The Kid in the Hall

By Jeff Idelson

I’ll never forget May 20th and 21st of 2011. 

I embarked on a 24-hour journey for an aspect of my job that is never comfortable and always sad: Attending a funeral.   

Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew had passed away in Arizona. After lunch with Robin Yount, Paul Molitor and their wives, as well as Bob Nightengale, my friend with USA Today, I headed back to the airport to take a redeye flight home.

As I sat on the flight and drifted off, I wondered what else could happen. Harmon’s passing was the last of six Hall of Famers who had passed away in the last year: Robin Roberts, Sparky Anderson, Bob Feller, Duke Snider and Dick Williams.

As I de-boarded my flight in Newark to change planes that next morning, May 21st, my phone began to ring. It was The Kid, and I smiled. I always looked forward to conversations with Gary Carter because he was so positive, so uplifting and had a zest for life.

This time, the call was different. 

Gary explained that he had been inventorying equipment with his coaches for Palm Beach Community College, where he was the head baseball coach. He told me he had lost count a few times and even snapped at some of his colleagues, and he did not know why. Very uncharacteristic of the most positive person I had come to know in Baseball.

I immediately thought about what I had been reading, about the recent rash of concussions in football. “I bet you have a concussion from all of those collisions you took,” I quickly blurted out, as if I could solve the problem. Gary waited patiently for me to finish and said, “No, it’s actually four tumors wrapped around my brain.” And then he quickly added, “But I am not scared, because I have my family around me and I am going to beat this.” 

And that was the essence of Gary Carter.

He fought gallantly with his family by his side, at every step. He went to Duke Medical Center to learn more. It was actually one tumor with four tentacles. And he could not have surgery: His cancer was inoperable. 

Gary called the next day.

“It’s inoperable, which is going to make this a little bit tougher, but I’ll beat this,” he told me confidently. “I have my family and my faith and with that, we’ll get through this, Jeffrey,” he said. “I plan to be at Hall of Fame Weekend to see everyone.”

It never happened.

Gary was so generous of time and spirit. He traveled to Cooperstown for the 2010 Hall of Fame Classic over Father’s Day Weekend and then to Cooperstown a month later for the induction of Andre Dawson, Doug Harvey and Whitey Herzog.  That would be his last visit to the place he adored so much and the Classic was the final time he participated in a baseball game. The fans adored him.

“Gary was so proud to be a Hall of Famer,” his widow Sandy told me on the phone yesterday afternoon after letting me know of Gary’s peaceful passing. 

And “proud” sums up the Kid so well. He was proud of wearing a major league uniform for 19 seasons, of being a Hall of Famer, of his family and his friends. 

We lost a good one yesterday. Rest in Peace #8. We miss you.

Jeff Idelson is the president of the National Baseball  Hall of Fame and Museum.

5 Comments

Well said Jeff. Sad day yesterday for the baseball community. I had the pleasure of meeting him, and some short conversations when he was inducted. A true baseball player, a “kid” at heart. Prayers for his family and friends.

Jeff: There sure seems to be a bad run of losing 3 HOFers in one year who all had connections to the Expos and wore the uniform. Duke Snider (Hitting Coach) Dick Williams (Manager) and now Gary “The Kid” Carter ( Most popular Expos ever ). We are unfortunately losing alumni faster than we are electing and inducting. Continued success to you as President and I look forward to crosssing paths real soon.

Jeff,
Well said my friend…
I remember when I was running the Best Western Cooperstown and Greg Harris brought Gary to the hotel in the winter of 2003 for a tour. I showed Gary around as many of his family and friends would be staying with us that July for his HOF induction. He was not in any hurry to leave as he took time to meet my staff and just converse and get to know us. He was the consummate gentleman. I remember him telling me how honored he was in what was about to be bestowed upon him that summer. That is what I remember about Gary… A very grateful and humble man. Cooperstown and the world has lost a great man!

We’re not here for long, and it’s a gift when you can say you knew one of the ones who was selfless — more concerned for others than for themselves. Nice tribute, amigo…Pedro in PA

Jeff.I saw you when you came to Baltimore for the Brooks Robinson Honor two years
ago at the Meyerhoff Concert Hall and then when you came for the Brooks Robinson statue unvieling about five months ago. You are doing a fantastic job
representing the Hall of Fame ! Thank you so much for your efforts on behalf of
the Hall. I really appreciate your honest, heartfelt blog about Gary Carter. You are
both the right kind of men. Tom Blazucki

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