As we grow older it seems that more and more of the connections to our childhoods are severed. Some of this is nothing more than the natural process of maturing. Some of this is our confusing maturity with the refusal to be open and trusting. Sometimes events intercede that remind us the end of our life is looming closer and thus our childhood memories seem even more distant.
Such was the case for me today with the news that Gary Carter, the Expos catcher during their first run at glory had died at the age of 57 from a brain tumour. As a child I was a fan of all things sporting. I still am, but today it’s much more a matter of entertainment than the life and death matter that it seemed to be as I was entering my teens. Being born in Montreal, I followed all Montreal teams faithfully, Les Canadiens, the Alouettes and above all the Montreal Expos.
I first started following them in the summer of 1976, when they were overshadowed by another sporting event in Montreal, the Olympics. As disastrous as the Olympics were for the city on a financial basis, the Expos play was equally disastrous on the field as they stumbled to a 55-107 record. The next year the Toronto Blue Jays joined the American League and I remembered a baseball book that I possessed, bought for me by my grandma when she came to visit from Toronto, why it was that the Blue Jays, as an expansion team, weren’t allowed to sign free agents (a relatively new phenomenon at the time), when the Expos, whose play was expansion-like, were.
Whatever the reasons, the addition of Dave Cash from the Phillies and Tony Perez from the Reds, played a large role in helping the young talent of the Expos come out of their shells and blossom into a team that would contend for several years to come. Players like Ellis Valentine, Warren Cromartie, Larry Parrish, later Tim Raines and Rodney Scott and of course Gary Carter.
For all the talent those other players possessed, it was Carter who became the face of the Expos. He was tough, a power-hitter, full of energy and enthusiasm and possessed one of the more photogenic faces around. Yet for all that he had a certain boy next door quality to him that was perhaps best emphasized by the corny 7-up commercials he did with his daughter.
Throughout the years, the Expos got close but never quite made it to the World Series, so in 1985 when the Expos were starting to clear house for the first time, he was sent to the Mets, providing them with clutch performances as they went on to win the World Series over the Boston Red Sox. Carter played for several more seasons before coming back to finish his career in Montreal in 1992.
It’s thirty-one years since that summer and fall of 1981, when one Rick Monday swing kept the Expos out of the World Series. It seemed then that so many more opportunities lay before them. They were on top again in 1994, when the strike wiped out the season, and now they are gone. Today Gary Carter is also gone. Leaving behind memories of long summers and a simple game joyousley played. R.I.P. “Kid”