You really shouldn’t mess with Ray Knight. At 6 ft 1” and 185 wiry strong pounds, the former gold glove boxer had a fast and stunning jab. On July 22, 1986 in the 10th inning at Riverfront Stadium, that is exactly what Eric Davis did. Davis stole third and laid on top of the Mets third baseman. As they separated, Ray popped Davis on the chin. Chaos ensued. The dugouts and bullpens emptied. Catcher Gary Carter pinned Davis to the ground as shouts and threats poured from the Reds outfielder. After a 10 minute delay things settled down. Knight, Davis and Mets outfielder Kevin Mitchell were ejected.
The score was tied. The Mets were out of 3rd basemen and back-up outfielders. Manager Davey Johnson placed Gary Carter at 3rd base, where he had not played since sandlot days. Johnson sent lefty reliever Jesse Orosco to the outfield. He placed righty reliever Roger McDowell on the mound. For the next 5 innings, Johnson shuffled Orosco and McDowell back and forth from the mound to the outfield depending on who was hitting. Meanwhile, Gary Carter had the time of his life playing 3rd base as the Mets won it with 3 runs in the 14th.
Carter gleefully embraced that chance to play 3rd. He grabbed a fielder’s glove, whipped off his catchers gear and thought, “This is great ! I get to play Brooks Robinson’s position.”
That was how Mr. Carter approached life. All of it.
A Dream Season. Gary Carter with John Hough. Harcourt Brace. 1987.
Dream Season is the story of a dream fulfilled. Gary Carter grew up in Fullerton, California, playing wiffle ball with his older brother, Gordy, in back of their home. He spent a lot of time standing at the plate, dreaming he was Mickey Mantle.
World Series. 2 outs. 2 men on. Bottom of the 9th. Team down by 2.
He spent a lot of time thinking about Ernie Banks. 19 MLB seasons. 512 homeruns. Two time MVP. He thought of how Ernie Banks never played in a World Series.
Young Carter would give anything to play in a World Series, he thought.
After being drafted and signed by the Expos in 1973, Carter progressed through 3 minor league seasons and landed in Montreal. There he established himself as an All Star catcher with a big smile and a knack for hitting with men on base.
Clubhouse haters were jealous of Carter’s popularity. The Hawk, HOF’er Andre Dawson, kept his distance. Ellis Valentine and Warren Cromartie, among others, mocked the catcher.
Carter earned numerous accolades & achievements while an Expo, including 7 All Star appearances, 4 Gold Gloves, 2 Silver Sluggers, 1 RBI title, 2 All Star Game MVP awards, and 5 times garnering NL MVP votes.
Team owner Charles Bronfman resented his All Star catcher. Expos President John McHale had talked Bronfman into signing Carter for $14 million over 7 years in February of 1982 to preclude Carter from leaving via free agency.
$2 Million may be what a mediocre reliever earns today but it was top dollar in 1982. Only Dave Winfield and George Foster were pulling down $2 Mill at that time.
Bronfman was dissatisfied with Carter. He hit well, averaging .285 B.A., with 24 or more homers and 94 RBI from 1982 to 1984. Bronfman wanted more.
LA Times columnist Jim Murray wrote, “What does Gary Carter have to do to be appreciated ? If he were to save an infant from a burning building, the mother would ask, Where is my kid’s hat ?”.
Bronfman wanted Carter to lead the Expos to the World Series. It didn’t happen. In successive years after the contract signing, the Expos finished third, third and fifth.
On Dec. 10, 1984, the Expos sent Carter to the Mets for four players including Hubie Brooks.
The Expos finished no better than third for the 7 seasons that followed.
The book details his days as an Expo, the departure from the dysfunctional Montreal locker room and the arrival in the nirvana of the Mets organization, studded with young hitting and pitching stars.
Carter takes us through the championship season, one of the last years before the widespread tainting of MLB by performance enhancing drug use. It’s a story from a slightly more innocent time, told to us by a God fearing family man.
Carter captures the demise of the 1986 Boston Red Sox in great clarity. Some golden nuggets:
The guilt of the monumental “passed ball” in Game 6 is placed on Rich Gedman’s shoulders. The pitch was wild but it was obvious exactly where that ball was headed. It was a catchable ball. That is why Wilson, the batter, was able to get out of its way.
Carter repeatedly calls Marty Barrett “a little pest.” Barrett earned the sobriquet. He batted .433 in the 2-hole between Boggs and Buckner.
Bruce Hurst did not live up to Bob Ojeda’s scouting report as “soft”. Carter said that Hurst could pitch in any league. He was super.
Calvin Schiradi had been the stopper in the Sox bullpen all year. But Calvin’s former team mates on the Mets knew they could hit Cal. They did, hanging 2 losses and a 13.50 ERA on him in the Series. Schiraldi’s failures were the key to the World Series defeat.
Interestingly, Carter cites Mookie Wilson’s desire and positive energy as a reason that the ball slipped between Buckner’s legs. Wilson played all out as a sub in 1986 after having lost his starting job in the outfield. When Wilson weakly hit a Bob Stanley pitch up the line in the bottom of the 10th in Game 6, he busted to 1st base with everything he had. Wilson’s speed was on Buckner’s mind when he took his eye off the ball for a micro-second, at exactly the wrong time, according to Carter. It made all the difference.
Carter closes this book by recognizing that he had reached the World Series, his promised land, and that he would not end up as Ernie Banks did. He thanked Jesus Christ.
With the passing of Gary Carter on Feb. 16 came multitudes of praise for a decent, wholesome, fun loving man, a man who loved his wife, Sandy, and children. There is nothing in this 25 year old book to make you think otherwise. He takes his shots in a fair manner and keeps this very interesting book positive.
There’s no better time to pick this book up for a read. It helps to put Gary’s life, now complete, in perspective. And helps us do the same with our own.