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You're a Good Man, Gary Carter

Gary Carter, Met, all-star catcher, and good guy, goes to the Hall of Fame.

11:00 PM, Jan 9, 2003 • By DAVID SKINNER
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A CHILDHOOD HERO OF MINE, Gary Carter, has been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. And if his canonization proves anything, it's that a person can be great and good at the same time.

Carter was a longtime Montreal Expo, but he entered my consciousness during the 1980s as a New York Met. After years of serious bottom-dwelling doldrums for the ballclub, the '80s Mets exploded as one of the best teams in the league. I remember as a kid getting up early to deliver the newspapers for my Newsday route, only to keep all my subscribers waiting while I devoured the latest news of Doc Gooden's strikeout artistry or Daryl Strawberry's merciless pounding of another home run. With players like Keith Hernandez, a great first baseman and one of toughest hitters in the league, ballpark favorites like Mookie Wilson, and a pitching staff that included not only Gooden, but Bob Ojeda, the cerebral Ron Darling, and the great Sid Fernandez in his prime, the Mets had everything a fan could ask for, including Carter--a great catcher with excellent defensive skills, a helluva throw to second, and a dangerous bat.

As the home plate defender for an always-struggling St. Anastasia's boys team, I took a special interest in Carter's excellence on the field and, especially, his clutch hitting. About half the kids in my league seemed to imitate his idiosyncratic batting stance wherein he held the bat so high above his shoulders he might have been trying to scratch God's armpit.

As good a team as the Mets were in the '80s, they had a few too many bad boys--most famously the drug offenders Strawberry and Gooden, but about half the ballclub was implicated in the party-hardy atmosphere, including manager Davey Johnson and team captain Keith Hernandez. In this self-indulgent milieu, Carter was the straight shooter, the corny, God-loving, clean-living square. On team trips, he rode in the front of the bus and the front of the plane, carrying a Bible with him, while the cool guys drank and smoked and worse in the back.

Another thing that set him apart from the others were his excellent relations with the press. He just loved talking baseball, and was known to answer questions at length. For this he was called a glory hound by irritable teammates. One Mets coach called him "a real rah-rah." But here's how Gary Carter truly differed from some of his teammates: If you had taken away his athletic talent, you'd be left with a prototypical bible-thumping Christian, all in all, a nice guy. If you had taken away the talents of some of his teammates, you'd be left with a few drug-abusing criminals.

Of course, as a baseball fan, I was never particularly concerned with Carter's moral virtues, only his athletic ones. In fact when I learned he was a Bible-thumper, I immediately thought less of him. Not that I stopped being a bit of a rah-rah for his athletic exploits.

Though his being a goody-two-shoes cost him popularity votes in clubhouses, the 11-time all-star was respected on all sides for his ability. During his prime he was the best defensive catcher in baseball. He once set a record for the fewest passed balls in 150 games or more. He was also a three-time Golden Glove winner. His offensive highlights include the 1984 season when he led the National League with 104 RBIs. 1986 was an even better year. During the penant race, he had 13 homers and 34 RBIs in only 27 games. For the season, he had 105 RBIs, which helped the Mets get to the World Series. In Game 4, he hit 2 home runs. In Game 6, he hit a crucial single in the two-out 10th inning rally famous for the Mookie Wilson grounder that rolled like a marble through the legs of Bill Buckner. 1986 was also a great defensive year for him: Four of Carter's pitchers won 15 or more games in 1986.

Things went downhill after 1986. Injuries started to pile up, but Carter stuck around for several years, bouncing through different clubs until he retired in 1991. Although he spent more time as an Expo, he said at a press conference this week he'd never forget his extraordinary five years with the Mets.

David Skinner is an assistant managing editor at The Weekly Standard.