i was born in flushing hospital, queens, new york, in april of 1980, a stone's throw from shea stadium, former home of the new york mets. i spent my first few years living in queens before my family moved out to long island. as such, my allegiances lay with the home-borough mets, from birth.
one of my most vivid childhood memories comes from the hundreds of times i would drive past shea stadium at night and look at the neon lights of baseball player silhouettes. one was crouched down in the catcher position. that one was gary carter... our catcher.
carter's career spanned 19 seasons. it included 11 allstar appearances, 3 gold gloves, 5 silver sluggers and an induction into the hall-of-fame in 2003, although sadly he was inducted as a montreal expo (a team for which he played 12 seasons) and not as a met.
though carter only played 5 seasons with the new york mets (1985-1989), he was considered by many to the be missing piece to the championship puzzle. when he was traded to the mets before the 1985 season, they already had a solid nucleus in place with 1983 rookie of the year, darryl strawberry, 1984 rookie of the year, dwight gooden, former mvp, keith hernandez, ron darling, lenny dykstra, mookie wilson, sid fernandez and others. davey johnson was hired to be manager in 1984. all they needed was another veteran leader, someone to unite the clubhouse. that was gary carter.
in his first game as a met, he hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th. in his first season as a met, they would go on to win 98 games and just miss the playoffs. two years prior, they had won only 68 games.
in 1986, with their core intact, the now-dominant mets went on to win a staggering 108 games, 22 more than the 2nd place philadelphia phillies and most in the major leagues. in the national league champion series they defeated the houston astros 4 games to 2 to win the national league pennant and face the boston red sox in the world series.
not much can be said about the 1986 world series that hasn't been said before. entering the bottom of the 10th inning of game 6, the new york mets were down 3 games to 2 versus the red sox, a team that hadn't won the world series since 1918. and the red sox had just taken a 5-3 lead in the top of the 10th inning.
there were 2 outs and no one on base as gary carter stepped up to the plate. the 1st pitched was fouled off. the 2nd pitch was a ball as was the 3rd. the count now stood at 2-1, a hitter's count. on the 4th pitch, gary carter lined it into left field for a single. the mets were alive. the 32-year old "kid" had kept us alive.
what happened next can only be classified as a sports miracle. pinch-hit single by kevin mitchell. a single by ray knight to score gary carter. mets down 5-4. wild pitch to mookie wilson. kevin mitchell scores. game tied at 5. and then the infamous error by bill buckner to score ray knight. mets win 6-5.
the mets would go on to win game 7 and the 1986 world championship, their only championship in my lifetime, their 2nd overall. they came close in 1988 after winning 100 games but losing to the eventual champion los angeles dodgers, 4-3 in the nlcs. they didn't make the playoffs again until back to back appearances in 1999 and 2000, the year they lost to the crosstown yankees in the world series. they were led then by another catching great, mike piazza. after another lull, they again lost 4-3 in the 2006 nlcs, again to the eventual champion st louis cardinals. i went to every single mets home game that playoffs. they haven't returned to the playoffs since.
the mets reached their pinnacle that 1986 season. though i was obviously very young then and probably don't have any direct memory left of that world series, it is preserved through our collective memory.
last may, doctors found four brain tumors in gary carter. the news was devastating and sudden. he was 57 years old. the prognosis wasn't good. everyone hoped and prayed that treatment would help but last month more tumors were discovered. his daughter kept a running journal of their family's battle with her dad's illness and this afternoon, she announced her father's passing.
mets fans and all fans of new york sports will miss and remember gary carter forever. every time i, for one, recall that neon silhouette taking the form of a catcher, it will recall memories of no one else, but ... our catcher.