02/17/12 4:12 PM EST
The Tag helped propel Carter to Cooperstown
Play during '79 All-Star Game a key moment for late catcher
By Terence Moore / MLB.com
Like most folks who encountered Carter, I often experienced the smile, which was followed by a burst of sincerity that made you feel as if you were the most important person in his world.
But what about The Throw?
Nobody talks about The Throw.
More folks need to mention The Throw, because The Throw wouldn't rank among the elite All-Star Game moments without The Tag.
Carter provided The Tag.
Remember? Probably not. Since Carter's death Thursday from brain cancer at 57, you keep hearing about those other things that he contributed during his 19 seasons in the Major Leagues along the way to Cooperstown.
There was Carter's .262 career batting average, along with 324 home runs and 1,225 RBIs, all splendid numbers for a catcher. He won five Silver Slugger awards. He made 11 appearances in the All-Star Game, and he won its Most Valuable Player Award twice. Not only did he grab three Gold Gloves, but he owns the Major League record for most putouts by a catcher.
Consider, too, that Carter spent nearly two decades squatting behind the plate despite nine knee surgeries.
And he was as clutch as they come.
Such was the case for Carter during his first 11 seasons in the Major Leagues with the Montreal Expos, and such definitely was the case when he joined the New York Mets in 1985 for a five-year run.
You've probably heard again and again that Carter concluded his first game with the Mets on Opening Day at Shea Stadium a hero.
After a rough day at the plate and in the field, he slammed a walk-off homer in the 10th inning to beat the St. Louis Cardinals.
Afterward, thousands were chanting Carter's name, and the screaming and stomping wouldn't stop.
Shea Stadium was even more of a madhouse the next year. Which brings us to something else you've likely heard about again and again these days. During Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, Carter climbed into the batter's box as the Boston Red Sox stood just an out away in the bottom of the 10th from winning it all.
Carter said later that he refused at that moment to make the final out of the World Series. So he ripped a single to left. By the end of the inning, Mookie Wilson's grounder was rolling through Bill Buckner's legs, and the Mets were heading to a victory not only in that game, but to another in Game 7.
It was a Game 7 that featured Carter driving home the tying run in the sixth inning. He also provided a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning of Game 6 to tie things for the Mets.
Long before all of that, there was The Throw.
It came in 1979, when Carter was fresh into his role as a possible successor to the great Johnny Bench as the best catcher in the game. While Bench was nearly two years removed from the last of his 10 Gold Gloves, Carter was a season away from his first. They both made the All-Star Game at Seattle's old Kingdome.
Carter would become the more significant of the two during what was one of the most riveting All-Star games ever.
With the game tied at 6 in the bottom of the eighth, the American League threatened -- big time. Brian Downing began the inning with a single, and he was sacrificed to second. Then, with two outs, Graig Nettles singled to right, where Dave Parker resided with his notoriously potent right arm.
Two seasons before, Parker threw out 26 baserunners, mostly with the greatest of ease. He spent the earlier part of the 1979 All-Star Game nailing Jim Rice trying to stretch a double into a triple.
Now, here was Parker, snatching Nettles' single down the right-field line before winding up for a rocket toward the plate.
The Throw was strong as it journeyed all the way through the air, but it was slightly high. It also was just enough up the third-base line to give the AL hope that Downing could slide safely home.
It didn't happen.
While doing his best Bench imitation, the then 25-year-old Carter blocked Downing's path to the plate with his left leg, reached up for The Throw and swooped down to make The Tag before a tumbling Downing could touch the plate with his outstretched right hand.
The National League scored the game-winning run in the ninth inning, and when it was over, Parker's two throws and sacrifice fly were enough for MVP honors.
Carter deserved honorable mention.
Although Carter made his first trip to the All-Star Game in 1975 as a rookie splitting time between catching and the outfield, his second trip triggered his Hall of Fame march -- with much help from The Tag.
That next year, Carter reached 100 RBIs for the first time in his career and won his first Gold Glove. In 1981, he grabbed his first Silver Slugger Award, was named MVP of the All-Star Game for the first time and became the primary spark behind the Expos' first playoff berth.
During those playoffs, Carter hit .421 with two home runs and six RBIs to help the Expos beat the Phillies in the NL Division Series. He hit .438 during the Expos' loss to the Dodgers in the NL Championship Series.
Carter kept exploding into the national spotlight from there, especially after he reached the Mets.
That said, everything for Carter goes back to The Tag, the one that gets ignored.
Except here, of course.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.