PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – More than 1,000 former teammates, family members and friends of Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter paid tribute to him Friday as much for his prowess on the field as for the type of man he was away from the ballpark.
Though television screens beamed images of Carter emerging from the dugout, embracing teammates in enveloping hugs and sliding into home plate, those who knew him spoke more of his compassion, his devotion to faith and family and his genuine goodness.
"I'm gonna miss that smile, I'm gonna miss every part of Gary Carter because of the way he was," said Johnny Bench, another Hall of Fame catcher. "For those who knew him, no words are necessary. For those who didn't, no words are adequate."
Carter died Feb. 16 of brain cancer. He was 57.
Tommy Hutton, who played with Carter on the Montreal Expos, remembered his friend's passion and enthusiasm. His three children drew laughter while talking of their father's obsessive neatness, organizing everything from his locker to the refrigerator. Tom Mullins, a pastor who befriended Carter, spoke of his competitiveness on everything, even over who recovered from knee surgery faster.
"The way he lived his life is the way that everybody wants to live their life," Bert Blyleven, another former player who became friends with Carter, said outside the service at Christ Fellowship Church.
Carter was an 11-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner. His single in the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series helped the Mets mount a charge against the Boston Red Sox and eventually beat them.
Carter played nearly two decades with the Mets, Montreal, San Francisco and the Los Angeles Dodgers. He led the Expos to their only playoff berth and was the first player enshrined in Cooperstown wearing an Expos cap.
Players from throughout his career filed in to pay their respects, including Darryl Strawberry and other members of the championship Mets team. Before the nearly two-hour-long service began, footage of Carter projected onto huge screens showed him on the field, at home with his children, being interviewed by David Letterman, and in commercials for products from Ivory soap to 7-Up. Flower arrangements shaped like baseballs and home plates emblazoned with his No. 8 filled the stage, and there were nearby pictures of Carter and his trademark grin.
"All you can do is smile when you hear his name," said Andre Dawson, who played with Carter with the Expos and spoke outside the service.
Over and over, that smile was invoked by the speakers. Some called it electrifying, others infectious, others confident. But they all spoke of it being seared in their memories of a man they loved.
In his final days, Mullins said, Carter no longer could speak. His family and friends drew near. And though words were elusive, he still managed to flash a smile.