The sad news that Baseball Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter’s health has worsened brought back memories of the 1980s when he was one of the top stars of the game.
Carter, now 57, was diagnosed with four malignant brain tumors last May. His doctors revealed that the ex-ballplayer has grade IV primary brain tumor glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive form of inoperable cancer.
On Friday, Carter’s daughter Kimmy Bloemers wrote on her online blog that the latest MRI results were even grimmer.
She wrote: “I wish I could say that the results were good. … There are now several new spots/tumors on my dad’s brain. I write these words with tears because I am so sad for my dad. Dr. Jimmy Harris will be coming to my parent’s house this evening to talk to the family about the next step.”
She added: “It is very painful and needs surgery, but all dad can do right now is rehab to heal.”
Carter likely doesn’t have too much time left on this earth but he will leave a great legacy as the premier catcher in the National League of the post-Johnny Bench era.
However, what makes the recent sorrowful news about Carter’s health particularly disturbing to me was that I disliked him intensely when he was a player. And, based on what I have read in newspapers and baseball books, he was widely disliked by both his teammates and opponents.
Carter spent the first eleven years of his career with the Montreal Expos, where – although he was a great player – developed a reputation as a camera-hog who was more interested in self-promotion than in team harmony. Reportedly, some of his black teammates, including superstar outfielder Andre Dawson, resented the fact that the white Carter received more off-field endorsements and publicity than they did -- which they attributed to both racism and to Carter’s aggressive personality.
When he came to the New York Mets in the mid-1980s, coincident with their ascendancy to perennial champion, he gained a much higher profile, but his unpopularity remained.
According to several biographies and articles I have read, in New York, Carter was resented not because he got too much publicity, but rather for the bizarre reason that he was clean-cut, religious and wholesome (in stark contrast to a club filed with heavy drinkers, partiers an drug abusers, notably Keith Hernandez and Darryl Strawberry.
Carter’s nickname “Kid” also seemed to suggest someone who wasn’t an adult and sophisticated – someone who seemed to still carry on the excessive effervescence of a child.
“Goody-goody” athletes are generally disliked by their teammates and much of the media (although I seem to recall that the baseball writers generally seemed to like Carter).
My antipathy for Carter at that time was related to my intense hatred for the New York Mets. Carter seemed to be the central focus of the franchise at the time and, thus, he symbolized the team to me (even more than Strawberry or Dwight Gooden). I also resented his ever-smiling face and cheerfulness which seemed artificial.
I even recall the glee I felt when Mike Schmidt won the National League MVP award in 1986 over Carter (despite the fact that the Phillies finished something like 20 games behind the Mets that year).
Now that Carter is on death’s door, all those past enmities seem rather foolish and ridiculous. After all, I’ve never met Carter and never had any legitimate reason to dislike him.
However, such events can have practical applications in real life – namely, how are we supposed to react when someone we disliked dies? Should we suspend honesty and integrity and express our “sorrow” over their passing? Or should we be truthful and admit we disliked the person and don’t mind that they’re gone. Each option is unpleasant.
There is really no neat and clean way to dispose of such matters.
Nonetheless, I pray for your soul Gary Carter.