“February made me shiver, with every paper I’d deliver. Bad news on the doorstep …"
Don McLean sang those words in his classic song, “American Pie,” as he reflected on the plane-crash death of rock star Buddy Holly.
Bad news hit the step again Thursday with sad news of Gary Carter’s death, from cancer, at age 57.
February, again, made us quiver.
Long ago, Carter used to deliver the news, good and bad, on his bike.
You may remember Carter as a Hall of Fame catcher for the Montreal Expos and New York Mets and a signature player in the classic 1986 World Series.
I also remember him as Gary Carter, “former Fullerton News Tribune paper boy.”
I was born in Fullerton, attended college in the city and started my career, in 1980, at the old Fullerton News Tribune (later modernized to Daily News Tribune).
Local heroes were big deals to newspapers back then, and my sports editor, Bob Lenard, had a standing order with Carter, who had skyrocketed out of Sunny Hills High to major league success with the Expos.
Jackson Browne, the singer-songwriter, also attended Sunny Hills, but we let the entertainment section brag about him.
Every Associated Press story I remember coming over the wires mentioning Carter’s exploits was amended for our readers with the addendum, “former News Tribune paper boy.”
Carter wasn’t just a catcher, he was a thrower.
He was our paper boy!
He took the route over from his older brother Gordy and approached his job the same way he did as a big league catcher.
Carter explained his thought process in a 2007 book, “Behind the Glory,” which traced the upbringing of 20 famous baseball players.
“I was going to be the best paper boy ever,” Carter explained in the book. “I used my Sting-Ray bike and got the papers there after school. People know I porched everything. No roofs, no lawns. I stopped the bike and nailed it. And if I ever missed, I would go pick it up and do it right.”
Once a paper boy for the sister-town La Habra Star, I tried to apply the same ethic to my daily route, with half of Carter’s arm strength.
Does anyone even remember there used to be paper boys? Well, there were, and if there was a Gutenberg Hall of Fame for delivery boys, Carter would be in it.
People have no idea how much technique is involved in properly folding a newspaper and making it fly straight. Your fold depended on how heavy the paper was that day. A thin paper required a double bend while a heavier one needed only one crease before banding and bag stuffing.
There is nothing more exciting for a hometown paper than to chronicle the important exploits of one of its own.
Our Fullerton News Tribune was fortunate enough to have three Hall of Fame players in our circulation area.
Or maybe you didn’t know that Walter Johnson, the Big Train, maybe the greatest pitcher ever, attended Fullerton High.
He was followed later in local lore by Arky Vaughan, a star shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Vaughan was a .318 lifetime hitter who flirted with .400 in 1935 before finishing with his league-leading .385.
Vaughan’s legacy faded in time because he drowned, tragically, at age 40, on a fishing trip.
Fullerton also has a Hall of Fame manager in resident Tommy Lasorda.
It was nice to be represented by these populist pillars.
Carter, maybe because of his newspaper background, was always one of the most media-friendly players. As a paper boy, he said he earned bigger tips and Christmas bonuses by smiling at his customers.
Angelo Dundee, the late boxing trainer, always said, “It doesn’t cost anything to be nice to people.”
Carter learned that early, on the streets of Fullerton, with a gunnysack full of news draped over his bicycle handlebars. They called him “Kid” back then too.
It was always easy to parenthetically insert Carter’s former occupation into every sports story because he did his city proud and served his community well.
Baseball lost a great man, and the newspaper delivery system lost a former trusted and devoted employee.
Carter, as paper boy and person, always hit the porch.