BLOGGIN' BASEBALL (from the bench)

The Wolfpack - Three Girls and a Dog

Andy Wolfenson

Andy Wolfenson
Location
Randolph, New Jersey, United States
Birthday
December 04
Title
I was advised not to tell
Company
www.baldinglegal.com
Bio
Author of the recently released "In His Ex-Wife's Defense," as well as "Deadly Fantasy: A Baseball Story," "In His Own Defense," and "Bloggin' Baseball (from the bench)", all now available on amazon.com and Kindle. www.baldinglegal.com www.inhisowndefense.com Frustrated wanna-be sportswriter who, in his spare time from traveling from the office to other work locations and attempting to write a succession of wildly-successful novels, occasionally pens blogs about sports, the Yankees, and other topics.

Andy Wolfenson's Links

Salon.com
Editor’s Pick
FEBRUARY 17, 2012 8:56AM

Gary Carter Succumbs to Cancer: The "Kid's" Ironic Death

Rate: 11 Flag

         Baseball great and Hall of Famer Gary Carter, affectionately known as “the Kid”, died of brain cancer yesterday at the age of 57. Carter started his career with the Montreal Expos, but gained perhaps his greatest fame as a key member and co-captain of the 1986 World Champion New York Mets. In what may be one of sports’ greatest ironies, the religious ex-catcher, who fought his disease with such class and bravery, is now dead while the plethora of drug-abusing teammates who shared his Shea Stadium dugout are still around to mourn his loss.

 

                Dwight Gooden. Darryl Strawberry. Lenny Dykstra. Keith Hernandez. A veritable drug "hall of fame", these were the men, along with Carter, who led the Mets to their first championship since the franchise's magical 1969 title. It is also the last time that the Mets have captured baseball's ultimate prize.

 

                In 1985, "The Kid" joined the Mets, slugging a tenth-inning, opening day home run off of St. Louis' Neil Allen (ironically, a reputed alcoholic who had been traded by the Mets for former MVP and alleged cocaine-user Hernandez). Carter's flair for the dramatic had already been cemented in 1981, when he slugged two home runs in the All-Star game - the first game played after the player's strike which split the baseball season into two sections. Another two-home run game highlighted Carter's performance in the 1986 World Series, and he retired in 1992 after a 19-year career which featured 2,092 hits, 324 home runs, and 1,225 RBI's to go with his .991 fielding percentage. He also singled to begin the famous rally in the 1986 World Series, which culminated with Mookie Wilson’s ground ball going through Bill Buckner’s legs and led to Game 7 and the Mets’ championship. Without Carter’s two-out single, there would have been no rally, no chance for Buckner’s error, and the Red Sox would have won the Series in 6 games.

 

                An 11-time All-Star, Carter’s all-around excellence is perhaps best borne out by the fact that he was selected as the “Silver Slugger” award, as the National League’s best hitting catcher, on five occasions between 1981 and 1986. He was also awarded the “Golden Glove”, for fielding excellence, three times.  He currently ranks sixth on the all-time list for homers by a catcher. Carter was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in 2003, becoming the first player to don an Expos' hat on his plaque in Cooperstown. His number 8 jersey was retired by the Expos in 2003.

 

                    (1)

 

 

                Left behind to mourn Carter, in addition to his family, friends, and fans, are former teammates Gooden, Strawberry, Dykstra, and Hernandez. Together, this was the nucleus of a team that, by all rights, should have completely dominated baseball from the mid-1980’s through at least the mid-1990’s. Instead, it is a team which captured only one title, and is a prime example of wasted potential.

 

                The “poster children” for this waste are Gooden and Strawberry, both of whom electrified both the City of New York and the entire baseball world with the early promise of their careers and both of whom fell well short of their expectations, instead succumbing to the temptation of drug excess. Both captured the “Rookie of the Year” awards with the Mets, and both later achieved a later World Series ring with the Yankees, of all teams. Gooden actually pitched a no-hitter while with the Yankees, and Strawberry eventually amassed 335 homers in his career. But both also had well-documented bouts with drug abuse, both have seen the inside of jail cells, and both simply failed to fulfill their potential. Of that, there is no question. Either one of them could have been the best ever at their position. Neither came close.

