In Gary Carter's sixth year on the ballot, he was finally elected to the Hall of Fame. It never should have taken that long. Carter had everything you look for in a catcher: durability, defense, power, intelligence and leadership. He made 11 All-Star teams, won three Gold Gloves and caught the most games (2,056) in the history of the National League. During an 11-year span (1977-87), Carter averaged 24 homers and 88 RBI -- marvelous numbers for a catcher in any era, but he did it when 25 homers and 100 RBI really meant something. He was every bit the equal -- and perhaps better in his prime years -- of Carlton Fisk, who was enshrined in Cooperstown two years ago. When factoring in the eras in which they played, Carter was comparable to Bill Dickey, one of the great Yankee catchers. No matter how you look at it, Carter easily was one of the 10 best catchers of all time.
"In my days playing in the major leagues,'' said Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly, a former catcher, "(Gary) was the premier catcher offensively and defensively.''Angels manager Mike Scioscia, another former catcher, called Carter "a catcher's catcher. He not only was playing at a high level with the bat, but behind the plate to help teams win championships. It was incredible. Gary wanted to be in the middle of everything ... every day.'' Durability in a catcher cannot be underplayed. From 1977-85, Carter caught 91 percent of his team's games, an astounding number for any catcher, especially one that was doing so much offensively. "Over the course of a 162-game season, you're going to get foul balls off the knuckles, the elbows, the collarbone, the throat, in areas we won't even mention, and you're still supposed to make something happen offensively,'' Brenly said. "Not a lot of catchers were able to do that at the level that Gary Carter did. He played through injury and kept hitting. Any catcher will tell you he was in awe of what Gary Carter did offensively.'' Defensively, Carter was nearly as good. He ran a game marvelously, he was an excellent receiver and he could really throw. "I stole over 300 bases,'' Phillies manager Larry Bowa said, "and this guy put a little fear in you when you were on first base even if you got a good jump. His arm was great. A lot of catchers were on ego trips, they didn't want you to steal, so they literally would call just fastballs. Fastball away is a hard pitch to steal on. I respect Gary Carter because he would call breaking balls. He was not intimidated by any base stealer. He would call his game. He was a lot like Johnny Bench.'' Carter's career wasn't helped by following the career of Bench, who might be the greatest catcher of all time. It wasn't helped playing his first 11 years in Montreal, where playoff opportunities were few. It wasn't helped by the perception that he was a camera hound who loved the spotlight, and smiled so much that he appeared insincere. First off, those accusations aren't necessarily true. And what if some of them are? Some people hold it against Eddie Murray that he didn't smile enough and wasn't helpful to the press, but we're supposed to resent Carter because he smiled too much and was too helpful? What is that? "I've never seen Gary Carter in a bad mood,'' Brenly said. "He enjoys every minute of life, and he certainly enjoyed every minute he was on the baseball field. He has continued that in his post-baseball life, and I find it refreshing to be around somebody like that.'' Said Scioscia: "You know when Gary is talking, he likes to talk, he is effervescent, he is genuine.'' Reds manager Bob Boone says "(Gary's) a very caring and loving person, and that's equal to his accomplishments on the field. He should be very proud of that, and I'm very proud to call him a friend.'' And the Hall of Fame should be very proud to have Gary Carter as a member. Finally. Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to Baseball Tonight. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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