The New York Post has reported that Gary Carter very likely has Grade 4 Glioblastoma which is the most common and most aggressive malignant primary brain tumor in humans. According to Wikipedia, the median survival time after a diagnosis is approximately 14 months. However, the official results won’t be known until Tuesday. This all stemmed from a May 21, 2011 MRI that showed Carter had four small tumors on his brain. Doctors indicated they were about 90% sure the tumors were malignant. Carter went for the MRI because he had allegedly been batting issues with memory loss and other cognitive deficits in recent weeks.
There is no doubt that this represents a significant battle for the former Mets’ catcher. He will have to rely on his team of doctors, as well as his own perserverance and deep religious faith.
Carter, 57, is a very influential figure in my life. As I have written about before, the very first baseball game I ever watched was on Opening Day in 1985 when the Mets played the Cardinals in Carter’s first game after being acquired from the Montreal Expos. Carter hit a game-winning homerun in extra innings, which got me hooked on baseball and the Mets. The next year when I was playing Little League, my coach asked if anyone wanted to play catcher. Despite having no experience whatsoever, I volunteered because that was the position Gary Carter played. From that point on, I was hooked on being a catcher until my knees would let me do it anymore in my teenage years.
He was the last piece of the puzzle which elevated the Mets from an up-and-coming team to a championship team. His numerous clutch hits and intangible leadership skills were the glue to keep that 1986 team together. He would stay a couple more years with the Mets before finishing up his career with the Giants, Dodgers and back to the Expos. There was no doubt in my mind that Carter was a bonafide Hall of Fame catcher. His almost 2,300 games played along with three Gold Gloves, five Silver Slugger awards, 324 homeruns and 1,225 RBI were astounding for players at that position. However, he would not get inducted until 2003.
My dad and I had driven to Cooperstown before, but this was an important trip for me because I idolized Carter. I was a little upset he was not going in the Hall of Fame with a Mets’ hat, but I understand his significance to Montreal. Regardless of what hat is on his plaque, Carter represented a glorious time and era for the Mets…one that I yearn for to this day. Carter was a true professional and played with a passion and desire everyday. I was always influenced by his intense yet controlled demeanor behind home plate. He had a command of the game that was evident by his ability to call a game and lead his team on the field from behind the plate. He helped guide a young and talented pitching staff and taught them how to win. Do not be mistaken…the early success of Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Rick Aguilera, David Cone and others was immensely assisted by Carter’s wisdom and teachings.
After his playing career ended, Carter worked as a broadcaster for the Florida Marlins during their first four years of existence (1993-1996). A few years later he would venture into coaching as he returned to the Mets’ organization when he became the manager of the Gulf Coast Mets. In his first season (2005), he was named Gulf Coast League Manager of the Year. A year later, he was promoted to the A-level St. Lucie Mets and guided his team to the 2006 Florida State League championship, again earning Manager of the Year honors. With aspirations of managing in the big leagues, Carter would go on to unceremoniously campaign for the Mets’ managerial position while it was still occupied by incumbents Art Howe and Willie Randolph. In 2008, he managed and guided the Orange County Flyers of the Golden Baseball League to the GBL Championship, again being named Manager of the Year. In November 2008, Carter was named the manager of the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League of Professional Baseball. The Ducks won the second half Liberty Division title, however, were defeated by the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in the Liberty Division playoffs. Following the season, Carter was named head baseball coach for the NCAA Division II Palm Beach Atlantic University Sailfish.
On a personal level, Carter and his family live in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. This is a beautiful area in Florida (I have family that lives there) that is surrounded by more golf courses than you would know what to do with. Carter and his wife have three children, as well as three grandchildren. I remember from my childhood always seeing Carter’s wife and young kids with him at Shea Stadium. His reputation as a family man is well-deserved and has been paid back in spades. The Gary Carter Foundation (www.garycarter.org), a philanthropic organization that he founded, supports eight Title I schools in Palm Beach County whose students live immersed in poverty. Typically these schools will have 90% or more students eligible for free or reduced lunches. The Foundation seeks to “better the physical, mental and spiritual well being of children.” To accomplish this, they advocate “school literacy by encouraging use of the Reading Counts Program, a program that exists in the Palm Beach County School District.” Carter serves as the President and other family members assist on the Board.
Baseball has always been and will always be a vital part of my life. In my formative years when I was learning the game, Gary Carter served as the biggest inspiration to me (besides my father). I owned a blue Mets’ helmet without ear flaps, just like Carter wore. I modeled by first batting stance after Carter with my back elbow up high. Now twenty years after his playing days ended, I am still paying tribute to The Kid, I have a 1986 replica jersey with Carter and #8 on the back. My wife, daughter and I have two cats named Shea and Carter. I am still clamoring for the Mets to finally do the right thing and retire his number. He deserves that honor, regardless of what his medical condition is. It would be nice if they would do this while he is still physically able to be a part of the ceremony and enjoy the moment.
To Gary Carter – thank you for all of your contributions to the game of baseball and in life. You have the unconditional support of your fans for a healthy and speedy recovery as you battle this illness.