The premier and most popular catcher of the 1970s and early 1980s after Johnny Bench retired, Carter was known for his ebullience, durability, clutch hitting (10 career grand slams), and skill at handling pitchers and balls in the dirt. He was also accused by many of his teammates of being a camera hog and a publicity hound.
The gung-ho Carter was an All-American quarterback in high school, captain of his baseball, football and basketball teams, and a member of the National Honor Society. He signed a letter of intent to play football at UCLA, but chose baseball after being picked by Montreal in the third round of the 1972 free agent draft. Montreal gradually converted Carter from an outfielder to a catcher with help from Norm Sherry. In 1975 Carter was named TSN Rookie of the Year, though he lost the baseball writers ‘ award to John Montefusco. He missed the first 60 games of the 1976 season after running into a wall in spring training while chasing down a long line drive. He became a full-time catcher in 1977 and on April 20th of that year hit homers in three consecutive at-bats. Known equally for his defensive skills, Carter set a record for fewest passed balls in 150 or more games, with just one.
Between 1977 and 1982, he led the NL in most chances six times, in putouts five times, assists four times, and double plays three times. The Expos of those years were filled with talent, but never fulfilled their pennant expectations. In 1979 Carter tore ligaments in his thumb in the final week of the season as the Pirates overtook the Expos. He hit .360 in 1980 and drove in 22 runs in September, but Mike Schmidt‘s homer in the 11th inning on the last day of the season gave the Phillies the NL flag.
Carter won 1981 All-Star Game MVP honors on the strength of two homers. He led the NL with a career-high 106 RBI in 1984, and won his second All-Star Game MVP that season. In the All-Star game, he caught Mets’ rookie phenom Dwight Gooden for the first time. The following season he caught the Cy Young winning Gooden on a regular basis after getting dealt for four players to New York. On Opening Day 1985, he hit a grand slam to win the game. On September 3, 1985, he had three consecutive homers in a game, and he finished the season with 18 game-winning RBI. In 1986 his 105 RBI led the Mets to the World Series. Carter launched a pair of home runs at Boston’s Fenway Park in Game Four and contributed a crucial single in the club’s miraculous two-out, 10th inning rally to defeat the Red Sox in Game Six.
His production started to fall off after the championship year. He began the 1988 season by hitting eight homers in April, leaving him with 299 homers for his career, but then went more than 230 at-bats before hitting number 300 that August in Chicago. In 1989 he hit below .200 before going down with a knee injury in May. When he returned to action, the Mets relegated him to backup duty and then released him after the season. The next two years Carter kept his batting average around .250 but saw his power numbers continue to drop as moved from the Giants to the Dodgers. He ended his playing career back where it started, batting .218 with five home runs in 95 games for Montreal in 1992, his 19th major-league season.