The restaurant was west of downtown Quebec City, and “The Kid” across the table from me was just 19. At 200 pounds, this was no under-nourished minor-league prospect. As the server handed him a menu, the reporter from Montreal told him this was a legitimate expense and he should order whatever he wanted. “Really!” he said, wide-eyed. “ANYTHING?”
Gary “The Kid” Carter would soon be a major-league catcher. In a Hall of Fame career over 19 seasons, his salary peaked at $2.2 million — loose change today — and the seven-year contract that was to make him a Montreal Expo for life (but didn’t) was worth between $14 and $17 million. His post-career net worth was about $13 million, but on that day in the summer of ’73 he was thrilled just to eat anything he wanted.
Carter and I made our major-league debuts the same year, him as a catcher headed for greatness, me as a baseball writer. So he had a rookie card and I didn’t. Two years after lunch in Quebec City, he was a National League Rookie-of-the-Year candidate and I was a voter. I didn’t vote for Carter, because San Francisco pitcher John Montefusco had a better year. “But,” Carter protested, “he only plays every fourth day.” While he didn’t buy the explanation that voters couldn’t ignore pitchers, he never held a grudge.
Carter would have turned 67 this week, had glioblastoma not ended his life in 2012. By then, he had become arguably the most famous ballplayer in Canada; certainly the heart of the Expos, who traded him two years into that “lifetime” contract. Eight years later, he returned for a victory lap.
In Montreal, he hit 220 home runs and had his number retired. In all, he made 10 consecutive All-Star teams, won three gold gloves and a World Series. He learned enough French to include it in his Hall of Fame acceptance speech, only the 14th catcher ever enshrined. His enthusiasm sometimes irritated teammates, but to me he was the real deal — honest and kind, and I was fortunate enough to tell him that weeks before his death.
His foundation in Florida raised millions for the “physical, mental and spiritual well-being” of children.
He always was The Kid.