02/25/12 12:51 AM EST
Teammates, friends, family remember Carter
By Marty Noble / MLB.com
Darryl Strawberry noted as much Friday night when he and dozens more of the players Carter had called teammates and opponents gathered to salute the Hall of Fame catcher here, eight days after his death. Strawberry recalled how Carter sometimes would dine with his teammates after a day game on the road. "But after we ate," Strawberry said, "it was 'See ya tomorrow, Kid,' and he'd go back to the hotel."
But now and for much of the last few days, before and after Carter lost his life to cancer, he has had certain influence on the men he played with and against. His final days and the strength he showed through his ordeal has former co-workers reflecting, even regretting and, to hear some of them, reconsidering some of the choices they've made. Indeed, Carter seemingly has touched the Mets more in death than he did when his happy, God-fearing and perseverant demeanor made him the white sheep of the family.
"It's like Gary got the message long before the rest of us did," Wally Backman said before the 95-minute service staged in the city where the Carter family had made its home from decades. "It's like he grew up before the rest of us did. Straw's been saying that he wishes he lived his life more like Kid lived his. Ya know, I think a lot of us have had thoughts like that.
"You start to think in a different way when one of your group passes. You just hate that one of us had to go for it to happen."
None of the Carter's Mets spoke at the service Friday. But they were well-represented. Jesse Orosco and Lenny Dykstra flew in from California, Dave Magadan and Randy Niemann came from the Red Sox camp in Fort Myers -- which is 100 miles from everywhere -- along with Bobby Valentine. Bobby Ojeda came from New Jersey, Strawberry came from St. Louis. Backman, Keith Hernandez, Howard Johnson, Tim Teufel, Mookie Wilson and Roger McDowell all made intra-state trips.
"There's a special relationship that builds when you win together," Orosco said. "And it never goes away. I couldn't have missed this. I have to pay my respects to a great teammate. He was my friend too."
The Mets also were represented by Terry Collins, Fred Wilpon, Sandy Alderson and Rusty Staub. Staub felt a special kinship with Carter. The two may have been the most popular big league players ever in Canada.
They were joined by so many from the greater baseball community. Thirteeen Hall of Famers came to salute one of their own -- Ozzie Smith, Johnny Bench, Mike Schmidt, Andre Dawson, Jim Palmer, Lou Brock, Paul Molitor, Phil Niekro, Ralph Kiner, Dennis Eckersley, Bert Blyleven, Tony Perez, Wade Boggs and Lee MacPhail were all on hand. Hall of Fame chairman Jane Forbes Clark and President Jeff Idelson came, too.
And so many others: Tim Raines, Jim Kaat, Cliff Floyd, Tommy Hutton, Warren Cromartie, Gary Sheffield, Tom McCraw, Clint Hurdle, Rondell White, Frank Viola, Andres Galarraga, Brad Mills and Scott Sanderson included. "I played in one spring with Gary," Floyd said. "You remember being on a field with a player like him."
The evening was filed with memories. Carter was celebrated more than mourned by his two daughters, his son and his nephew; by Hutton, a long-time friend who also is a resident of Palm Beach Gardens; by Bench, who moved the audience of some 2,000 in a large auditorium at the Christian Fellowship North Campus; by two of Carter's pastors and by one of his players from his college team, the Palm Beach Atlanta Sailfish.
Pastor Jack Graham called Carter "the Tebow of his time."
"I've got to say it, he idolized me," Bench said with a smile. He spoke the truth. Carter was so proud of his relationship with Bench. "But I feel inadequate with the things he accomplished, the friends, the respect and the person that he was. He never called me Johnny, he always called me JB. I always called him Kid ... Weren't we all lucky to have Gary in our lives? ... I'm going to miss you my friend. I'm going to miss that smile, every part of Gary Carter, because of the way he was. We miss you and love you."
Bench also noted Carter never got the opportunity he coveted -- to manage in the big leagues. "Nobody was that smart to hire him," Bench said.
Carter's children shared touching "dad" anecdotes. They told the world of his obsessive neatness, "organizing the refrigerator." Younger daughter Kimmy, an accomplished softball catcher told how she asked to wear uniform No. 8. The stage had several floral arrangements in the shape of an '8' or with an '8' contrasting against other colors. But even Hutton was unaware of the origin of Carter's '8' obsession.
"Have a great season in your new league. You'll be missed in ours," said Logan Thomas, a pitcher with the Sailfish. Carter, bloated from medication, riding in a golf cart and with his vision failing, had visited his team on Feb. 2. His uniform -- No. 8, of course -- hangs in the dugout. Players touch the number.
A video showing Carter at various stages of his 57-year life was shown. He had an unmistakable Howdy Doody look at one time. He appeared to be a serious scholastic football player. Dozens of pictures of him with his family, including his three grandchildren too, and wife Sandy were included. Theirs was a handsome family.
People spoke of Carter's passion and compassion and his energy. Raines recalled once asking "Where does he plug himself in?" when each played for the Expos. And he marveled how a catcher could be so happy. "Some of him rubbed off on us, I guess," Raines said. "You felt guilty if you weren't happy when he was around. But I think now, that we're all older, we appreciate him more."
"We're never going hear his side of it anymore ... whatever the topic is," Teufel said. "I'm going to miss that."
"Maybe his knees won't ache in heaven," Sheffield said.
And Staub said simply: "God bless No. 8."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.