Saturday, July 26, 2003 Updated: July 27, 2:17 PM ET
Carter's induction a first (and last?) for Expos
By Buster Olney ESPN The Magazine
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Gary Carter was tagged with his nickname The Kid when he was in his first major-league spring-training camp in 1973. Some veteran players with the Montreal Expos granted him the privilege of watching them play cards, and then Mike Torrez and Ken Singleton and Tim Foli and others kept sending him on errands. Hey, Kid, get some ice.
Carter has embraced the rookie Hall of Fame inductee. Hey, Kid, fetch some wine, and on Friday evening, Carter brought the spirits to the table of Johnny Bench. "To be 49 years old now and still be called The Kid," Carter said, grinning, "that's kind of special."
A fan favorite, Gary Carter was an 11-time All-Star who played most of his 19 seasons in Montreal.
Carter and Eddie Murray will be formally inducted into the players' wing of the Hall of Fame Sunday, in a ceremony that will be attended by 44 returning members. Hal McCoy of the Dayton Daily News will be given the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, while Milwaukee Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker will be honored with the Ford C. Frick Award.
Uecker has told others he will talk off the cuff in his acceptance speech, making jokes; let the others be serious, Uecker said. And Carter already is anticipating that his speech could become emotional, particularly as he speaks about his father, Jim Carter, who passed away earlier this year.
Carter wondered aloud today whether he will make it through without breaking down, and Murray -- who shared a stage with Carter at a press conference -- began shaking his head and mouthing the word Noooooooo.
Carter was an 11-time All-Star and set the National League record for games caught by a catcher, with 2,056, playing 19 seasons -- most of those with Montreal, where Carter established a reputation as an extraordinary defensive player and a strong run producer. The New York Mets' acquisition of Carter was considered to be the last precursor to that team's world championship in 1986.
Carter will be the first Hall of Fame inductee whose bronzed plaque portrays him in the cap of the Montreal Expos, and it is very possible Carter will be the last. "The Expos will always have their place," said Carter, sitting on a dais in a golf shirt, sunglasses perched on the bill of a cap. "I am honored to go in as the very first Montreal Expo, and let's hope I'm not the last. I do hope the organization, as a whole, will survive."
Carter is troubled by the plight of the Expos, believing that the fans in Montreal became disenchanted after a strong 1994 team was broken up after the players' strike. "You know what -- Montreal has had good fan support through the years," said Carter. "It just hasn't happened in recent years, because they've been bothered over what happened, and -- 'Are they going to stay? Are they going to go? Are they going to build a new stadium downtown?' It's frustrating for the fans, because they don't know whether the team is staying or going. It's difficult to be a fan.
"The die-hards are still there. There just aren't many of them."
Carter was renowned for his enthusiasm, for his desire to play. He caught at least 143 games at catcher in seven different seasons, and even after Carter stopped being a great player, but he continued to play for several more years. "I remember many a time, going into someplace like Wrigley Field -- where you could cut the humidity with a knife -- and playing a doubleheader," said Carter. "I loved to play the game. It didn't matter if it was a doubleheader, or a single game, or a day game after a night game. I wanted to play."
"There were probably a few games I played where I should not have played, because of some nagging injuries or something. I used to always talk the managers into playing me, because I wanted to play so badly. There were many a time when my name was out of the lineup when I talked my way back into it -- whether it was persuading them with a dozen golf balls, or whatever. I wanted to play."
Carter is a roving catching instructor for the Mets now and likes the job. "But as far as matching it to playing -- there's no comparison," Carter said. "Playing will always be the most exciting, most thrilling. I tried the broadcasting thing, the coaching thing, but I'll never replace the competitive feeling of being out on the field when we were players."
Murray, like Carter, has heard some veiled threats directed at the rookie inductees from the established Hall of Famers, inferences about a rite of passage at dinner Saturday evening. "They've been dropping some ugly hints the last couple of days," Murray said. "The word 'Rookie' has been thrown around at least five or six times a day. I get the feeling something is coming up. I don't know, there could be an embarrassing moment, but they'll only have it for their eyes only."
Murray turned and glanced at Carter as he continued. "We've kind of got our eyes open," said Murray. "I'll watch your back and you watch mine."
"You've got it, Homes," Carter said, and laughter filled the face of The Kid.
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.