Best Mets Of All Time: No. 8 Gary Carter
All the time we talk about key trades or signings which take teams over the top. While it was Keith Hernandez which helped the Mets realize their potential, it was Gary Carter which took this team from a very good team to a World Series winner, and as a result, he is the best Mets player to ever wear the number 8.
The Mets obtained Carter in a bold move to help take this team over the top. The team traded away their starting third baseman (Hubie Brooks) and starting catcher (Mike Fitzgerald) along with two well regarded prospects to get Carter. One of those prospects was Floyd Youmans, who was a high school teammate of Dwight Gooden.
In retrospect, even with Brooks having a long career, this was an absolute steal. It wasn’t even in retrospect. In fact, Carter would immediately show Mets fans the type of Hall of Fame player the team acquired:
In the Mets history, they have had Mike Piazza, and they had Todd Hundley setting home run records. Despite all of that, to this date, Carter’s 6.9 WAR during the 1985 season still stands as the best ever produced by a Mets catcher. In fact, at the time, it trailed just Cleon Jones‘ 7.0 mark in 1969 as the best a Mets position player has ever had.
It was during that season Carter began to sow the seeds of the 1986 World Series. He mentored a young staff that included Rick Aguilera, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Gooden, Roger McDowell, and others. Darling would tell the Baseball Hall of Fame, “And the thing about Gary was that before computers, before Sabermetrics, he had it in his brain. The entire National League, he could pull up that knowledge at any time and direct it on a very talented, young pitching staff to heights they probably wouldn’t have reached without him.”
Those Mets had a chance late in the season. In the penultimate series of the season, the Mets took the first two games in St. Louis, and if they completed the sweep, they’d tie atop the division with one series remaining. Unfortunately, their eighth inning rally came up short, and the 98 win team would miss the postseason. As we know, that is something that would never happen in the Wild Card Era.
The 1986 Mets would not be denied, and that team established themselves as one of the great teams in Major League history. Once again, Carter was an All-Star, Silver Slugger, and he finished in the top six in MVP voting. However, when we talk about that postseason.
Looking at his stats that postseason, it is hard to conclude anything but Carter struggled. Still, when he was absolutely needed, he came through for the team. The first time we saw that happen was when he hit a walk-off single in the 12th off Charlie Kerfeld to help the Mets get a 3-2 series lead and achieve their goal of not seeing Mike Scott again in that series.
Carter’s biggest moments came in the World Series. After looking fatigued and getting beat by the Red Sox in the first two games at Shea Stadium, Lenny Dykstra ignited the Mets with a lead-off homer. Carter would take it from there hitting an RBI double in that game and then having a two home run game in the Mets Game 4 win.
While the Mets absolutely needed both of those homers, and they needed Carter’s performance in both of those games, Carter will always be remembered for just one single. In Game 6, the Mets were down 5-3 in the bottom of the 10th. After Wally Backman and Keith Hernandez flew out, Carter strode to the plate against Calvin Schiraldi. He was the last man standing between the Red Sox winning their first World Series since 1918:
As written in Jeff Pearlman’s book, The Bad Guys Won, Carter would say, “I wasn’t going to make the last out of the World Series.” Carter accomplished much more than that. He would spark the greatest rally in World Series history. In sparking that rally, he accomplished exactly what the Mets intended to do when they obtained him – win a World Series.
We didn’t realize it at that time, but 1986 was the last truly great year from Carter. Still, he was an All Star in each of the ensuing two seasons, and he would be named just the second captain in team history joining his teammate Hernandez as co-captains.
While people realize how great Carter was and how important he was to those Mets teams, they may not realize his impact on the Mets record books. By the time he left the Mets, he had the second highest single-season WAR for a position player. He had the third highest single season offensive WAR. In fact, it was the highest when he accomplished the feat in 1985.
In that 1985 season, he was just a hair behind John Stearns and Jerry Grote for the best defensive WAR from a Mets catcher. His 105 RBI in 1986 tied Rusty Staub for the Mets single-season record. He still holds the single season record for RBI. He is all over the single season record lists.
Mostly, he was the only Hall of Fame caliber player on those Mets teams. Aside from Willie Mays, he is arguably the best position player to ever wear a Mets uniform. Yes, even better than Piazza. On that note, Carter and Piazza are currently the only two position players in Mets history who were Hall of Famers who played like it on the Mets.
If not for the Hall of Fame frankly selectively enforcing a rule they did not enforce for players like Reggie Jackson, he would wear a Mets hat on his Hall of Fame plaque, and he would have had his number retired by now. Despite that decision, nothing can take away from the impact he had on the Mets and the World Series he brought to the team. No one can change his being the best Mets player who ever wore the number 8.
Editor’s Note: This is part of a series highlighting the best players in Mets history by highlighting the best Mets player to wear a particular uniform number. In this case, this is not saying Carter was the eighth best player in Mets history, but rather the best Mets player to wear the number 8.