Remembering The Great No. 8

PetanickI was walking around the mall yesterday with my wife, trying to get her to go into labor with our second child (first son). They say walking is good for kick-starting the labor process at this point, and as we were walking around, I decided to duck into the sports memorabilia store. I was pacing through the store, looking at the autographs of all the great players hanging on the wall, and I came across a beautiful autographed picture of Gary Carter.

The funny thing is, I was talking to Joe D earlier that day about how I was going to groom my son to be the next great Mets catcher, and then found myself standing in front of that beautifully framed picture of Carter. I had been in that store many times in the past, and never have seen a picture of Carter.

People sometimes wonder what the big deal of owning an autographed picture of a great athlete is. Well, if you find the right piece of memorabilia, it should stir up some memories…

Only the good die young.

We hear that saying all the time, but for a man that carried the nickname “the Kid,” it couldn’t be truer. As I sit here and reflect on one of my childhood heroes, it’s hard to envision the 1986 Mets team that we hold so dear in our hearts, ever reaching the heights they did that season without Carter. He brought stability and leadership to a young and immature team that was in desperate need of guidance. The Mets may have only one World Series under their belts today if it wasn’t for the Mets bringing Carter in for the 1985 season. I think everyone that knows the story of the ’86 Mets would agree that (sorry for the cheesy line but) without No. 8, they would have never been great.

Carter was the only good guy portrayed in the book The Bad Guys Won, which chronicled the crazy journey of 1986 Mets. He has an entire chapter dedicated to himself. The chapter starts off by calling him a “geek.” Literally.

The reason people called him a geek was because if you lumped all the other Mets players in a tank, and the water that filled the tank was represented by all the drug use, womanizing, and alcohol they consumed, Carter was like a bead of oil sitting on top of the water.

He never cursed, never wore cool clothes, never drank alcohol, never smoked, never used illegal drugs or cheated on his wife. For these behaviors, he was alienated in the clubhouse, and labeled a “geek.” The truth is Carter wasn’t a “geek.” He wasn’t a “kid.” He was what we would consider a man in it’s truest form. He was a role model. He was who every parent hoped their child would grow up to be. Oh, and the man could play ball.

The picture that stirred the echoes
The picture in the mall that stirred the emotions.

I remember when I was in little league, I convinced my coach to move me from my main position of shortstop, where I was an all-star, to catcher. I wanted to strap on those shin guards for one reason: Gary Carter. I still had the No. 1 on my back because Ozzie Smith’s back flips and smooth shortstop play had me hooked, but I was behind the plate grinding it out every game because of Carter. And I mean I was grinding it out. I’m not sure how many of you have played catcher in little league, but it isn’t as easy as it seems on the T.V. screen.

The professional pitchers hardly ever throw the ball in the dirt. Little League pitchers, on the other hand, throw it in the dirt quite often. I was bruised up from blocking all the balls, but I stuck with it, and it wasn’t long before I was named an all-star at catcher too. I remember the umpires would thank me at the end of every game because I would block all the wild pitches, saving them from taking their usual beating behind the plate. Evidently that was a rarity at that age.

They really should have thanked Gary Carter. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have been back there blocking the balls that would normally giving them bruises. Carter was my favorite Mets player, but I eventually couldn’t take the abuse anymore that comes with blocking all those wild pitches. I ended up moving to the outfield to try and follow in the footsteps of my next childhood hero who also carried the nickname “the kid” – Ken Griffey Jr. I played the outfield all the way through college, and it earned me some tryouts for some major league teams, but I always regretted giving up on catching too soon.

I was a young boy during 1986, so I don’t remember much from that season. However, there are two moments that always stick out in my mind: the ball squibbling through Buckner’s legs in game six, and Gary Carter jumping into Jesse Orosco’s arms with that completely elated look on his face at the end of the ’86 World Series.

I also vaguely remember being at a game one summer night with my parents. At some point during the game, the umpire made a bad call. The three young men sitting in front of us decided to show the umpire how displeased they were with the call. First they got the umpire’s attention. Then they turned around very calmly, so that their backs were facing the field. After that, they dropped their pants in perfect unison, and proceeded to “moon” the umpire. Evidently, the 80s were a different time, because they didn’t get in trouble, but I can’t go to a Mets game without thinking about that moment.

Gary Carter will always be remembered as a great player (11 time All-Star and Hall of Famer), but he should also be remembered as a great man.  He showed us young Mets fans growing up how to play the game the way it was supposed to be played, and how to be a man, and not a “kid” like his nickname portrays him.

When looking back at that 1986 Mets team, it’s hard to believe that Carter was the youngest man to perish. With the way some of those Mets players abused their bodies with that indestructible feeling so many young men have, it’s amazing they haven’t experienced more health issues. It doesn’t seem fair that a person such as Carter was taken from us so young, especially when he lived his life in a manner that is said to provide us with longevity. I guess it must be true…the good really do die young.


We’ll always remember you No. 8…

About Mitch Petanick 248 Articles
Don't be afraid to swing at that first pitch, it may be the best pitch you see the entire at-bat. PhD in ⚾. Twitter: @firstpitchmitch. I also manage MMO's Instagram account: @metsmerized_online -- be sure to give it a follow!