One of the things I had to do as part of the mountainous learning curves of my current job is to become versed in the jargon of oncology. Terms like RECIST, CTCAE grading, various forms of cancer classification, are now part of my daily vocabulary. I don't like having to look at the data from oncology trials, because the minute you look at the data, the 40 or 50 patients in an early trial become actual people -- people with cancer, usually advanced cancer, looking for any hope at all.
And so it was with a particular form of dread that I processed the news that former Mets catcher Gary Carter has been diagnosed with an inoperable, aggressive, stage 4 glioblastoma.
If you weren't a Mets fan in 1985, it's hard to relate to the excitement that fans had at the news that Gary Carter was coming to "our team." Frank Cashen, one of the smartest baseball guys ever to serve as general manager of a ball team, had hit upon the right formula for building a winning franchise -- grow talent from within, and anchor that young talent with solid veterans who still had a few good years ahead of them. Keith Hernandez was the first of those solid veterans, who came to the Mets in 1983 in the Great Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey Swindle. Carter was the second.
Carter was the yin to Hernandez' yang. Hernandez was smart, intense, aggressive. Carter was just as smart, just as intense, just as aggressive, but he covered it all with a smile that made you feel as if the sun had just come out on a rainy day. There isn't a player active today who plays with the same sheer joy that Gary Carter did. There was a reason they called him "Kid." You always had the sense that he'd play even if they didn't pay him.
Mike Lupica, on Carter in a play in game 6 of the 1986 World Series that is now all but forgotten in the drama of the Bill Buckner debacle:
Carter was the first one up with two outs and nobody on and the Mets about to lose the World Series to the Red Sox. This was Gary Carter, who helped make the Mets legit the way Keith Hernandez did before him, who had to keep Game 6 and that Saturday night and the World Series alive. Tough out.
This was Gary Carter, the catcher that year, already on his way to the Hall of Fame but now having gotten the stage in New York after all his years with the Montreal Expos, who was down to his last strike against Calvin Schiraldi, the Red Sox closer.
And in the quiet of the Mets clubhouse later that night, long after Saturday night had become Sunday morning, Carter repeated something he had been saying since one of the most famous baseball games ever played in the city of New York had ended.
One last reporter asked Carter what he was thinking when he stepped to the plate and he said, "I was thinking that I wasn't going to make the last out of the World Series."
It was the same thing he had said to first base coach Bill Robinson after Carter singled to left off Schiraldi and started the greatest half-inning the Mets have ever played. And in the excitement of the moment, Gary Carter might have used the kind of language we never used to hear from him in the clubhouse.
"I wasn't making the last out of the ----ing World Series," is the way Bill Robinson used to tell it.
Gary Carter has always been the nice guy, the affable guy, but that affability masked a will of steel. I hope that will of steel, and the outpouring of love, prayers, and support that have come from all quarters in the wake of this terrible news, serve him well as he deals with a therapy that is still all about burn-and-poison, because there just isn't anything else to do.
We'll be here in the stands rooting for him. Because when you're a Mets fan, you're used to having your heart broken, and our hearts are broken today. But just when you think all is lost, they pull off a miracle.
Gary Carter has already been part of one miracle when his team in 1986 managed to pull out a win no one expected them to, in the bottom of the 10th. Who knows? Maybe, just maybe, The Kid can pull off another one.