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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Farewell to the Kid

In the spring of 1987, Gary Carter’s book A Dream Season hit stores. My mom heard Carter would be at Haslam’s Book Store in central St. Petersburg and drove down there to get me a signed copy, leaving plenty of time to wait in line. Only there was no line — St. Petersburg was still affectionately disparaged as God’s waiting room then, and not even the presence of the All-Star catcher of the World Champions of baseball was enough to draw a crowd to a bookstore in the middle of nowhere on a hot afternoon. There was just Gary Carter, looking somewhat wan and bored.

My mom felt sorry for him, and so she stayed and chatted for a while — about the Mets and their season (she has always been a huge fan), but also about her sometimes wayward son and his writing ambitions and where he might go to college the next fall. As this story unfolded over the phone, I had two reactions:

1. MOMMMM! QUIT IT!

2. Please don’t let this story end with another rich athlete being curt or dismissive to a fan. Not when the athlete is Gary Carter and the fan is my mom. Because that really might break my heart.

Gary's dedication, 1987I had, of course, nothing to worry about. Carter couldn’t have been kinder. He signed my book — To Jay Fry, Hope you enjoy the dream! God bless always, Gary Carter — and my mom left, a fan who’d met one of her heroes and come away thinking better of him.

After I learned that Carter had died — a blow no less painful for the fact that we had all braced for it — I picked up Joshua at school and walked him home in the clammy dark. He vaguely remembers Carter from highlight films, and had him somewhat jumbled up with Mike Piazza, Mookie Wilson and Dwight Gooden. (Which isn’t bad as jumbles go.) I set the record straight and we wound up talking about how it was all too easy to inflate athletes’ successes or failures on the field into judgments of them as people. This is something that started while watching Ken Burns’s Baseball, with discussions of how most people were neither heroes nor villains: Ty Cobb said and did unforgivably horrible things to people but was also a pitiable man damaged by a cruel and horrifying childhood, while Barry Bonds was a cheater and a superstar and a jerk and a sad figure all at the same time.

Given such complexities, it was a relief to talk about Gary Carter. It was a relief to tell Joshua that I’d never heard anyone speak ill of him as a teammate, husband, father or friend. It was a relief to say that he was by all accounts something simple to describe and unfortunately easy to mock, probably because it’s so hard to achieve: a good man. Not because of what he’d done behind the plate or at bat, but because of how he’d lived his life and how he’d treated others.

Carter was more complex than that, of course, and he wasn’t perfect: There was a whiff of self-aggrandizement to his relentless enthusiasm, and he was embarrassingly tone-deaf to politics, repeatedly trying to put himself in managerial chairs that were still occupied. But those things didn’t make him a bad person, just human — all of our obituaries, if fairly told, will have buts and to be sures and clauses we’d prefer struck from the record.

It’s been heart-breaking and fascinating to hear Carter’s teammates remember him. For a good chunk of his career, Carter played the toughest position on the diamond while enduring derision from his own teammates, who resented his rapport with the media, ever-present smile and gift of gab — and, one suspects, his unshakeable faith in who he was. They sneeringly called him Teeth, and Camera — even Kid was originally a put-down, one Carter embraced and turned into his own Charlie Hustle.

Those stories from Montreal followed him to New York, where all of his nightcrawling teammates admired him but few seemed to like him. But hearing from them tonight, you could tell the remorse was genuine, and sense that in finding themselves older and grayer and thicker they’d come to think differently of square, uncool Gary Carter from Sunny Hills, California. Keith Hernandez’s grief was so raw that listening to it made you feel like an intruder, but what really got me were the words of a sadder, wiser Darryl Strawberry: “I wish I could have lived my life like Gary Carter.”

Once upon a time, comparing Keith’s Goofus to Gary’s Gallant, I declared myself a Keith person. And I am. But you can declare for the one without diminishing the other. I was always drawn to Keith’s ferocity and brains and his success despite all-too-evident foibles. But that’s not to say I didn’t beam in response to Gary’s buoyant curtain calls, or admire his unflappable stoicism crouching behind the plate in pain and dust, or see his victories over Charlie Kerfeld and Calvin Schiraldi as little parables, lessons that hard work and self-confidence would be rewarded. And as I’ve gotten older and grayer and thicker myself, I’ve come to grasp that the truest measure of who we were will be how others remember us. Living your life like Gary Carter? We should all have such courage of our convictions.

