Friday, February 17, 2012

Gary Carter

Gary Carter tagging out Jim Rice during the 1986 World Series

Sadly, Gary Carter died from his battle with brain cancer yesterday. Carter was one of the best catchers ever to play the game and made 11 All Star teams during his career. Carter hit 324 home runs and drove in 1225 runs. Gary was also an excellent defensive catcher and threw out 35% of runners trying to steal during his career.

Carter broke in with the Montreal Expos in late 1974 as a catcher and right fielder. He finished 2nd in Rookie of the Year balloting in 1975 and made the All Star team. By 1977, Carter became a fulltime catcher and rarely played other positions. He also hit 30 home runs for the first time and batted .284 that year. Carter was overshadowed by other great catchers like Johnny Bench, Thurman Munson, Ted Simmons, and Carlton Fisk in the mid to late 70s, but he was emerging as one of the best in the league despite playing on losing Montreal teams.

In 1979 the Expos had turned the corner and became a contending team. Led by Carter, Andre Dawson, Steve Rogers, Charlie Lea, and Tony Perez, the Expos won 95 games and finished only 2 games behind the NL East champion(and eventual World Champion) Pirates. Carter had another great season in 1980, driving in 100 runs for the first time, winning the first of three Gold Gloves, and he finished 2nd in NL MVP voting. Unfortunately, the Expos finished 1 game short of the pennant to the Phillies, who also went on to win the World Series.

During the strike shortened 1981 season, the Expos finally broke through and made the playoffs. They beat the Phillies in the Division Series, and faced the Dodgers in the NLCS. Carter hit over .400 during the 81 playoffs, but the Expos lost in pivotal Game 5 of the NLCS due to Rick Monday's home run. The Expos were loaded with talent at this time. Carter and Andre Dawson would make the Hall of Fame and Tim Raines may join them some day. Youngsters Jeff Reardon and Tim Wallach would make several All Star teams and Larry Parrish, Bill Gullickson, and Scott Sanderson would be solid players for the next decade. But, the Expos never did return to the playoffs.

Carter was now considered the best catcher in the game and had monster years in 1982 and 1984. Carter led the NL in RBIs with 106 in 1984 and hit a career high .294. After the season he was traded to the Mets for Hubie Brooks, Mike Fitzgerald, Floyd Youmans, and Herm Winningham. Carter joined a team that already had Darryl Strawberry, Doc Gooden, Ron Darling, Keith Hernandez, and Lenny Dykstra on it. 1985, Gary hit a career high 32 home runs and drove in 100 runs. Carter also did a good job working with the Mets younger pitchers. The Mets won 98 games but fell short to the Cardinals in 1985.

Carter had his last great season in 1986 finishing 3rd in MVP voting. He drove in 100 runs for the third straight time and the last time for his career. The Mets were dominant that year winning 108 games and beat the Astros in 6 games in the NLCS. The Mets faced the Red Sox in the World Series that year, which was a classic. Carter came up with two clutch hits in Game 6(the Buckner game). He tied the game with a sac fly in the 8th and started a three run rally in the 10th with a single. The Mets won the next night as well and Carter won his first and only World Series.

Carter broke the 300 home run plateau in 1988 and set a record for most putouts by a catcher. However, Carter was in decline and only hit 11 home runs his lowest total since 1976. 1988 would also be the last postseason Carter played in. After only batting .183 in 50 games in 1989, the Mets released him after the season. He then signed with the Giants and was platooned with Terry Kennedy. In 1991, Carter served as Mike Scioscia's backup but the Dodgers finished 1 games shy of the NL West pennant. 1992 would be Carter's last season and he went back to the Expos for his swan song.

After being on the ballot for 6 years, Carter finally made the Hall of Fame in 2003 with Eddie Murray. Carter is still 6th alltime for home runs by a catcher. Carter also managed for a couple years in the Mets minor league system and led the A level St. Lucie team to the Florida State League Championship. Carter campaigned for the Mets managerial job, but never got it. Carter's number 8 was retired by the Montreal Expos and the Mets have not issued it since Carter made the Hall of Fame. I never was able to see Carter during his prime, and only saw him late in his career. Besides Pudge Rodriguez in the late 90s and early 00s, baseball hasn't had a catcher with Carter's offensive and defensive skills since he's retired.

Carter with his All Star teammates in 1982 at Montreal

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