VIERA, Fla. -- Ray Knight, Mel Didier and Steve Rogers had nothing but fond memories when talking about Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter, who passed away Thursday from brain cancer. Carter was 57 years old.
Knight and Carter were teammates when both were with the Mets in 1985-86. However, they first met in the early 1970s when Carter was a member of the Expos and Knight was with the Reds.
Yes, Knight saw the exceptional talent Carter displayed on the baseball diamond, but that's not the only reason Knight called Carter his favorite teammate.
"I admired Gary for what he stood for as a man, not just as a baseball player," said Knight, who is the Nationals' color analyst for the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. "He loved his family so much. He was the epitome of a good man. ... We formed a bond before we were teammates. We lockered together.
"He never lost touch with fans, reality and family. He treated everybody the same. It didn't matter who you were, he always had time for people. There were people who were jealous of Gary. In Montreal, I knew there were people who were jealous of him because he received a lot of attention, but he gave so much. It was the same way in New York. New York was made for Gary. Those people didn't know Gary. Everything about him was sincere. I just got to know him in a different way."
Knight recently watched an HBO documentary on NFL Hall of Famer Joe Namath. One segment in the piece mentioned Namath's injury-plagued knees being taped before games. It reminded Knight of what Carter had to go through during his time with the Mets. However, Carter's knee injuries didn't stop him from helping the Mets win a World Series title in '86.
"I saw Joe [Namath] getting taped and it just reminded me of Gary," Knight said. "Every day, Gary would be on the trainer's table, [get his knees taped] and go out and play. Never complaining, busting his tail all the time."
Didier, who is a special advisor for the Blue Jays, was not surprised that Carter played hard and became a Hall of Fame player. Didier was the Expos' scouting director when they selected Carter in the third round of the 1972 First-Year Player Draft.
Carter could play several positions -- including shortstop and right field -- but once Carter stepped on a professional baseball diamond, Didier decided Carter would be best suited as a catcher. Didier was proven right, for Carter is considered of the best receivers in baseball history.
Carter went on to appear in 11 All-Star Games, and captured two All-Star Game MVPs and three Gold Gloves.
"When we signed him, he came to Coco Beach, Fla. I had a catcher's mitt and I threw it at him and he just caught it," Didier said about Carter. "Gary asked, 'What's this?' I said, 'You are a catcher and you are going to work your fanny off. I'll tell you this right now, you are going to be an All-Star for 10 years. Little did I know, he would [be that type of player]."
Rogers, arguably the best pitcher in Expos history, was Carter's battery mate for 11 seasons. In a statement through the Major League Baseball Players Association, Rogers felt he lost a member of the family.
"Learning of Gary's passing feels as if I just lost a family member," said Rogers, who is currently a special assistant for MLBPA. "Gary and I grew up together in the game, and during our time with the Expos we were as close as brothers, if not closer. Gary was a champion. He was a 'gamer' in every sense of the word -- on the field and in life.
"He made everyone else around him better, and he made me a better pitcher. His contributions to the game, both in Montreal and New York, are legendary and will likely never be duplicated. My heartfelt condolences go out to his wife, Sandy, and children, Christy, Kimmy and D.J., and to his many friends and fans."
Nationals manager Davey Johnson offered his thoughts on Carter in a statement released Thursday night.
"Today, the world of baseball lost a Hall-of-Famer and I have lost a treasured friend," the statement read in part. "Anyone lucky enough to have been part of Gary Carter's world will agree ... nobody loved life in a bigger way than Gary.
"Gary's brave battle has ended, but his from-the-gut laughter will be heard and his vitality and spirit will be felt forever. I loved him very much, and I know he is finally at peace."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.