 

                                       

 

                Dykstra, with his “popeye-like” physique and bouts of rage, was the quintessential steroid user of the 1980’s. he achieved great success with both the Mets and Phillies (he was second in the league’s MVP balloting in 1993), but it is now evident that such success was due to anabolic, rather than work-ethic, reasons. He later achieved further fame as an investment advisor, but , like his baseball success, this was built on fabrication and his investment business crumbled. He later plead guilty to bankruptcy fraud, and was sentenced to house arrest.

 

                The last of the drug-four, Hernandez, was the co-winner of the 1979 Most Valuable Player Award. He won a World Series championship while a member of the Cardinals in 1982, and won the batting title in 1979 and was named to two all-star teams while a member of the Redbirds. Widely acknowledged as the best fielding first baseman of his era, he began a string of eleven consecutive Gold Glove wins in 1978. Why, then, was he traded to the Mets before the 1983 season for the above-mentioned Allen, who, at best, was a middle-of-the-road pitcher? One word – cocaine. Allegations of cocaine use dogged Hernandez, so much so that the Cardinals were forced to trade their Gold Glove-winning first baseman during the off-season following their 1982 championship run. Hernandez served as co-captain of the 1986 Mets with Carter, and has enjoyed a second career as baseball broadcaster.

 

                         (2)

 

                Note that it is not my intention to suggest that any of the other four players deserved to die instead of Carter, nor is this intended to be an indictment of the 1986 Mets and their failure to win more than one title. I simply find it ironic that we are today mourning the loss of Carter, while the others, who polluted their bodies so openly and for so long, taking gambles with their health on a daily basis, are still here.

             

                It is perhaps fitting, however, that the man known as “the Kid” was taken so young.

 

 

photo credits

 

(1) www.ology.com

(2) www.sportsillustrated.cnn.com

 

 

 

 

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Comments

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Andy you nailed this, and I have to give Emily on this one, this is EP all the way. Of course, it's about baseball which she loves, but this is an EP in anyone world. Carter was a great player with a great attitude. A Hall of Famer on and off the field. Great Job Andy!
Excellent summary, Andy, about a deserved Hall of Famer. It should be noted that his upbeat personality was mocked by many of his teammates at the time, but they eventually came to appreciate that it was genuine. I read a quote from Wally Backman yesterday that he wished he had lived his life more like Carter had.

Two little nits to pick: 1) There was nothing "alleged" about Hernandez's cocaine use; he testified about it in court; 2) There's no evidence that Dykstra was a steroid user in his days with the Mets; he was a small guy then and only grew his "Popeye" physique in his later years with the Phillies.
Brings back memories. I lives in Queens in 1986 and watched the Series as a small boy. Those guys were my heroes. There's never been a team like them, since. Of course, that's nostalgia talking.

r
"Without Carter’s two-out single, there would have been no rally, no chance for Buckner’s error, and the Red Sox would have won the Series in 6 games."

If you haven't heard the song "Buckner's Bolero," you should check it out on The Baseball Project's second album "High And Inside." In addition to mentioning "the big fat slider that Nipper served up to Carter," it chronicles the myriad of mishaps, mistakes and coincidences that culminated in Buckner's becoming the scapegoat of all scapegoats and incurring the wrath of a generation of Red Sox fans.

Rated for reminding me of Carter's grace and talent.

(P.S. Lots of other great songs on this CD, especially "Here Lies Carl Mays" and "Chin Music." Their first CD, "Frozen Ropes And Dying Quails" is also pretty good.)
Scanner - as always, you are too kind.

Cuss - nitpick all you want, but ... Hernandez's testimony was in 1985, after he had been with the Mets for three years, so, at the time, any use was merely "alleged", and Dykstra has admitted in various reports to using steroids while with the Mets.

