Some things in life have no gray areas. You're either a Met fan or a Yankee fan. A Stones guy or a Beatles guy. You really like Willets Point or you don't.
In Mets land, there are plenty of subsets. (Shea or Citi Field? Who was better: the '69 Mets or '86 Mets?) Growing up, I only knew "Keith" guys or "Carter" guys. Admittedly, I was a Keith guy. Gary Carter was too clean-cut, too chipper. Keith played with grit, he smoked in the dugout. We were both left-handed. And I was also a Stones guy so it was easier if all my idols were named Keith.
But now that I'm older, I am learning life isn't all black and white. And lately, I am becoming a Carter guy too. I can't say exactly why but I guess I'm a big fan of folks who can't help themselves.
In the past few weeks, Gary has been a bit kooky. First he admitted he wanted Willie's job and was going to call the Wilpons, which was cool except that Willie still had his job.
Then Carter mocked Joe Girardi last week, assuming that the rookie manager must have produced blackmail photos of the Steinbrenners to win his job.
But the best performance happened today. In an interview with the New York Times
, Carter discusses why he can't get a major league manager job, then blows up at the NYT reporter and storms off. Some of the highlights:There is no gilding the resentment toward Mets’ management, the incredulousness that others — including Joe Girardi and Willie Randolph — were hired as major league managers without a day’s experience at that job at any level, and the disbelief that his Cooperstown-worthy playing credentials do not count for more.
Though he contacted the Mets about replacing Randolph before he was fired, setting off a wave of criticism when he volunteered that information in a radio interview last month, Carter realizes that Citi Field is not going to be his future home.
“Now I’d love nothing more than to have an opportunity of managing a team and beat the heck out of them,” Carter said of the Mets.
The resentment stems from when Carter and the Mets parted after the 2006 season. Carter, after spending the first decade of retirement working as an announcer and on his golf game, turned back to baseball when his three children were out of the house.
After guiding the Mets’ rookie league team to the best record in the Gulf Coast League in 2005 and the Class A St. Lucie team to the Florida State League title the next season, Carter balked when he was offered the manager’s job with the Mets’ Class AA club in Binghamton, N.Y. He said he had already shown the Mets he could manage and did not want to stray far from his home near Palm Beach, Fla., without assurances he was “their guy.”
When that assurance did not come, he said no.
“Why would I want to put myself through six months of going to Binghamton?” Carter asked, dismissively using the term “armpit” to refer to the city.
Mets General Manager Omar Minaya, in an interview Wednesday night, defended the organization’s decision.
“How do you not take a promotion if you want to manage in the major leagues?” Minaya said. “We gave him an opportunity and we offered him more money and a more high-profile job and he turned it down. What more could we do?”
Carter said that Tony Bernazard, a team vice president, told him there were two reasons the club wanted Carter to go to Binghamton: to follow the players he had coached in Class A and to learn how to use the double switch, a move usually made when relievers enter a game.
“I said, ‘Tony, I played 18 years in the major leagues and you’re going to tell me I have to go to Double-A to learn how to do the double switch?’ ” Carter said. “I can do that in my sleep.
“That was the response I got,” Carter added. He said his commitment to making it as a major league manager could not be questioned, considering that he had managed in the low levels of the minors and was now working in an independent league.
“How many Hall of Famers do you know that would do that?” he asked.
After more overtures about going to Binghamton were rebuffed, Carter said he spoke to Jeff Wilpon, the Mets’ chief operating officer, who suggested that he look for work outside the organization. So he did.
Carter interviewed for the Dodgers’ Class A managing post in Las Vegas, but did not get it. Nor did he land the job of hitting coach with the Colorado Rockies.
After that, Carter said, the Mets did ask him to apply for the first-base coaching job. The other candidates were Ken Oberkfell, Bobby Meacham and Howard Johnson, Carter’s teammate on the Mets’ 1986 championship team, who eventually got the job.
Carter said Johnson was a deserving choice but that he himself was not a serious candidate. “Well, I knew they weren’t going to give it to me because I would have been a threat to Willie,” Carter said.
“That isn’t even close to true,” Minaya said.
Carter said he asked about being the Mets’ Class AAA hitting coach. Or going back to St. Lucie. Or being a roving instructor. Each time, he says, the answer was the same: We want you to go to Binghamton.
So Carter sat out the 2007 season, then sent résumés to the other 29 major league clubs. Ten responded, all with a form letter. But now, at least, he appears to be with a team that him. The Flyers have the best record in the Golden League and his players talk about how interested he is in their lives. He fills up the refrigerator in the clubhouse with water and beer.
“You don’t expect that from a Hall of Famer,” said Matt Merricks, a pitcher for the Flyers.
Mostly, Carter encourages and teaches — something he says was not done as much as when he came up through the minors. He exchanges fist bumps with his players, chats up the opposing the third baseman from his spot in the coaching box and points to his eyes — a sign for “see the ball” — when Brian Rios swings and misses at back-to-back changeups.
Carter was asked if that same competitiveness that fueled his career still surfaces when he sees ex-teammates or contemporaries getting managing jobs.
“This whole game is not about what you know, it’s about who you know,” Carter said. “I discovered that a long time ago.”
It is clear now, some 25 minutes into an interview, that he is agitated. Then he is asked if he has any regrets about the radio interview he did last month in which he campaigned for a job Randolph still held. Carter protests that he was simply responding to a question: Would he be interested in managing the Mets? But actually he did more than that, saying in the interview that he had already contacted the Mets. He is then asked if he violated etiquette.
Carter says no, saying his only crime is that he is enthusiastic. But by then he has had enough questioning. Why, he wonders, does everyone want to take shots at him?
“I’ve always been accommodating and it’s hurt me because I’ve worn my heart on my sleeve,” Carter said, lacing his answers with expletives. “They throw me under the bus and two weeks later, he’s fired anyway. Yeah, so I’m the one to blame. If this is what it’s about, I don’t want you to print it.
“If I’m thrown under the bus because of my desires to one day manage in the major leagues, then every one of you guys don’t ever come to me again. Period. Am I clear?”
And with that Carter rose and walked back to the dugout — the Kid bidding adieu.