The room is quite large, stretching from Southern California, where Jesse Orosco lives, to South Florida, where Keith Hernandez spends his winters, to Oregon, where Wally Backman hunts and fishes whenever possible, to New Jersey, where Dwight Gooden deals with the challenges of his life.
Big room, filled with members of the Mets teams of the '80s. And in the middle of it sits the enormous beast afforded entry by the death of Gary Carter. The beast goes mostly unmentioned. No one feels comfortable speaking of his own mortality or the mortality of his contemporaries. But each of them recognized what occupies their thoughts Thursday night. The 800-pound gorilla is silent and says so much regardless.Gary Carter died at age 57. He is the first member of a generation of Mets who, 26 years ago, believed they were impervious to any challenge and to the laws of nature. If those Mets spoke of death then, they did so in jokes about a guy "buying the farm." Death was an issue for teams in second place, teams without Gold Glove first basemen, Cy Young starters and right fielders who shared surnames with a fruit. "I guess we did have a sense of being bullet proof after Houston, and it became stronger when we survived the Buckner game," Bobby Ojeda said years ago, referring to the National League Championship Series.
If the Mets of 1986 considered death at all -- and they were having too much success to give it much thought -- they laughed at it. But now Carter has sent them all an unwanted reminder -- it happens to everyone.Kid didn't leave 'em laughing. "It's devastating," former Mets pitcher and current broadcaster Ron Darling said Thursday night by phone. "We knew it was probably coming. We thought we had prepared ourselves. ... We hadn't. This a remarkably sad day." Darling paused, gathered himself and came clean.
"I had a good cry when I heard," he said.
He had cried for his fallen comrade and for himself as well. The term "our own mortality" came from his lips.
"It's not just about Kid. It's about all of us" he said.Tears had undermined Hernandez in the afternoon, some 15 minutes after cancer had taken Carter. SNY, the Mets' network, had been alerted. Hernandez is an SNY employee. He was given little notice.
"I broke down on the air," he said. "Gary was my age, for crying out loud. ... We all figured it was coming. The diagnosis was bad from the first day. And the updates weren't encouraging. So you put in the blinders 'cause you don't want to face it. But it's really struck me."I played with other guys who have died -- Bob Forsch and Darrell Porter -- and this one is different. I never expected to feel this bad." Hernandez's voice cracked as he spoke. The composure that had served him so well when he and Carter were Mets teammates and brothers wearing matching rings abandoned him. It was 8 p.m. ET as he sniffed and searched for the proper words.
"I haven't had time to solve this, to justify it," he said. "Gary was 57. He had a family. He was a man of faith."With the Mets, the two of us were out front ... with Doc and Darryl. We were the veterans, though. We were talked about in the same sentences. We were so contrasted. There was Gary, and over here I was. Different. Both of us were decent people, though. But he was a family man and did things the way his mother and father probably wanted them done." Perhaps a form of survivor's guilt had struck the former first baseman.
"But no one deserves it at 57," Hernandez said. "He went a tough way."Gooden had spoken of Carter two weeks earlier and made a poignant point.
"Everyone thought it was a going to be me or Darryl to go first because of the [substance and alcohol abuse] problems we've had," he said. "We all lived a little wild back in the day, except for Kid and Mookie and couple of other guys. Kid was never in the papers for doing something wrong. All he did was get big hits and catch us and block balls in the dirt."And now it looks like he's going to be the first to go. How can it be like that? I guess it's amazing that it could be that when you think of the way Darryl and I lived our lives. ... We didn't take care of ourselves. Kid did. And now look." As Hernandez's mind searched for answers, it came across snapshots of Carter's time with the Mets. None was so prominent as Carter batting with two out and the bases empty in the 10th inning of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Carter pulled a high pitch from Calvin Schiraldi to left field for a line-drive single that initiated the rally that led to Wilson's ground ball and Buckner's misplay ended. "He got us rolling, and I think that's very important to point out," he said. "I had a lot of clutch hits in my career. And I had a chance to do what he did, and I feel that I failed. But Gary got it done. He was the right guy for that situation. He was stronger than I was. I wasn't afraid of those situations. But he welcomed them. It wasn't just about ability. It was about his approach, his makeup. He wanted to be the hero. And you've got to have a player like that. "He was different from a lot of guys. He had bad knees, awful knees. But he always ran -- and I mean ran -- to his position. He busted it every inning, every game. It takes a special kind of motivation." Darling identified Carter as something of an anachronism -- a man out of step in his time but in a most positive way.
"We're all older now. We see things differently. We see things as our parents saw them. The '60s happened before we got to the big leagues. The '70s happens, values changed. But Gary was from 'Leave It To Beaver' and 'Pleasantville.' He was, when we played together, what most of our parents had wanted us to be. And now we see value in it. And that makes this all the sadder. I'm not saying he deserves a reward for living his life the way he did. But 57 ... that's early."Darling spoke with Carter shortly after the cancer was diagnosed in May, but their subsequent communication was by text. He had been part of a Stand Up to Cancer commercial that was shown before Game 1 of the World Series. He and other baseball personalities, John Kruk and Reggie Jackson among them, had held placards aloft, identifying cancer patients.
"Mine was: I stand up for my catcher," Darling said."As soon as the commercial was over, I got a text from Kid. As it came in, his tears and my tears were palpable. I think a lot of our teammates shed tears today. I don't think we realized how much he affected us. It does make you think of your own mortality. In his last act, Kid made us think. He was preparing us."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.