By BEN WALKER, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Gary Carter was nicknamed "Kid" for good reason.
His smile, bubbly personality and eagerness to excel on a ballfield made him a joy to watch at the plate and behind it.
Even his Hall of Fame bronze plaque at Cooperstown shows him with a toothy grin — the Kid forever.
The star catcher, whose single for the New York Mets in the 1986 World Series touched off one of the most improbable rallies in baseball, died Thursday. He was 57.
Carter was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor last May, two weeks after finishing his second season as coach at Palm Beach Atlantic University. Mets spokesman Jay Horwitz said Carter died at a hospice in the West Palm Beach, Fla., area.
"I am deeply saddened to tell you all that my precious dad went to be with Jesus today at 4:10 p.m.," Carter's daughter Kimmy Bloemers wrote on the family website. "This is the most difficult thing I have ever had to write in my entire life but I wanted you all to know."
Carter was an 11-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner. His bottom-of-the-10th single in Game 6 of the 1986 Series helped the Mets mount a charge against the Boston Red Sox and eventually beat them.
With curly, blond locks flaring out from beneath his helmet, and a rigid, upright batting stance, Carter was immediately recognizable. And anyone who watched Carter recognized his zest.
"Nobody loved the game of baseball more than Gary Carter. Nobody enjoyed playing the game of baseball more than Gary Carter. He wore his heart on his sleeve every inning he played," Mets Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver said.
After Carter's diagnosis, the Mets began playing a highlight reel of his accomplishments on the video board during games at Citi Field and posted this message: "Our thoughts are with you Gary. From your millions of fans and the New York Mets."
"His nickname 'The Kid' captured how Gary approached life," the Mets said Thursday in a statement. "He did everything with enthusiasm and with gusto on and off the field. His smile was infectious. ... He was a Hall of Famer in everything he did."
Carter played nearly two decades with the Mets, Montreal, San Francisco and the Los Angeles Dodgers. He led the Expos to their only playoff berth and was the first player enshrined in Cooperstown wearing an Expos cap.
"Gary was one of the happiest guys in the world every day," Mets teammate Mookie Wilson once said.
Carter was known as much for his effervescent personality as his talents. He earned his nickname as an eager teen in his first major league camp and the label stuck for the rest of his career, and beyond.
"An exuberant on-field general with a signature smile who was known for clutch hitting and rock-solid defense over 19 seasons," reads his Hall plaque.
He was especially pumped during the biggest moment of his career. The powerful Mets were down to their last chance in the '86 Series when Carter stepped up with two outs. No one was on base, and New York was trailing Boston 5-3 in the bottom of the 10th inning in Game 6.
Carter said he had just one thought in mind: "I wasn't going to make the last out of the World Series."
True to his word, he delivered a clean single to left field off Red Sox reliever Calvin Schiraldi. Kevin Mitchell followed with a single, and when Ray Knight also singled, Carter scampered home from second base.
As Carter crossed the plate, he clapped his hands, pointed at Wilson on deck and clapped again. Moments later, Bill Buckner's error scored Knight for an amazing 6-5 win. Carter rushed from the dugout to join the celebration at home plate, catcher's gear already on.
Overshadowed by the rally was the fact that Carter had tied the game with a sacrifice fly in the eighth. Then in Game 7, Carter drove in the tying run in the sixth inning, and the Mets went on to win their most recent championship.
"What he added to the team was character. His approach to the game was contagious. It spread to the rest of us. He helped each of us understand what it took to win," former teammate Darryl Strawberry said.
Carter homered twice over the Green Monster at Fenway Park in Game 4 and totaled nine RBIs in that Series. Since then, only two players have gotten more in a World Series (Mike Napoli for Texas in 2011 and Sandy Alomar Jr. for Cleveland in 1997 each had 10).