Remembering Gary Carter
There are four reasons I always loved Gary Carter:
1) The white man’s Jheri Curl.
2) That he was the Stan Musial of catchers.
3) His nickname is The Kid.
4) He had one of the best Starting Lineup figurines in history.
I think everyone can agree on the first one and it needs no explanation. Carter had a sweet mullet of curls.
The second one is a little tougher, but easy enough to figure out. Musial is often overlooked as one of the best players to ever put on a jersey because he played in St. Louis when not one, but two, Yankees outfielders were more heralded (Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle) and there was a song that included two others – Willie Mays and Duke Snider.
Stan the Man is always left out of every debate of the greatest outfielders in history the same way Carter is left out of the same debate about catchers. Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Carlton Fisk, et al are always listed before Carter. And he played in New York, the capital of the overhype machine and media explosion (see: Lin, Jeremy).
The third point is the first of two personal connections to Carter. His nickname was “The Kid” because of his youthful exuberance while I got the nickname of “The Kid” when I was a 25-year-old covering Major League Baseball by a bunch of older writers. Sometimes, when making a point, I’ll still say “Check out ‘The Kid’!” in reference to myself. I wonder if Carter did that when he got the call from Cooperstown.
The final point of why Carter will always be memorable to me is that as a Dodgers fan in the 1980s, I hated the Mets, as did any Dodgers fan. The Mets were the big, bad team with a lineup to match their swagger. Yet, Gary Carter had one of the best Starting Lineup figures ever.
Most of these figurines, aimed at nerds like myself, were in generic poses that had them doing some mundane baseball task like standing at the plate or finishing a pitch or something you’d see on a baseball card from the 1970s. But to have the chance to actually take home a four-dimensional version of a player you liked was the joy of Starting Lineup. (If only I had the foresight to keep the players in the plastic packaging so they’d be worth something in the future, but how can you ask a 10-year-old to do that?)
What made Carter appealing to me – and why I had to add him to my collection – was that he was wearing catcher’s gear and was poised to make a catch behind the plate. This was unlike any other Starting Lineup figure ever. It was as strange as Darryl Strawberry making a stretching catch in the outfield, not because Carter, unlike Strawberry, wasn’t a good defensive player. It was because most position players had a bat in their hand.
Carter was the first to be featured differently. And maybe, unlike Musial, that is what set Carter apart. We just never realized it.