I’d like to say it was 1982, but don’t hold me to it.
I was around 10 and went to a baseball card convention at a hotel in Manhattan where Gary Carter was appearing and signing autographs.
We paid to get in and when we found the table where Carter was sitting, I walked over and handed my baseball cards to him. He smiled. He signed one, he signed two…and the guy sitting next to him asked in the general direction of me and my dad, “Where’re your tickets?”
In addition to the entrance fee, apparently there were blue tickets we had to buy to get the autographs.
I replied with my patented bewildered look of staring straight ahead as if the person speaking had just arrived from Neptune.
Thirty years later, not much has changed.
My dad asked, “What tickets?”
He was just as clueless as I was (am).
I had another card to sign but Carter, ever friendly, shrugged, pursed his lips and shook his head saying, “Sorry pardner.”
But he’d already signed the two cards below. We thanked him and left.
Carter, along with Al Leiter, are the two nicest ballplayers I’ve ever come across.
You can tell when the kindness is genuine and with Carter it was.
As a player, he had a reputation for self-promotion and always knowing where the camera was; that his hustle was sometimes done for the sake of perception, image and salesmanship.
When Pete Rose did it, it was okay because he also ran around, chased women and was one of the guys.
Carter was religious and straitlaced, so it wasn’t done in the context to selling himself while still maintaining the tribal acceptance. It was an end unto itself. That’s just the way he was. At least he wasn’t a hypocrite. His teammates probably would’ve liked him better if he had been.
He was called “The Kid” by fans and media because of the unbridled enthusiasm he brought to the field and that he was polite and accommodating with those same fans and media. But from certain teammates came the derogatory nicknames, “Teeth” and “Camera Carter”.
Is it because Carter was a born again Christian, that Schilling is a conservative republican and that Wilson is just a guy with a thick beard who’s clearly goofing around?
But what’s the difference?
With many players, interacting with fans at card shows is a necessary chore for extra cash they can shove in their pockets without notifying the federal government. Some of those players who were derisive of Carter did exactly that and worse, acting like they were doing a favor by chitchatting with the people who are essentially paying their salaries and being nice to a kid to give him or her a lasting memory.
With Carter, it wasn’t like that.
He was a truly nice man and giving human being. Baseball and the world are a worse place without him.