As the pennant races go searing down the stretch, one man strangely eludes mention as National League MVP.
Gary Carter, despite contributing offensively, defensively and intangibly to the New York Mets, most of the time is not even considered the MVP of his own team.
That distinction usually goes to first baseman Keith Hernandez, whose bat, glove and field savvy certainly do the Mets no harm. Dwight Gooden could also win, especially in an era where it has once again become fashionable to choose pitchers.
Nevertheless, Carter deserves recognition for keeping the Mets near first place ever since he cracked a game-winning homer on Opening Day.
“He’s played great,” said one NL scout. “He’s been an awful big lift for this club because of his experience in handling pitchers.”
Entering the final two weeks of the season, Carter was approaching his career-high of 31 homers. His experience and catching skills helped bring a potentially good pitching staff into maturity. He has done this while playing on a bad knee since mid-season.
Now, despite fouling balls off his foot and absorbing foul tips in what seems to be every game, Carter is delivering a superb stretch run. In one 19-game span, he hit 12 homers, knocked in 24 runs and scored 19. He has succeeded where it is so easy to fail: he has faced expectations and lived up to them.
When Carter arrived from the Expos in the off-season, he brought some controversial history with him.
People wondered about his ability to win, despite all the popularity he enjoyed in Montreal. They wondered if his outgoing personality created jealousies that hurt the team. They wondered about his quarrel with Pete Rose, wondered if he was the “cancer” that kept the Expos from going to the World Series.
No one in New York should wonder any longer. With his 1985 performance, Carter has shown both the desire and the ability to win. He is a good ballplayer, and one who never stops selling baseball.
He can be a hot dog, isn’t shy about taking curtain calls, and his constant availability sometimes verges on self promotion. But he is a genuinely nice guy who hits home runs, and any team can use one of those.
Notes The next time anyone questions momentum in baseball, point to the standings as of Sept. 19. Both Cincinnati and the New York Yankees trailed in their respective divisions by 5 1/2 games. Cincinnati, however, was creating pennant excitement while the Yankees were being declared out of the race . . . The Blue Jays would have had the race wrapped up by now if right-hander Dave Stieb was enjoying a good season. Once considered a bulldog, Stieb has faltered several times this season. His control has slipped . . . Interesting that Mets manager Dave Johnson set up a rotation of Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling and Ed Lynch for the showdown series in St. Louis. All three are right-handers. Doesn’t his computer tell him the Cardinals are a mediocre club against lefties?
The spiciest race is now the American League West, where the plot couldn’t be sharper. The Kansas City Royals have dominated that division for a decade, while the Angels are managed by Gene Mauch, the man who has never won a pennant. The Angels, however, have Reggie Jackson, who seems to be responding to the call of October . . . Do you think Yankee owner George Steinbrenner will enjoy the playoffs if St. Louis (former Yankee farmhand Willie McGee), the Angels (Jackson) and Toronto (castoff right-hander Doyle Alexander) are involved?