MONTREAL, CANADA – It certainly wasn’t going to be the man’s heart. He had way too much of that, regardless of his proximity to a baseball field. Heart, an aspect missing in Queens lately and a major reason the ’86 Mets team was tough to beat. As fundamentally sound as a catcher there ever was, you can forgive a baseball player for squeezing out a few more years, especially if it’s for the love of the game. And there were three late stops for a deteriorating body—two in his home state of California with the Giants and Dodgers and then back to where it all began in Montreal before mercifully retiring. The body just doesn’t respond well to catching 150+ games per year as this position player hits an imaginary physical wall evident to any baseball audience. Baseball writers weigh this accordingly when voting for Hall of Fame enshrinement. Catchers do not merely get this honor on offensive stats alone as defense is a prerequisite.
Fitting was a baseball life spanning coast to coast and border to border. Long before a major leaguer makes the 25 man roster and stays there, a career starts with Little League games as enthusiasm and dreams motivate a kid. “Kid,” as he was called from that very first Florida spring training while donning uniform number 57, which coincidentally, was the age when his maker called him to His pitching mound. (In those days higher uniform numbers were often given to “rooks” until they earned the era’s normal digits.) Sports latest “holy roller” is Tim Tebow as the quarterback advertises ad nauseum. Number Eight, an outward jovial guy, was a deeply spiritual man but did so in a respectfully inward manner. Respect is also willfully learning French to assimilate to his first MLB home. An organization called the Expos after hosting World’s Fair (1967), was where his efforts were for all baseball fans to see. A second baseball stop was yards away from another World’s Fair site in Shea Stadium. There are no coincidences in life. The man’s career was a spectacle.
Growing up wearing the ‘tools of ignorance’, I enjoyed collecting catcher’s baseball cards and had one particular favorite of Kid’s. Not a pose but an action shot with dust amid a play at the plate, the catcher grasping a mitted baseball looking for the umpire’s call—in a spring training game! That’s what you get from a gamer and it didn’t matter when or where. Openly expressing desire in managing the Mets despite the job being precariously filled by Willie Randolph, drew critics. Desire is missed in Flushing, NY. Hindsight is 20/20 but one thing I do know with certainty is this: his hire would not have the organization in their current malaise because the man was simply a winner. Winning is missed as much as Gary Carter—catcher, character, Major League Baseball Hall of Famer, 1986 NY Mets Champion now part of heaven’s baseball battery.
West Coast Craig, tomorrow.