February 17, 2012
The Kid shone like no other in Montreal
By Brian Daly, QMI Agency
MONTREAL - Oh, that smile.
Gary Carter's ever-present grin was mentioned again and again in remembering the good old days of Montreal Expos baseball personified by Gary (The Kid) Carter, who died Thursday at the age of 57.
His passing after a long battle with brain cancer unleashed a flood of tributes from fans, sports personalities and former teammates.
Pitcher Steve Rogers, a popular figure who played with Carter for eight seasons, recalled his former teammate's boundless enthusiasm.
"He always knew where the camera was," Rogers told QMI Agency by telephone. "The fans were everything to him and he gave a lot back to them."
Montrealers warmly embraced the sunny Californian, who honoured every autograph request and always with a smile.
Carter took French courses to better communicate with fans who packed Olympic Stadium back in the days when huge crowds and winning baseball made the cavernous place seem cosy.
Unlike other prominent Montreal athletes, Carter saw the language barrier as an opportunity rather than an annoyance.
The American mastered the language well enough to do French TV spots, endearing himself to legions of Quebecers.
Carter's high-water mark in Montreal came in 1981 when the Expos won their only division title before losing to the Los Angeles Dodgers just short of the World Series.
Canadiens legend Guy Lafleur was the only Montreal sports figure more popular than Carter in those days and the pair enjoyed a close friendship.
He said Carter confided in him as the Expos rose up the standings and chased a World Series ring.
"He often told me that we were lucky to have won several Stanley Cups and he said he also hoped to have championship fever," Lafleur said.
The Expos never reached the promised land, but not through any fault of Carter's.
Rogers recalled one game in which his teammate refused doctors' orders to sit out because of severe knee pain.
"He wrapped up his knee himself," Rogers said. "This guy put so much responsibility on his shoulders."
It all came crashing down in 1984 when owner Charles Bronfman traded Carter to the New York Mets, saying the catcher's seven-year $15-million contract, awarded in 1982, "makes no sense at all."
French play-by-play man Jacques Doucet recalled that Carter was in no mood to leave the only major-league city he had known.
"He said ... 'it's not my choice,' " Doucette told QMI on Friday.
"But he said at least he gets to realize a dream, and that's to win a World Series."
Carter did win his coveted championship with the Mets in 1986, but he never forgot the city where he cut his teeth.
He wore an Expos cap upon induction into the Hall of Fame in 2003, even offering Montreal fans a few words of French during his speech.
Longtime Expos skipper Felipe Alou, who managed Carter in 1992 when Carter returned to town for his final season, said the catcher was "one of the greatest men I have known."
"Carter was more than a baseball player," Alou said. "He was an excellent father, an incredible husband, a very religious man.
"He left quite a legacy and it's because of the man that he was."