Twenty-five years ago, Gary Carter was kind to my mother. It’s a little thing, but most of our lives are little things, and we determine whether they’re done well or poorly, graciously or indifferently. He wrote God bless always in a book for me. Now I realize he was the blessing.

Greg’s thoughts on Gary are here.

21 comments to Farewell to the Kid

  • […] Seven Years, Eight Wishes »    « Farewell to the Kid […]

  • ZP

    “It was a relief to say that he was by all accounts something simple to describe and unfortunately easy to mock, probably because it’s so hard to achieve: a good man. Not because of what he’d done behind the plate or at bat, but because of how he’d lived his life and how he’d treated others.”

    Beautiful, Jason.

    Gary will be missed dearly.

  • JR ManchesterMet

    Sat eating my breakfast here in England trying to explain to my five year old the impact that The Kid had on me. He hit the first home run I ever saw and the at bat I remembered and retold to anybody who showed a vague passing interest. It’s a sad day. I’ll miss the smile, and the infectious enthusiasm, not just for baseball, but for life. It’s not the years you fit into your life, to paraphrase Lincoln, but the life you fit into your years. Farewell, Kid, sweet dreams.

  • ..I remember seeing him in an Expo uniform, smashing line drives, and wishing he was one of ours..

    Rich P

  • 9th string catcher

    Great post. I had a similar experience with Brad Van Pelt back in the late 70s and was crushed when he passed a few years ago. Being upright and positive, low key and focused is not always very exciting but valuable and worthy, and should always be remembered. Good man, great player. They should have retired hos number while he was alive to see it.

  • […] Jason Fry, Faith and Fear in Flushing: “Once upon a time, comparing Keith’s Goofus to Gary’s Gallant, I declared myself a Keith person. And I am. But you can declare for the one without diminishing the other. I was always drawn to Keith’s ferocity and brains and his success despite all-too-evident foibles. But that’s not to say I didn’t beam in response to Gary’s buoyant curtain calls, or admire his unflappable stoicism crouching behind the plate in pain and dust, or see his victories over Charlie Kerfeld and Calvin Schiraldi as little parables, lessons that hard work and self-confidence would be rewarded. And as I’ve gotten older and grayer and thicker myself, I’ve come to grasp that the truest measure of who we were will be how others remember us. Living your life like Gary Carter? We should all have such courage of our convictions.” […]

  • […] For fans of the Mets’ 1986 World Champions—and your Fixer was one—Carter was a complicated superstar, if only because of how great the contrast was between the devout, earnest Carter and his conflicted teammates. “I was always drawn to Keith [Hernandez]’s ferocity and brains and his success despite all-too-evident foibles,” Jason Fry writes at Faith and Fear in Flushing. “But that’s not to say I didn’t beam in response to Gary’s buoyant curtain calls, or admire his unflappable stoicism crouching behind the plate in pain and dust. Living your life like Gary Carter? We should all have such courage of our convictions.” […]

  • […] Wallstreet Journal, Jason Fry, a guy who loves the Mets more than anyone I’ve ever met, at Faith And Fear In Flushing. I make baseball players pretend to curse at each other for a living, so I found it hard to find my […]

  • Guy Kipp

    Let’s face it. Considering the decadent lifestyles so many of those mid-80s Mets teams led–with the conspicuous exceptions of Gary Carter and Mookie Wilson–it seems awfulyl ironic that the first one to succumb was The Kid.

  • […] Jason Fry, Faith and Fear in Flushing: "Once upon a time, comparing Keith's Goofus to Gary's Gallant, I declared myself a Keith person. And I am. But you can declare for the one without diminishing the other. I was always drawn to Keith's ferocity and brains and his success despite all-too-evident foibles. But that's not to say I didn't beam in response to Gary's buoyant curtain calls, or admire his unflappable stoicism crouching behind the plate in pain and dust, or see his victories over Charlie Kerfeld and Calvin Schiraldi as little parables, lessons that hard work and self-confidence would be rewarded. And as I've gotten older and grayer and thicker myself, I've come to grasp that the truest measure of who we were will be how others remember us. Living your life like Gary Carter? We should all have such courage of our convictions." Click on a tab to select how you'd like to leave your comment WordPressTwitterFacebookGoogleLoginLoginLogin […]

  • Dak442

    In an email this morning, my friend said the Mets could use more guys like Carter today. My response: the world could use more guys like Gary Carter.

