You’ll forgive my departure from technology with a brief sports reminiscence. Some of you know my long history of sports suffering. My favorite sports teams (Mets, Jets, Rangers and Knicks) have won a combined six championships in my lifetime. That’s about once every decade. Gary Carter, who passed away yesterday, was one of the faces of that fabulous 1986 Mets team. I, however, will forever have a vivid memory of him from the year before.
For a long time, I shared a Jets season ticket with my friend Gary. We were at a late September game and the news was posted on the stadium scoreboard that the Mets had won and the St. Louis Cardinals had lost, pulling the Mets to within three games of the Cards…with the Mets heading to St. Louis to play three games October 1-3. Gary turned to me and asked “do you want to go to St. Louis?” When I opined that he was crazy, he noted to me that People Express had just begun flying to St. Louis and we could get, as I recall, $89 round-trip tickets to St. Louis. People Express was really the first no-frills air carrier, known affectionately as “People Distress.” In the era before cell phones, Gary went out to the concourse and called St. Louis and sure enough was able to secure two tickets to the three games. We figured we’d stay in St. Louis as long as the Mets won.
Well, they won the first game, a remarkable extra innings affair culminated by an absolutely titanic blast by Darryl Strawberry that actually took out a few bulbs in the stadium scoreboard, bulbs that hadn’t been replaced by the second game. St. Louis fans are just disgustingly nice. Here we were, two obnoxious Mets fans screaming like hell for the Mets and some St. Louis fans actually came up to us — we were sitting in the last row of the stadium — to apologize for the rudeness. We assured them that if this were New York, the reaction would have been more, um, exuberant.
The Mets won the second game, to pull within one. The next day was an off day. While lounging in the morning at our palatial room in the Days Inn out by the airport, we read in the USAToday that New York radio station WPLJ was having a contest. The first 10 people they saw at the third game with “WPLJ and I Love the Mets” banners would win $1,000. Having nothing better to do, Gary and I went off to Sears, bought a bed sheet and spray paint and made an absolute mess of the Days Inn parking lot. (Neither of us is actually artistic.)
Off we trod to game three the next night, toting our banner which we mounted to the back screen fence of the stadium. Again, we were in just about the last row of the stadium. As the game went on, the Cardinals took a 4-2 lead into the top of the 7th. While we’re sitting there, some guy comes up and menacingly asks “whose banner is that?” We figured he was some stadium official, come to tell us to take the banner down. We admitted it was ours whereupon he said “Congratulations, I’m Dave Charity of WPLJ and you win” and, as I recall, handed us 10 $100 bills. Of course, all this was happening at a tense moment in the game, the season. The Mets were rallying and had two men on with two outs and up came Gary Carter. He was an MVP candidate at that point (he ended up finishing 6th). This was the moment he could have won the MVP, catapulted the Mets into the lead and bring them to the playoffs. Of course, he popped out. And in the 9th, with Keith Hernandez on base and two outs, with a chance to tie the game, Carter flied out to end the game…and effectively the season.
To this day, Gary and I blame ourselves and WPLJ for the loss, though, and not Carter. It was our rooting and intense concentration that was responsible for the Mets’ success. During that 7th inning at-bat, our attention wavered. Instead of focusing on the game, we were focused on our good fortune. In fact, our attention continued to waver because we flagged down the first beer seller we could and bought his entire tray of beer. To this day, I’m sure there are a few St. Louis fans who think that some of those New Yorkers have a pretty good sense of humor as we shared the beers with whomever in our section wanted one.
I’m sorry I let you down in your moment of need, Gary Carter. I never did have a chance to say “I’m sorry.” But now you know. I hope it gives you eternal peace.