Expo/Met Carter feels strongly both ways

THE BALTIMORE SUN

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - Gary Carter apparently has made peace with his split Hall of Fame personality.

Does he want to be remembered as a Montreal Expo? Or a New York Met? When he learned in January that he would be immortalized at Cooperstown, the issue of which cap he would be wearing on his Hall of Fame plaque took on a life of its own.

He had emerged as one of the top catchers in the game when the Expos were in their heyday - such as it was - but he became a marquee player and earned his only world championship ring during his five seasons in New York.

It was a split decision that probably would have gone to the Mets if it had been left entirely up to Carter, but Hall of Fame officials have taken a greater role in determining the affiliation of recent inductees, and they decided that he should go in as an Expo.

"I'll stand by whatever they decide, but there's something special about New York," he told the Journal News (Westchester, N.Y.) in January. "There's no question, I consider myself a Met."

When Carter joined fellow inductee Eddie Murray at a news conference yesterday at Cooperstown High School, he initially tried to avoid the subject, but it quickly became clear that he feels a strong bond to both teams.

"I know there has been talk," he said, "but I'm just very honored to be going into the Hall of Fame. Whatever decision was made was going to be the right decision. I'm very honored to go in as the first Expo. Hopefully, I won't be the last."

Now that his designation is a done deal, in fact, Carter has become much more vocal in his defense of the Expos, who faced contraction before last year's labor agreement guaranteed their continued existence - if not their whereabouts - at least through the 2006 season.

"It was truly disappointing, all the talk about contraction, then to see them have 22 games in Puerto Rico and maybe have 40 games or even the whole season there next year," Carter said. "Now, they're talking about moving the franchise to Northern Virginia or Charlotte or Portland. ... I think the fans just got disenchanted.

"Montreal has really had good fan support. It has just been [bad] recently because of all that has transpired. It's frustrating for the fans because they don't know if the team is staying or going."

It was a different baseball market when Carter played there. The Expos grew into a strong National League East contender and challenged for the division title in 1979 and '80 before reaching the National League Championship Series in 1981.

Carter, who grew up in Southern California, embraced Montreal and the fans there embraced him, but he was traded to the Mets for four players following the 1984 season.

"It was a great opportunity to learn about another country," he said. "It taught me a lot. I was able to involve myself in the community. I took a Berlitz course to try and be able to enunciate French words. ... I always enjoyed Montreal and Canada. I will always be grateful for that. That will always have a special place in my heart."

New York, of course, was a different world. The Mets were on a competitive upswing that would carry them to the world title in 1986 and a near-miss in 1988. The team would never finish lower than second in his five seasons there, which explains why he might have preferred to be portrayed wearing a Mets cap on his plaque.

"My five years there were tremendous ... a great experience," he said. "Those were five glorious years."

No doubt, Carter will give both teams their due in his acceptance speech today, if he can get through it.

"I'm concerned about that," he said, "especially when I talk about my father."

Jim Carter, who coached his son from Little League all the way through American Legion ball, lived to hear of his son's election to the Hall of Fame in January, but he passed away 18 days later after a long battle with heart disease.

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