As a lifelong Atlanta Braves/Boston Red Sox fan, I have always felt that it was my sworn duty to despise Gary Carter.
Perhaps it was Carter's presence on perpetual Braves' rivals. Maybe it was his participation in postponing the end of The Curse of the Bambino. Possibly it was my ongoing sympathy for the plight of Bill Buckner. More likely it was the attitude and bravado that Gary Carter displayed as a player. Along with those other things I mentioned, of course.
Carter always came across as smug, cocky, arrogant on the field. He just had an air that said, "I'm better than you and I know it." The fact that his legacy was cemented as part of one of the greatest, luckiest and most arrogant cast of characters in recent baseball memory certainly didn't endear him to anyone. Really, outside of Shea Stadium, who liked the '86 Mets?
Then Carter passed away last Thursday following a battle with cancer. This certainly gave me no joy, but I did not mourn the loss any more than I would for anyone else who battles that horrendous plague.
That changed when I started to find out who Carter truly was.
The guy that seemed so smug on the diamond was actually a humble, Christ-centered individual who gave more than most of us knew until his untimely passing. How arrogant could he be if he was willing to take on a coaching job at a small Division II school? How cocky was he if the players at Palm Beach Atlantic University revered him as a coach and person, not just as a great ballplayer?
Carter's tale teaches us all a valued lesson about those that we choose to love or hate based on athletic accomplishments. No player is purely the sum of what we see when we turn on the television on a Saturday afternoon.
Perhaps we need to learn more about a person before we decide if they are good or bad. When choosing our heroes and our villains, it is critical that we look deeper than the flair or the flaws that we see in their game.
We all have character flaws. Life is an effort to overcome those flaws, and most of us get the benefit of doing that without spotlights and cameras. We cheer for jerks her are on our team--after all, they are our jerks--and point out the jerks on the opposite sideline. That's fine during the game.
But when we identify greatness and choose our role models, we need to look deeper than the emblem on a helmet or the name on the front of the uniform. Carter's perceived arrogance may have simply been confidence. And it may have been the element that was needed to help his team win at any given time.
Beyond the field, Carter had character that I never realized until he was gone, because I never bothered to look. ESPN's Tim Kurkjian shares that Carter almost never cursed on the field. The players on those Mets teams viewed him as a "moral compass" for their lives.
Can you imagine how Doc Gooden, Darryl Strawberry and Lenny Dykstra might have acted without Carter's influence?
On a much larger scale, Carter's legacy teachers us a much more vital lesson. The Bible says, "Judge not, or you too will be judged" (Matthew 7). I am pretty sure that Jesus expects us not to vilify people without knowing who they really are, or to despise people because they are flawed.
I think it's safe to say that Christ would expect us to know a lot more about someone than their batting average before we lift them up as role models or degrade them as degenerates. And even if we do find them lacking, which we are bound to do, it's safe to say that Jesus would implore us not to hold them in contempt for all eternity. That is, unless we are willing to suffer the same fate.
I hope that Gary Carter's example has reminded me of the lesson that Jesus had already taught.