The Kid 'demanded greatness' with Mets

Doc revisits the Gary Carter trade, 37 years on

December 10th, 2021

was talking about The Kid, , a couple of days before the anniversary of the Expos trading Carter to the Mets, as big and important a trade as the Mets ever made. Gooden was remembering the time when he was a kid, a 19-year-old becoming the youngest All-Star in Major League history, at Candlestick Park in 1984. It was there, Carter still with the Expos, that he caught Gooden for the first time.

Gooden was talking about how nervous he was that night -- as nervous, he said, as he’d ever been in his life. And he talked about how Carter knew that, without either one of them discussing it.

“He grabbed me before I went out there [for the fifth inning] and he said, ‘Just throw the ball the way you did the first half of the season,’” Gooden said.

Gooden did all of that in the top of the fifth, striking out the side in Lance Parrish and Chet Lemon and Alvin Davis. When he and Carter got back to the dugout that night, Carter said, “Wouldn’t it be nice to do this every fifth day?”

Now, Friday is the 37th anniversary of that trade between the Mets and the Expos, Carter coming to the Mets for Hubie Brooks, Floyd Youmans, Mike Fitzgerald and Herm Winningham. Of course, Mets history would change in those years when Gooden and Darryl Strawberry got to the big leagues, and the Mets got Keith Hernandez from the Cardinals. But the last piece to the championship puzzle was Carter.

One season after he got to New York, the Mets had one of the most rousing championship seasons in baseball history, 108 regular-season wins, and then eight more in the postseason. There was so much talent on that team, so much swagger, so much mouth, which made them a team built for New York City. But out of all of them, only one made it to the Hall of Fame:

The Kid. Gary Carter.

Gooden was supposed to make it, before all of his off-the-field problems with addiction. So was Strawberry, before his own addiction problems. Hernandez, an MVP with the Cardinals and one of the best defensive first basemen who ever lived, didn’t make it either. Carter, one of the Mets who refused to make the last out in Game 6 of the ’86 Series, No. 8, he was the one to make it to Cooperstown.

He was inducted in 2003. Then he died far too young, nine years after that, at the age of 57, due to brain cancer.

“Gary would have been the last guy of all of us to be the first to pass,” Gooden said. “Man of faith. Never drank. Never hung out. We’d go to dinner sometimes, but that was it, the rest of us would go out and Gary would go home, or back to the hotel.”

I asked Gooden, who was 24-4 in 1985 with Carter as his catcher, with an earned run average of 1.53, to describe what Carter was like as a teammate.

“It always started with his preparation,” Gooden said. “We had five different personalities in that rotation [Gooden, Ron Darling, Bobby Ojeda, Sid Fernandez, Rick Aguilera], and somehow he managed to get the best out of all of us. And we all saw how he came to play, every single day, whether his knees were bothering him or whether he was in a slump or whatever. He never one time took any of that behind the plate.

“I can only speak for myself, but he demanded greatness from me every time I went out there. Nothing less. The way he demanded greatness from himself. He wanted a complete game from me. He wanted 10 strikeouts.”

Finally, Carter became part of the legend of the bottom of the 10th of Game 6, the Red Sox having scored two in the top of the 10th, that close to their first World Series championship since 1918. Carter came up with two outs and nobody on, that close to next season. He singled. And when he got to first base that night, the man who never drank and never swore, said to first-base coach Bill Robinson, “I wasn’t going to make the last [expletive] out of the World Series.”

Before long, Mookie Wilson’s slow roller was through Bill Buckner’s legs and the Mets had won. Two nights later, they won the World Series. And the job that The Kid had come to Shea Stadium to do was complete.

Then he would be the first of them to die. Gooden talked on Wednesday about the last time he spoke to Carter, on the phone. He had been to a signing at Citi Field, and someone called Carter in Florida, and then Gooden was on with him.

By then, Carter and the whole world knew about Gooden’s struggles with drugs and alcohol, ones that would continue after Carter’s death -- a battle that Gooden, in recovery now, fights every single day.

“That day on the phone, he told me that nothing had changed between us,” Gooden said. “He still wanted the best I had. All that time after we became teammates, he was still telling me to be the best I could be.”

When Carter got to catch Gooden every fifth day, after the trade that helped change everything with the Mets, the two of them made history together. The Kid catching one of the most gifted kids baseball had ever seen.

“I wouldn’t have been as great without him,” Gooden said. “And neither would we.”