by Joe Shea
Feb. 22, 2012
AWAITING THE NEXT GREAT MISTAKE
AMARILLO, Tex., Feb 17, 2012 -- When New York Mets catcher Gary Carter in 1986 was receiving $2.07 million per year for his baseball skills, he was the highest-paid baseball player of all time. Much of it was seed money for a legacy of charity and community service that transcended the diamond.
People in Palm Beach County, Fla., where the Carter family spent much of the past 30 years, have more to mourn for than casual baseball fans. The death at age 57 this week of the Baseball Hall of Famer who died less than 10 months after his diagnosis with inoperable Stage IV brain cancer was a loss felt far from the baseball field. I have been checking emails and blogs and remembrances with old friends, and it has been actually impossible to find a single correspondent who did not have a story about the breadth of Carter's charity. Nine years ago, before being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y., he told the Los Angeles Times how the death from leukemia of his mom, Inge Carter, when he was 12, impacted the way he lived his life. Carter said he tried to be "the best person I can be. She is like this bird on my shoulder. When it comes to the final judgment day, I want to see her again. I want to be reunited with her in heaven."
Carter also spoke of his father, who died 17 days after learning of his son's selection to the Hall. "He was always upbeat," and "always reminded his sons of the value of wearing a smile and treating people properly.
"I wanted to live his legacy, (to) make my life a reflection of his," Carter said at the time.
In addition to donating more than $600,000 in recent years through a foundation he started to help children with juvenile diabetes, he was always ready to help schools, sports teams and charities. His 10 years with the Montreal Expos meant that Palm Beach locals got to know him during spring training at the Expos' winter home in West Palm Beach. The thousands of local Mets fans also remembered their 1986 World Series hero and his connection to Palm Beach Atlantic College where he coached baseball and solidified his bond to a younger generation of players.
But perhaps the most astounding accomplishment was his honor to his mom. A key part of that was his long friendship with the late Valerie Aspinwall of Palm Beach, who along with her husband Everett Aspinwall owned Palm Beach talk radio station, WPBR-AM. The Aspinwalls were catalysts in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Valerie, a liberal Democrat activist, had the personality of a persuasive diplomat as she recruited a broad range of celebrities to help raise money for research. To this day, talk host Rush Limbaugh dedicates one day a year to fund-raising for the group. "We can get Gary to do it - he won't mind," Valerie used to tell friends and supporters. And Gary Carter always would step into a different type of batter's box and delivered help to the tune of $8 million, according to the Palm Beach Post. Through the Gary Carter Golf Tournament, black-tie dinners and galas, tv spots (still available on YouTube) and personal contacts around the nation, Gary Carter honored Inge throughout his life. Gary Carter married his high school sweetheart, Sandy, and when the couple started their own foundation in 1999, the work for Leukemia, Lymphoma, and Juvenile Diabetes continued,. So did the estimated $400,000 or more in school supplies, computers, and other resources for Palm Beach County public and private schools. Friends and family say Gary Carter always gave his all, and with a smile. When he learned of children struggling with bringing up their school grades, he helped with ice cream and pizza parties as incentives for tutoring sessions and rewards for improvement. Some baseball writers today say that among the 1986-era Mets in the Broadway limelight, Carter and teammate Mookie Wilson stood out by not going to bars and clubs after games and not hanging out and partying with their fellow Mets.
These two were devoted family guys, and their criticism of Carter seemed to seriously or jokingly complain that the team bus often had to be "held" because Carter found it difficult to pull him away from kids asking for autographs. If that is the worst that could ever be said about the player whose own nickname was "The Kid," it is quite a eulogy. Carter is survived by his wife of 37 years, Sandy, daughters Christy Kearce and Kimmy Bloemers; son D.J.; and three grandchildren.