Nice ESPN article about Gary Carter
- From: Mike <sheridan@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Sun, 21 Aug 2005 00:59:23 GMT
As a manager, The Kid's all right
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- By Jerry Crasnick ESPN.com
It's been nearly a year since Mike Schmidt walked away from his position as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies' Florida State League team in Clearwater, Fla. Schmidt had hoped that a summer of dues-paying would set him up for a major-league job, but his enthusiasm lasted about as long as a footprint in the sand at high tide.
"I've had migraines," Schmidt said in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer last September. "Tension headaches. My hair is turning white. My hip is killing me from throwing batting practice. I throw batting practice every day."
Gary Carter (8) would like to hang out with major-leaguers such as Mike Piazza, right, in the near future.
Schmidt was also suffering from atrophy of the wallet. He told the newspaper he earns more in a two-hour autograph show than he did in two months baby-sitting a bunch of aspiring Phillies.
If Schmidt's experience was meant to serve as a cautionary tale -- that Hall of Fame players working for modest wages in obscure locales is a bad mix -- someone forgot to tell Gary Carter. At 51, The Kid is a man with a team, a dream and big-time aspirations. He has a terrific tan as well.
With a week left in the short-season Gulf Coast League schedule, the New York Mets' affiliate leads the way at 32-15, and the skipper is firmly in his element. Carter throws batting practice, hits ground balls in pregame infield practice, and steps off the bus carrying his turkey sub, bag of chips and obligatory piece of fruit in a sack like everybody else. Paper vs. plastic is optional.
Carter is still as peppy as ever, and he's hopeful that his apprenticeship in Port St. Lucie, Fla., might lead to an interview or two with a big-league team this winter. If not, he'll talk to the Mets about leaving the 54-game Gulf Coast League behind to run a full-season club in 2006.
"I'm not going to manage in the minor leagues for a long time to get my chance, I can tell you that," Carter said. "Once you pay your dues, I feel the opportunities should exist."
This summer is all about Gary Carter, Hall of Famer, coming full circle. In 1972, Carter spurned a football scholarship from UCLA, signed with Montreal for $35,000 as a third-round draft pick, and began his career with the Expos' GCL club in Cocoa Beach, Fla. After 19 big-league seasons, 324 home runs and 11 All-Star Game appearances, he finally retired in 1992.
Like many star players, Carter needed time to find his post-career niche. He spent seven years as a broadcaster with the Expos and Florida Marlins before souring on that profession, calling it "too political" for his tastes. He took a brief hiatus from broadcasting to play on the Celebrity Golf Tour and dabbled in coaching as a minor-league catching instructor with the Mets.
Last year, with his three children finally grown, the gravitational pull of the ballfield beckoned stronger than ever. Carter submitted his name as a candidate for the bench-coaching job under Jack McKeon in Florida but lost out to Harry Dunlop. While the Mets gave Carter the courtesy of a look-see before hiring Willie Randolph as manager last winter, senior vice president Jim Duquette told Carter he needed experience running a club of his own.
The Mets are big on hiring familiar faces in the minors; Tim Teufel, Mookie Wilson and Howard Johnson are among the former New York players still managing or coaching in the team's farm system. For Carter, the Gulf Coast League made sense on several levels. It's only a two-month commitment, all the games are day trips, and Carter lives a mere 50 minutes away in Palm Beach Gardens, so he gets to sleep in his own bed now and then.
But the job is nevertheless demanding. Carter routinely arrives at the park at 7 a.m. and puts in 11-12 hours of work. He files daily reports and spends lots of time sweating the fundamentals in temperatures of 90-plus degrees. As Carter jokingly points out, there's a reason why they call it the "Gulf Roast League."
While Carter keeps tabs on future Mets, front-office officials in New York monitor him. Scouts who pass through Port St. Lucie report back to GM Omar Minaya and Duquette on how well Carter runs a game, organizes his workouts and communicates with players in the dugout. Sometimes developing talent and winning games can be mutually exclusive goals, but Carter seems to be finding the right balance.
"Gary was always a hardworking, high-energy player, and he's maintained that as a manager," Duquette said. "He stays on guys and demands a lot out of them. He's been a great influence on these kids from a personal standpoint."
While Carter is a devout Christian and family man, he's not above going nuclear when his competitive instincts are tapped. During one recent game, a Mets player was mistakenly called out on baserunner interference, and Carter blistered the umpire so vehemently, you could hear him yelling all the way from Melbourne.
It's rare, Duquette concedes, for a formerly great player to be so passionate about ball at such an obscure level. During the recent Hall of Fame inductions in Cooperstown, several of Carter's peers expressed admiration for his quest but said they had little or no desire to follow suit.
"I'd like nothing better than to talk pitching with some wide-eyed kid," said Don Sutton, Hall of Famer and Atlanta broadcaster. "But I have an 8-year-old daughter, and I don't want to change my lifestyle. I like my life just the way it is. I have no responsibility once the TV is turned off."
Dennis Eckersley, who does some studio work on Red Sox telecasts, concurred. "It's beyond me," he said. "I have a hard time with Little Leaguers."
“ Part of (Carter's) makeup is mentoring. He's shaping young men for life, and that's something he might not be able to do at a higher level. ”
— Paul Molitor
As Schmidt discovered, an aptitude for teaching is something you either have or you lack. It's not something that can be forced in the name of career advancement.
"When I retired," said Paul Molitor, "and I was picking up balls on the minor-league field, people told me, 'You don't need to be doing this.' Well, I was loving it. For someone like Gary, I think he enjoys that teaching. Part of his makeup is mentoring. He's shaping young men for life, and that's something he might not be able to do at a higher level."
Mentoring in the Gulf Coast League means more than helping a young player hit a cutoff man or cultivate a professional two-strike approach. It means dealing with kids who are homesick or stricken with girlfriend problems. Fathers across America deal with similar problems every day. The only difference is, Carter doesn't have to hound his kids to mow the lawn.
Managers at the lowest rung of the minors typically earn $40,000 a season. Carter is closer to the $60,000 to $70,000 range, but he's certainly not in it for the coin. He earned more than $2 million annually with the Mets in the late 1980s, and his status as a Hall of Famer provides him with a means to cash apart from teaching fundamentals under a hot sun in obscurity.
When Carter drills his Baby Mets, he relies on knowledge he gleaned from Gene Mauch, Karl Kuehl, Jim Fanning, Dick Williams, Bill Virdon, Davey Johnson, Roger Craig, Tommy Lasorda and Felipe Alou, among others. Most days it's hard not to feel some sense of fulfillment.
"I think it has to be a passion," Eckersley said, "something you really want to do. And it's something you have to have a calling for. You can't just say, 'I'm going to do this,' because I don't think you'd do very well at it, and you wouldn't last, either."
After two months of passion, bus fumes and bag lunches, Carter has his young Mets in first place. For both the manager and his players, there's no telling where this could lead.
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