In the summer of 1974, I attended my first minor league baseball game. Although I had been to a handful of major league games with larger crowds and familiar players, this was my first experience seeing players in a more intimate setting — and watching players I had never heard about.
But there were a couple of players on the Memphis Blues that were familiar to me. One was leftfielder and leadoff hitter, Pepe Mangual, the other, Gary Carter. I didn’t understand the ramifications of a 20-year-old catcher playing at the Triple-A level. My dad made sure that I knew to watch Carter and Mangual because they would be major league players one day.
So when Carter made his first All-Star team as a rookie in 1975, I felt somehow closer to him than the other stars on TV. He played left field in that game and seeing him in that All-Star Game made me eager to attend more minor league games and the game’s rising stars.
But more than the memory of watching Carter play in my first minor league game, I’ll remember his energy and smile. He always played the game with effort and with a broad smile. He made baseball look like so much fun when he was on the field.
I know his family, as well as his baseball family, will dearly miss The Kid, who died Thursday at age 57. His daughter, Kimmy Bloemers, softball coach at Palm Beach Atlantic, reported Carter’s death on the family website.
“I am deeply saddened to tell you all that my precious dad went to be with Jesus today at 4:10 p.m. This is the most difficult thing I have ever had to write in my entire life but I wanted you all to know. He is in heaven and has reunited with his mom and dad. I believe with all my heart that dad had a STANDING OVATION as he walked through the gates of heaven to be with Jesus,” Bloemers wrote.
His friends around baseball were saddened with news, although it was not unexpected. Carter had been battling malignant tumors for some time.
“Gary Carter was everything you wanted in a sports hero: a great talent, a great competitor, a great family man, and a great friend,” former Mets pitcher and teammate Ron Darling said.
“I am so sad! The Kid has left us,” fellow Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench tweeted. “I started calling him Kid the first time I met him. He was admired and loved. Thank you for our past.”
The faces on this mountain will be more familiar in Montreal than DC.
MLB Mt. Rushmores
by Charlie Miller
The question was posed earlier this season whether Derek Jeter should be considered as part of the Yankees’ Mt. Rushmore. That certainly piqued my interest. Not really the Jeter-Yankees part, but the idea that all MLB teams should have their own Mt. Rushmores. Who are the four individuals that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple. But it isn't as easy as it sounds. Let the arguments begin.
Wasington Nationals Mt. Rushmore
No other franchise suffered as much from the effects of the 1994 players strike as the Montreal Expos. One of the most tragic injustices in baseball is the fate of the 1994 Expos. On pace to win 105 games and six games ahead of the mighty Atlanta Braves, the most promising season in franchise history was erased by the strike. The team never recovered from the losses at the turnstiles or in local broadcast deals and eventually fell under the control of MLB. Ted Lerner purchased the franchise in 2006. Financial stability has been good for the team, but it has yet to breed a winner. In fact, this franchise is the only one of the 30 current organizations never to win a postseason series after a full season of play. The only series this franchise can claim is the 1981 NLDS between first- and second-half NL East champions. The Montreal Expos defeated the Philadelphia Phillies is the best-of-five series, 3-2. The Expos were then beaten by the Dodgers in the NLCS. Now in its 43rd season, the team has finished with the best record in its division once, and second seven times. Given that history, it’s surprising to find as many worthy candidates for the Expos/Nationals Mt. Rushmore.
Along with his friend Tim Raines, Dawson was part of the first dismantling of a contender in the late-1980s (the second coming after the 1994 strike). Reportedly, Dawson signed a blank contract to join the Chicago Cubs after no other team made strong overtures for the future Hall of Famer’s services. While a member of the Expos, the Hawk won Rookie of the Year, was MVP runner-up twice, won six Gold Gloves as a centerfielder, hit 225 home runs, stole 253 bases and drove in and scored more than 800 runs in his 1,443 games. Playing all those seasons on the hard turf at Olympic Stadium took a toll on his knees, retarding his production in his later years.
Raines is the franchise’s all-time leader in runs and stolen bases, and is second on the franchise list in average and hits. The seven-time All-Star finished in the top 7 in MVP voting three times as an Expo. He owns four stolen base titles, a batting title and led the NL in runs scored twice, once in 1987 even though he wasn’t signed by the Expos until May 1 after getting caught in the middle of the owners’ collusion in free agency bidding.
Guerrero, who never saw a pitch he couldn’t hit, was the last real star in Montreal. He left the team via free agency prior to the 2004 season. He had three seasons of 1.000+ OPS and in 2002 he led the National League with 206 hits and was one home run shy of reaching 40-40 status. He ended his tenure in Montreal with 1,004 games, 234 home runs and a franchise-best .323 batting average.
The Kid made a couple of Opening Day starts in right field before settling in behind the plate. His broad smile and fan appeal was a fixture in Montreal from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s. He ranks second, third or fourth in most offensive categories. The Hall of Famer made seven All-Star teams and won three Gold Gloves behind the plate. Four of his All-Star appearances were starts, and he hit three home runs and batted .400 in his All-Star starts. He led the National League in RBIs in 1984. The Expos reluctantly traded their superstar to the Mets for four established major league players prior to the 1985 season fearing they would not be able to afford him and would lose him to free agency. His final franchise tallies include 220 homers and more than 2,400 total bases in over 1,500 games.
Unlike the others on this list of candidates, Tim Wallach spent most of his productive seasons in Montreal. Consequently, he is high on the all-time list in most every category. But he didn’t seem to have the star impact the other players carried.
From 1969-76 the Expos had eight different starting pitchers on Opening Day. Steve Rogers was the eighth and made eight consecutive Opening Day starts of his nine total for the team. He leads the franchise with 158 wins and 37 shutouts.
Felipe Alou managed the team through some tough economic times for eight-plus seasons, leading the team to two of their best seasons in history (1993-94).
Le Grand Orange, aka Rusty Staub, was the first major league hero in Montreal. He was the team’s All-Star rep its first three seasons and his No. 10 is retired even though Andre Dawson wore it proudly for 10 years after Staub.
Surprisingly, Jose Vidro is fifth in hits and games played. He’s also the only player to start multiple All-Star Games as a member of the franchise other than the four players selected above.
The Nationals’ current young third baseman, Ryan Zimmerman, is Washington’s best offering toward the monument.
Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie or email him Charlie.Miller@AthlonSports.com