s gonna know how to move guys over.
"He’d pinch-hit guys. He’d pinch-hit a prospect, but the prospect was struggling. He wanted to win."
Carter left the Mets organization in 2007, refusing to manage its AA team in Binghamton, N.Y., after management wouldn’t guarantee him a position at the major league level in the future.
He found work in the summer of 2008 with the Orange County Flyers of the Golden Baseball League, an independent class-A loop, with hopes of one day returning to the majors.
"This is what I’d like to do for another 10, 15 years," Carter told the Gazette newspaper in Montreal in 2008, the same year he won a GBL title and was named its top manager. "I’m still young enough to be a part of this game; I’d like to think I can be."
Carter moved on to manage the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League for one season in 2009 and coached the Palm Beach Atlantic University Sailfish the past two seasons before taking ill.
He is survived by his wife Sandy — his high school sweetheart — and his children Kimmy, Christy and D.J.