In the wake of his death, countless words have been written about Gary Carter and all that he did in his life. I’m not going to try to duplicate any of that. I didn’t know Carter, I never met him, and I only saw him play in person twice, both from high stadium seats (once in 1986 and once in 1988). All I have of Carter is in cardboard and ink, so that will have to do.
The start of Gary Carter’s tenure with the Mets just happens to coincide with the start of my time as a Met fan. As with any fan of the Mets in that era, I saw Carter as part of the team’s foundation and, essentially, the face of the franchise in the late ’80s. This was perhaps shown best when it came to boxes of wax packs. While Keith Hernandez (1985 Topps), Dwight Gooden (1986 Fleer), and Darryl Strawberry (1990 Score) would all have their cards featured on a wax box, Carter’s smiling face took up most of the space on the top of the boxes and sets of 1989 Fleer. He was such a dominant baseball figure in that day and continued to have a strong presence in the baseball card hobby right up to his death and hopefully well beyond.
Carter’s first card came back in 1975, when Topps was the only game in town and rookies (first-ballot Hall of Famers aside) had to share one card between four players. Carter’s playing days took him through the end of the Topps monopoly and into the rise of the premium card. He was retired by the time the hobby started going crazy with a multitude of concept sets and variants, but his absence would be short-lived. When retired players came back in force, Carter was there.
It’s no accident that I have over 100 Gary Carter autographs. From 1999 to 2011, Carter was a fixture in autograph sets from every major manufacturer. His first autograph was in the debut of Greats of the Game on a card featuring a smiling Carter on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The next year, Carter was on his first autograph card as a Met in Upper Deck Legends. When autographs and game-used went mainstream in 2001, Carter’s signature could be found in products from Topps and Donruss as well. Over the next decade, Carter signed thousands of autographs on cards and on stickers to be placed on cards. While he was not the first of the ’86 Mets to have a certified autograph card (that distinction belongs to Darryl Strawberry in 1998 Donruss Signature, or so my collection tells me), he was certainly the most prolific signer from the team. In one of his final autographs, he wished Topps a happy 60th birthday; Carter died at 57.
As game-used memorabilia became the norm in most baseball card products, Carter was a familiar sight in any product that featured retired players. His first bat and jersey cards came in 2001 in Upper Deck and Topps products. While rather dull by modern standards, these were some of the few game-used pieces available from members of the ’86 team.
By 2003, patches from Carter’s Expos and Mets uniforms had made their way into cards. That was more significant in 2003 than it is now, though countless patch cards have followed.
In the following years, Carter’s game-used offerings grew in number and variety. While most players were stuck with generic white or gray jersey swatches, Carter’s material came in a variety of colors from his various Mets and Expos uniforms. His cards branched out into a variety of other clothing and equipment as well, with pieces of fielding gloves, batting gloves, jackets, shoes, hats, and chest protectors joining the ranks by 2005.
After the shakeup in the card industry in 2005, the pace of Carter’s releases slowed considerably. Starting with his first few retired player cards in 1999, each year saw roughly double the number of releases as the year before. This was unsustainable of course, but Carter remained a fixture in the hobby on into 2012. As manufactured material became common, Carter was featured there as well.
That’s really all I have to say. Gary Carter was a piece of the card collecting hobby as much as he was a piece of the sport of baseball. Going forward, the game-used and manufactured material will likely continue to flow. There will be no more on-card Gary Carter autographs, but plenty remain available from the last 12 years and I wouldn’t be surprised if Topps had a stash of Carter autographs on stickers ready for the tribute cards that will surely be coming later this year. Until then, here are a few more Carter autographs to remind us of brighter days.