Gary Carter will always be the Kid.
His broad smile and enthusiasm for the game, plus his Hall of Fame career, made him a fan favorite. Carter was drafted by the Montreal Expos in the third round of the 1972 MLB June Amateur Draft, straight out of Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton, California.
He made his major league debut on Sept. 16, 1974, going 0-for-4 against a team he would later help to a World Series title—the New York Mets.
Elected to the Hall of Fame in 2003, Carter died too young, at 57 in February 2012.
What set Carter apart from many players of the era is that he also collected baseball cards and memorabilia.
I interviewed Carter during spring training in March 1981 at Municipal Stadium in West Palm Beach, Florida. At the time I was a young sportswriter with The Stuart News, located about 40 minutes north of the Expos’ training camp.
Carter had just given an interview to a Japanese television crew, who asked him to analyze every pitching staff in the National League. Most players would have refused. Not Carter. He spoke for about 20 minutes, giving the TV crew more than they could have imagined.
When it was my turn, I said to him, “Well, I’m not going to ask about pitching staffs,” and he laughed.
But when I mentioned baseball cards, his eyes lit up.
Carter began collecting baseball cards in 1959, and his goal was to complete every set between 1957 to the present. He had already completed the 1958 set by 1981, and had complete sets from 1972 to 1980. He was looking to fill in the gaps.
At the time, Carter said he had between 15,000 and 20,000 cards.
So I asked him for his reaction when he saw his first major league card. He first appeared as one of four players on a 1975 Topps card.
“I was elated. That was like a dream come true to see myself,” Carter said. “That was one thing I wanted when I collected as a kid. I said, ‘Hey, it would be great to get myself on one of those cards one day’ — and that’s what happened.”
While Carter had a pretty good collection of cards and memorabilia — his family consigned his collection during a Heritage Auctions sale in 2016 — he was never in it for the money.
“It’s just like a scrapbook to me, something I can look back on,” Carter told me. “You know, see the players I’ve played with and against.”
To remember the Kid, who wore No. 8 for all but one of his 19 major league seasons, here are eight cards of Carter. They are not necessarily rare, but they do capture the essence of the player and the man.
1975 Topps No. 620
Carter’s rookie card with Topps. He is featured in the top left-hand corner and is paired with fellow catcher Marc Hill and outfielders Danny Meyer and Leon Roberts.
The 1975 has an abundance of great rookie cards, with Hall of Famers George Brett, Robin Yount and Jim Rice also debuting in the Topps set. High-grade copies of Carter’s rookie card–both the standard and mini versions can get pricey, but raw examples of fairly decent quality can still be had for under $25.
Of the more than 4,800 Carter rookie cards submitted to PSA for grading, only 17 have achieved gem mint status.
Carter would become an 11-time All-Star and won three Gold Gloves as a catcher.
And the other guys?
Hill played 14 years in the majors with four teams. Meyer also had a lengthy career in the majors, playing for three teams over 12 years. Roberts played 11 seasons in the bigs and had his best season in 1978, when he hit .301 for the Seattle Mariners.
1975 TCMA International League No. 21
This is Carter’s first card, coming off a 1974 season when he batted .268 with 23 homers and 83 RBI for the Memphis Blues. The person who composed Carter’s biography for this card is probably cringing now. The biography noted that despite the hitting and defensive abilities he showcased in Memphis, “it is unlikely” that Carter would become the Expos’ starting catcher, “at least for a while.”
In 1975, Carter would finish second in voting for National League Rookie of the Year honors, getting nine first-place votes. John “The Count” Montefusco would win with 12 first-place votes.
The I-League card is a fun one to own and prices aren’t too bad but you might want to stick with an authenticated and graded copy.
1976 O-Pee-Chee No. 441
Carter wore No. 8 for 18 of his 19 seasons in the majors. During his rookie season in 1974, he wore No. 57 during his September call-up. Carter appeared in nine games in 1974, but by 1976 he was an established player, having appeared in 144 games in 1975. Topps apparently didn’t have an updated photo or chose to use this one.
Carter only appeared in 91 games in 1976, while Barry Foote caught in 105 games. It would be the last time Carter appeared in less than 100 games until 1989.
The Topps trophy appears on both the Topps and O-Pee-Chee versions of Carter’s card. The ’76 O-Pee-Chee is difficult to find in high grade, largely due to OPC’s often poor centering. The highest PSA grade issued is 9, and only six cards out of 37 cards were graded that high. Twelve are PSA 8.
When you can find one, expect to pay more than you might think.
1980 Topps No. 70
Carter was coming off his first All-Star season in 1979, and he would repeat in 1980, putting up big numbers offensively and winning the first of three Gold Gloves at catcher. The 1980 Topps card showcases Carter’s defense, when he had a .993 fielding percentage and made only seven errors in 149 games behind the plate. It’s a great looking card you can own for a couple of bucks at most.
1986 Dorman’s Cheese
Carter shared a panel with another popular player of the era, Cal Ripken Jr., in this 28-card, offbeat food set. The cards were part of a cheese brand, wrapped inside a package that contained 16 slices of American cheese. Carter memorably helped the Mets to a World Series title in ’86.
The card is not particularly valuable, but it is certainly interesting. The team logos had to be airbrushed due to licensing restrictions.
1990 Mother’s Cookies Giants
No matter who he played for, Carter always had that sunny smile. Still, it’s odd to see him posing in a San Francisco Giants uniform. He caught 80 games for the Giants in 1990, the year after the Giants won the “earthquake World Series.”.
Carter was one of 28 players featured in the set, which also included Will Clark, Matt Williams and 1989 NL MVP Kevin Mitchell.
2017 Topps Stadium Club Black Foil No. 185
Yes, Carter had that brilliant smile and sunny disposition, but he was also an intense player. This 2017 Topps Stadium Club card captures Carter — uniform dirty, paying close attention to the game from his seat in the dugout. You can pick this one up for a buck or two.
1992 Bowman No. 385
This is how baseball fans will always remember Gary Carter, who enjoyed interacting with fans and signing autographs, particularly for kids.
Baseball fans must have liked the card, with 53 submissions to PSA for what amounts to a common card worth little more than a buck. Forty of those cards were judged as PSA 10s.
The shot was taken during Carter’s final major league season, when he returned to Montreal to finish his career with the Expos.