Gary Carter, the Mets' starting catcher on their highly entertaining mid- to late 1980s teams, has four small brain tumors. He joins an ever-lengthening list of people in my thoughts and prayers.
Back in the day, I ran into him once after a game a Shea Stadium. It was in the summer of 1987 in a 7-Eleven in Syosset, Long Island. By that point, Carter's offensive skills were diminshing, although he could still field the position, and the fans were starting to get on him. I attended a Mets-Cardinals with my brother, Andrew. Passions between the two teams ran high in those days, and the crwod was glum, if not downright surly, as the Cards took a 2-0 lead into the late innings.
In the top of the eighth, St. Louis had runners on first and second with nobody out. Doc Gooden was tiring, the Cardinals' pitcher was batting, and everybody who's ever attended a baseball game knew that he would try to bunt the runners over. That would have given the Cards runners on second and third, only one out, and a chance to pad their lead.
The St. Louis pitcher (I forget who it was) offered at a pitch and missed. Suddenly Carter sprang up and fired the ball to second. The Cardinals runner must have overly optimistic about his pitcher getting the bunt down, because he was way off the bag. So he took off for third. It wasn't a bad decision -- force the Mets to make a play. Anybody who's ever followed the Mets for a while knows that defense has rarely been the team's strong suit.
The runner was thrown out at third. And then, for reasons I will never understand, the runner on first took off for second. The Mets' third baseman made a strong throw to second, and that runner, too, was gunned down.
Two runners thrown out without the ball ever being batted into play. I've never seen that, before or since.
Anyway, the crowd roared back to life, the Mets started hitting the ball, and they went on to win, 3-2. And it all started because of a really alert play by Gary Carter.
I lived on Long Island at the time, and after the game I went to a 7-Eleven near my home to pick up a couple of things. As I was walking toward the cash register I heard the woman behind the counter yammering on and it sounded as if she was saying, "blah blah blah YANKEES ... blah blah blah YANKEES ... blah blah blah YANKEES."
I was coming home from a really good Mets win, and I was thinking, "The last thing in the world I want to deal with right now is some moronic Yankee fan."
There was a guy ahead of me at the register. I put my stuff on the counter and looked at him.
It was Gary Carter.
The man was huge. At least 6-foot-2, about 210 pounds and built like a block of granite. He was also buying the biggest bag of barbecued Doritos I've ever seen.
He said something to the woman behind the register about how the fans were getting on him because he wasn't hitting.
At this point I piped up and said: "I was at the game tonight! You made the play that turned the game around when you picked that runner off second!"
Carter was extremely gracious. He thanked me, then shook his head ruefuelly and said, "But the fans, all they want is offensive production."
I tried to buck him up: "There are plenty of ways to win a game, and you figured one out! That was a great play!!!!"
He thanked me again, took his 50-pound bag of Diroitos and headed for his car. As he did, I thought to myself, "I just tried to cheer up a guy who makes two million dollars a year."
And if I could say anything to cheer him up now, I would. He was a great player, and I wish him nothing but the best.