One year ago today, Gary Carter lost his battle with brain cancer at the young age of 57. Carter’s loss was felt throughout the Mets community, with tributes ranging from t-shirts to a home plate candlelight vigil to commemorative patches on the team’s jerseys and the outfield wall at Citi Field.
Carter was a leader both on and off the field, despite his relative short time as a Met. His five years with the team produced two division titles, one World Series championship and a plaque in the Mets Hall of Fame. Since Carter played his last game for the Mets in 1989, only Todd Hundley and Mike Piazza have spent at least five seasons as the Mets’ No. 1 catcher. And since Mike Piazza waved goodbye to the Shea Stadium crowd in 2005, the Mets have played musical chairs at the catcher’s position, employing four different Opening Day backstops and 17 catchers overall.
Needless to say, there hasn’t been much stability at a position that has historically been one of the most stable for the Mets. But the new kid in town might change that.
Travis d’Arnaud was the 37th overall pick in the 2009 amateur draft. After four minor league seasons, d’Arnaud is poised to make his major league debut for the Mets in 2013. When he does, it will be as the team’s No. 1 catcher, a position he hopes to hold for as long as Gary Carter did, if not longer.
Gary Carter was the 53rd overall pick in the 1972 amateur draft. Although he only hit .262 in parts of three minor league seasons, Carter was called up to the struggling Expos in 1974 after displaying outstanding power at the Triple-A level (23 HR, 83 RBI in 135 games). He also showed tremendous arm strength, was an excellent caller of games, and was able to effectively handle his pitching staff at a very young age. Sounds an awful lot like what the experts are saying about Travis d’Arnaud today.
When Gary Carter was a Met, he gave the team everything they were looking for in a starting catcher. He was a field manager. He was a mentor to his pitchers. He studied the game. He came through when the team needed him.
In 1984, the Mets had six pitchers who made at least ten starts. Of those six, only Dwight Gooden had an ERA under 3.50. In 1985, when Carter played his first year in New York, the Mets had five pitchers make at least ten starts. All five of them finished the year with an ERA under 3.50. Clearly, their collective improvement was a result of having a great catcher behind the plate. And of course, having a catcher who could produce a 30 HR, 100 RBI campaign – as Carter did in 1985 – didn’t hurt either.
Travis d’Arnaud has the potential to be a solid hitter in the major leagues – one who can produce many runs for his pitchers to work with. Barring any setbacks, he should be a Met at some point in 2013. When he does make the team, he’ll be catching the likes of Matt Harvey, Jonathon Niese and quite possibly Zack Wheeler. All three pitchers are young and all three pitchers will need a catcher whose presence behind the plate will make them better on the mound.
For all the wonderful things Gary Carter did as a batter, it was his contribution as a molder of a young pitching staff that helped fuel the team to a World Series championship. Like Carter before him, Travis d’Arnaud has a chance to be a special hitter in the big leagues. But if he can replicate what Gary Carter did behind the plate, then the Mets have a chance to become a special team.
The Kid left us one year ago today. But he also left the new kid a blueprint for how to help the team get back to a level of success it hasn’t experienced in over a quarter century. Good pitchers produce championships. Good catchers produce good pitchers. It worked for Gary Carter. It can work for Travis d’Arnaud. Long live the new kid.