Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter, the first Montreal Expo to be inducted into Cooperstown and a member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, died Thursday. He was 57.
Carter was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in May and passed away at his home in Florida surrounded by family.
Carter spent 12 of his 19 major-league seasons with the Expos and also helped the New York Mets win an improbable World Series over the Boston Red Sox in 1986. But it was his first 11 years in Montreal that made him a perennial All-Star and the face of baseball in Canada at a time when the Expos were still young and the Toronto Blue Jays were a couple years away from existence.
Carter was part of an impressive core of Expos players in the late 1970s and early 80s that included Tim Raines and Andre Dawson who helped the team reach the National League Championship Series in 1981. Their Game 5 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers will forever be known in Montreal and across Canada as 'Blue Monday' thanks to a two-out, ninth-inning home run by Rick Monday that won the series for L.A.. It was Montreal's only postseason appearance.
[Slideshow: Gary Carter dies at 57]
After five seasons with the Mets and a season each with the San Francisco Giants and Dodgers, Carter returned to Montreal for one final season in 1992 at age 38.
"His last swing was a memorable one — he hit an RBI double in the seventh inning at Olympic Stadium, left for a pinch-runner to a huge ovation from the home crowd and walked away after that 1-0 win over the Cubs." (The Associated Press)
See the final hit of his career for yourself:
(How about that crowd in Montreal, eh?)
Carter's exploits on the field made him an 11-time All-Star and a two-time All-Star Game MVP, while his personality off the field helped him capture the hearts of new baseball fans across Canada.
Born and raised in California, Carter even made an effort to learn French after the Expos drafted him in 1972 and at his Hall of Fame induction in 2003, he delivered part of his speech in French.
"Just bear with me. I would be remiss if I did not say a few words in French. So here it goes.
Bonjour Madames et Monsieurs, M. President, et les invités distingués. C'est avec grand plaisir et grand honneur d'être ici aujourd'hui. J'aimerais remercier tous les participants, les Expos, Mets, Giants et Dodgers. Mes amis, merci beaucoup."
But Carter's popularity even transcended sports. Former Canadian prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau once said "I am certainly happy that I don't have to run for election against Gary Carter."
After news of his death spread, tributes came pouring in.
"Driven by a remarkable enthusiasm for the game, Gary Carter became one of the elite catchers of all-time. 'The Kid' was an 11-time All-Star and a durable, consistent slugger for the Montreal Expos and the New York Mets, and he ranks among the most beloved players in the history of both of those franchises." (Bud Selig, MLB commissioner).
"In researching this book, fans, batboys, secretaries...so many people have talked about how much they genuinely liked Gary Carter. Sad day." (author Jonah Keri, who is writing a book about the Expos).
"The phrase 'carpe diem' always applied to Gary Carter. He drew the marrow from life, his whole life." (Buster Olney, ESPN baseball writer).
The Toronto Star's Richard Griffin summed up his impact on Canadian baseball:
"Carter, in his 12th major-league season, won his only World Series ring as a member of the New York Mets in '86, but for generations of Canadian baseball fans, born prior to 1980, he was one of this country's most recognizable and beloved athletes, the face of the Expos franchise. He was The Kid."