Opening Day 2011 will be the 50th Opening Day in Mets history. To honor that, around here we’ll be counting down the top 50 Mets in team history, one every weekday from now until we’ve done ‘em all. Today, #26, Gary Carter:
Gary Carter’s New York legacy a bit confusing – I suspect Carter both is and isn’t overrated by Mets fans. Or something like that. Let me rephrase in a way that might make sense: He’s rated correctly, but for the wrong reasons.
Now let me explain. Carter is slightly overrrated as a player, particularly on the offensive side, with the Mets. He hit 32, 24, and then 20 home runs as a catcher and drove in over 100 runs twice. But he also hit relatively few doubles – an average of just 15 per season — didn’t walk a ton, and posted low batting averages. So despite his impressive home run and RBI totals, Carter’s 104 OPS+ with the Mets is the same as Todd Hundley’s OPS+, and only a tick higher than John Stearns’ (102) and Ramon Castro’s (101). Carter was a good hitter, but wasn’t a great hitter in New York.
That middling OPS+ is mostly due to his precipitous decline once he was traded. Carter’s year-by-year OPS in New York:
- 1985 – .853
- 1986 – .776
- 1987 – .682
- 1988 – .659
- 1989 – .515
Carter had an MVP-type season in 1985, an All Star-type season in 1986, but was just a tick better than replacement level over his final three years in New York. He was heavily used behind the plate over the first half of his career – he led the league in games as a catcher every year from 1977 through 1982 – and his bat disappeared once he turned 33. He was mostly done as a useful player once that happened.
Because Carter’s Mets resume is based around two good years, it’s hard to call him one of the best players in Mets history. Plenty of players have had two good years for the Mets. Cliff Floyd had two good years with the Mets. Kevin McReynolds had a couple of good years in New York. The same can be said for Todd Hundley, Sid Fernandez, or Craig Swan, among others. All those players had at least two good seasons for the Mets.
That said, Carter’s impact on the Mets isn’t necessarily captured by adding up all the numbers from his five seasons. He was the best position player on the 1985 Mets, a team that won 98 games. He was one of the better players on the 1986 Mets, a team that won the World Series. Carter served as one of the final pieces that pushed the Mets to title contenders, and his three bad seasons with the team are compensated for by his two good ones, as the timing of those two good seasons was impeccable.
Still, Carter isn’t one of the very best players in Mets history. I think he’s the 26th best, as evidenced by his placement on this list. But he is one of the most important; if this were a list of important Mets, he would be higher.
But it’s not. Gary Carter is staying right here.
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[Carter] said the happiest day of his life was when he signed a minor league contract with Montreal in 1972 — and the saddest was the day he was traded to the Mets after the 1984 season.
“People will remember me as an Expo,” he said. “My identity is with the Expos, not anyone else.”
– Gary Carter, after announcing his retirement in 1992
”My heart is still always going to be in New York.”
– Gary Carter, upon being voted into the Hall of Fame in 2003