By J.R. Lebert aka jrlebert

A decade and a half before we would come to know a certain center fielder in Seattle by the same nickname, fans of the Expos and Mets began a 30-year love affair with the original “Kid”, Gary Edmund Carter.

As a lifelong, die hard Mets fan, it was easy to gravitate towards our beloved catcher. As Jesse Orosco said after learning of Carter’s trade to the Mets, “We have a chance to win it all now!” See, Carter’s nickname was derived from both the way he played the game, and the way he viewed the game. Carter knew that this was, indeed, a kid’s game, meant to be enjoyed, celebrated, and fun. His smile, winning attitude, and drive to succeed infected his teammates, never more so than in the Mets 1986 World Championship season.

In contrast to most of the Mets clubhouse, he was a devout Christian, and lived and carried himself as one who adhered to a higher standard, long before Tim Tebow put one’s faith front and center. While Darryl, Doc, Keith, and Dykstra were doing drugs, getting wasted, and losing sight of the big picture, of a World Series title, or even of their responsibility to their teammates, Carter held strong, in his convictions, his faith, and his play on the field. What better person to have as the rock of your team than your backstop? The guy who took responsibility for calling the game and pitch selection also chose to take responsibility for his teammates, with his leadership on and off the field. Carter was the Mets conscience, their “moral compass,” if the Mets of the mid-to-late 80s can be seen as having one.

As a player, Gary Carter is recognized as not only one of the best catchers of his era, but one of the best all-around players. He was an 11-time All-Star, including 10 straight selections from 1979-1988. He was twice named the All-Star Game MVP. A 5-time Silver Slugger winner, he was just as proficient with his defense, winning three Gold Gloves. He finished his career with over 300 home runs, 2000 hits, 1000 RBI’s, and 1000 runs scored, in a career spanning 19 seasons with 4 teams.

Carter lived the game of baseball, coaching small-time college ball just to be closer to the game he loved. Even as cancer was destroying his body, it was never able to take his spirit. Only a week or so before his passing, there he was, on opening day, at Palm Beach Atlantic University, taking a lap for his fans, and supporting his players.

As a collector, I arrived a bit late to the party when it came to collecting “The Kid”. I have a few of his cards, and some signed memorabilia, but nothing I didn’t get in the last 2 or 3 years. Ironically, it’s probably an Expos triple signed piece that I recently purchased, not because of Carter, but because of Tim Raines, that remains the favorite piece I own of Carter, a signed photo of “The Kid”, “Rock”, and “The Hawk”, Andre Dawson, all in their white Expos uniforms.

 In Mets-ville, how best to honor Carter has come under a bit of scrutiny in the last few months. The Mets are one of the stingiest franchises in all of sports when it comes to retiring numbers, but the question has been asked: “Do we retire Carter’s number 8?” It may be considered blasphemy, but I say no.

Gary’s number was already rightfully retired by the Expos. One of the franchises few true superstars, along with Tim Raines, Vladimir Guerrero, and Andre Dawson (with no disrespect to Tim Wallach, Steve Rodgers, or Jose Vidro, I wrote “superstars”, not team icons), He was a 7-time All Star and played in over 1500 games for Montreal, compared to only 600 for the Mets. Yes, I know I wrote above about how important he was to our championship of 1986, but that’s why he’s in the Mets Hall Of Fame, along with many of the other heroes from both 1969 and 1986.

How will I best honor him? To me it’s simple. When I play softball on Sundays, I’ll try and have just a little more fun, smile just a little bit more, and hustle just a little harder, if not for me and for my team, for Gary’s legacy, and to honor the way he played the game. “The Kid” will be missed, in Montreal, Queens, and everywhere where a fan or collector goes through that old shoebox and stumbles across a piece of cardboard with the name Gary Carter. Rest in peace, Kid.