RWoo5g - nostalgia is a great thing. To me, the "Bronx Zoo" Yankees were the best team ever.

montana - will do.
Great tribute and career summation Andy. Carter always seemed like one of the good guys and I liked how you pointed out one of life's unfair ironies that the druggies who impaired their careers live on while the good die young.
Jon and Abra - thank you both. He was one of the most respected players, both for enthusiasm and ability, and the city of NY had a great tribute to him, lighting up the Empire State Building in Mets' blue and orange.
Nice piece, Andy.

The greatest irony of all, of course, is that pro baseball has been populated with devils and angels over it 150-year history. It is, really, sport as life.

To do anything well requires a certain talent. It so happens that ball players have an excess of the kind of talent most of us mortals don't have, and their world is baseball. It's a smaller world than ours, man-made, confined and, for us lovers of it, easy to understand, unlike the real world.

But both are loaded with saints and sinners, no?
Good piece, Andy, and congrats on the EP!

You're spot on about the irony, but I always thought that the high regard heaped on Strawberry was overblown: not that he wasn't good, but I didn't think he had the potential to the "best ever."
Flylooper - yes, there are saints and sinners everywhere in life. It just seems that baseball has had an inordinate number of team-first players, of captains and clubhouse leaders, who have died too young. Start with those who were taken by injury or accident in the prime of their careers - Lou Gehrig, Roberto Clemente, Thurman Munson, and Kirby Puckett. Then add a trio of former NY players who, intriguingly, all died too young from brain cancer - Tug McGraw, Bobby Murcer, and now Gary Carter.

Seven all-stars, all of whom were revered by their teammates for their positive attitudes and most of whom were named captains of their team. All taken too soon. It certainly seems like the sinners are winning, wouldn't you say?
Pilgrim - thanks, but the hype surrounding Strawberry was tremendous. True, it was probably exaggerated since he played for NY, but the praise heaped on both he and his friend, Eric Davis, was substantial. Interestingly, both men, from the streets of LA, had careers which were somehat curtailed by injuries (and Darryl's, of course, by drugs) and both suffered at one point from Colon Cancer. But that's another blog topic, perhaps ...
Andy, you wrote: "It certainly seems like the sinners are winning, wouldn't you say?"

I have to say, losing Carter was sad indeed. Losing anyone we revere is. We remember them as good people. That is enough.

Being a (now "displaced") San Franciscan, I often ruminate on Barry Bonds and what his legacy is, if any at all. While a player, he was idolized by the city, even in the face of the BALCO scandal. And those of us who knew him a little deeper than what we read in the papers absolutely despised him as a total A-hole from start to finish. There wasn't a single positive trait - not one - this man had other than he could smash a baseball into San Francisco Bay with amazing regularity.

In the end it's all balanced out. Bonds may outlive Carter but he will rise every day knowing that even God Himself has put an asterisk on his name. His millions will never erase that fact.
Your comment regarding Barry Bonds is interesting. I was always greatly intrigued by the continued love affair between Bonds and the Giants' fans, who seemed (to me) to turn a blind eye to all of the evidence and allegations regarding his steroid use. I wonder if he even thinks that he did anything wrong, or that he worries that G-d has placed that asterisk next to his name. Listening to comments from Bonds and his cohorts, like Roger Clemens, one would think that they consider themselves to be completely immune from scorn, whether from people or from a higher power.
Great article, Andy. I always loved the way Gary Carter played the game-he was and is one of the all-time best catchers in history.
RE: Bonds and Clemons:

There seems to be a phenomenon among many celebrities wherein prolonged, constant adulation leads to a feeling amongst themselves that they are demigods indeed. We've seen in in Hollywood, in politics, and certainly in sports. I've seen in in college footballers with talent who have been coddled from grammar school onward because they could run, block or tackle better than most others.

I can tell you the Bonds has absolutely no redeeming qualities. Don't know much about Clemons other than what I read in the papers.
PS: No intent to highjack.