    Go with God, Kid.

  • Made in the Shea-de

    I’ve been reduced to tears several times already in the past 24 hours over Kid’s passing. I was also a Keith Hernandez guy, but as the backstop for those ’85-’89 teams around which my fanhood germinated, Carter’s face has always been the image I see in my mind for “catcher.”

    My mother was not a baseball fan, but she was a huge fan of my brother and me, and since we loved the Mets, she had to love them. Gary was her favorite. She loved his curly hair and his smile – she had a Gary Carter cabbage patch doll that’s probably still in my parents’ house somewhere. We still laugh about how she cheered for him in that awkward way mothers do things when they don’t quite have the lingo down. (“C’mon Gary, ‘make’ a homerun!”)

    My mother died of cancer a few years ago, at age 59. Gary’s death yesterday — from cancer, at age 57 — has me reliving that loss at the same time that I am reliving the great moments he left us with.

    Rest in peace, Kid. Hopefully they’re giving you an ovation there in the next world like those you so often got here. And if you see my mom, sign a ball for her.

  • Dave

    Beautiful, Jason, just beautiful.

    Many athletes get rich beyond most peoples’ wildest dreams for playing a game – playing a game! – and behave like petulant brats. Carter lived and played every minute grateful for everything he had been given, and some disliked him for it, called him Camera Carter. Now I can only hope they all live long enough to realize who was getting it right all along…not them, but Kid.

  • growler

    Wow. Just, wow. Thanks for that, Jason.

  • Lenny65

    Gary Carter was one of those players you just hated when he was playing against you, but at the same time you secretly wished you had. When he arrived, we arrived too. The enthusiasm and exuberance he brought to those teams helped to define them and it was all just genuine love of the game, not an act for the cameras or a play for attention. My main lasting image of Gary was from Game Six: not only the rally-starting single but how he was already in his catcher’s gear, preparing for the eleventh inning, when Ray Knight scored the winning run. Always prepared to give his all, that was Gary Carter. What I wouldn’t give to see one more Carter curtain call…

  • growler

    The moment in this picture was one of the happiest moments in my entire life:

    http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2012/02/16/sports/baseball/GaryCarterObit-9.html

    BTW, look at the whole slideshow; some wonderful stuff there.

  • Patrick O'Hern

    Great job Jason.

  • Will in Central NJ

    Of all the requiems written for our fallen heavyweight, a star next to your entry, Jason, for the Goofus and Gallant reference. That, right there, is a way to begin a conversation to our generation’s offspring about our Met heroes of 1986….by couching it in terms of those yin and yang Highlights magazine characters.

  • open the gates

    Beautifully written, Jason.

    Interesting that you mentioned your mother. My mom was never a baseball fan until one day, in 1985, she casually asked me, “How are the Mets doing?”

    “Mom!” I said. “I didn’t know you liked baseball! What brought this on?”

    “It’s that Gary Carter,” she said. “He’s such a nice man.”

    There was that thing about Carter, that brought moms and grandmoms into the game. The basic decency, the wholesomeness, the faith worn on the sleeve. Gary Carter was more than just another superstar ballplayer. He was a superstar ballplayer that you could introduce to your mom. He wore his fame with joy, grace, and, yes, humility – in the sense that he recognized that he owed his gifts to a higher power, and was always grateful for it.

    In the end, those words – “He was such a nice man” – say more about Gary Carter than all the prodigious stats on his Hall of Fame plaque.

    May he rest in peace.

  • Thanks all for the kind words. I didn’t quite realize what the Kid had taught me until that conversation with my own kid.

  • Ed

    Jason,
    Thanks for sharing the story about your Mom meeting Gary.

    Today’s sabermetrics can not measure the kind of clutch play and heart that was Gary Carter. Hopefully someone will remind Sandy Alderson it is not about the numbers – but about the heart in a player. We need more guys like Carter.

    I’m grateful that we had Gary Carter wear the orange and blue. It’s sad when some one who lives a clean life, is so giving, plays so hard, and has such faith in God – should die so young.