Gary Carter was the first baseball player I ever really had an awareness of. There were other names out there – I had a Rod Carew batting set and I’m sure there was a name on my first glove (I know I had a Maury Wills model eventually although he was long since retired at that point), but the first guy I knew by name and could point out in a photo was Carter.
To a kid growing up in Canada in the 1970s, Gary Carter was the face of baseball. As the most notable player on Canada’s only (later Canada’s best) team, he was on all the promotions, the highlight of the games on TV. In an era that predated the dominance of the Blue Jays, he was the biggest deal in baseball. He was synonymous with baseball the way Darryl Sittler and Guy Lafleur were with hockey.
I’ve written before about being pulled out of class to watch the fifth game of the 1981 NLCS. I remember the horror of the Rick Monday shot off Steve Rogers. What is often forgotten is that the Expos put up a rally in the bottom of the ninth. With two down, Gary Carter came to the plate against Fernando Valenzuela. This was the moment we’d waited for. Gary was the hero, the one who’d make it OK. He’d torn up the postseason, hitting .429. He would deliver.
He did, to an extent.
Gary Carter worked Valenzuela for a walk on a 3-2 pitch, giving the Expos a baserunner and a life. He was lifted for a pinch runner who got as far as second before Jerry White grounded out on the first pitch from reliever Bob Welch.
It was as close as any Canadian team would get for eleven years.
Carter was more famous for starting a different rally with a clutch single in Game Six of the 1986 World Series. He wasn’t an Expo anymore by then. He was a Met. That never felt quite right, seeing him in that uniform – any non-Expo uniform, really – but it was kind of symbolic of an era that had passed. The Blue Jays were the up and comers now and the Expos were ever so slowly beginning the slide that would end in Washington, DC.
The Expos never really seemed right without Carter in the lineup. It was fitting that his last season was back home.
Godspeed, Gary. It was fun being your fan.