Jeff Pearlman

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Gary Carter and Whitney Houston

Two of my all-time favorite entertainers died within the past few days, and I’m struggling with the sadness.

Whitney Houston was probably my favorite singer as a kid.

Gary Carter was one of my favorite ballplayers as a kid.

Whitney Houston’s albums played over and over and over in my house.

Gary Carter’s statistics—especially with the 1986 Mets—remained glued inside my brain.

Here’s the weird thing: Even though Houston died last weekend, and Carter passed just yesterday, I am more disturbed by the loss of the singer than the ballplayer. I’ve thought about this, and I think it relates directly to lost potential. Carter was a brilliant athlete, and he milked everything out of that ability. He played hard, he played enthusiastically, he won a World Series title. When Carter retired, it was—without any remote question—time to retire. The tank was empty, and had been for a few years.

Houston, on the other hand, didn’t empty the tank via her abilities. No, she drank the gas. She apparently smoked packs upon packs of cigarettes, and her drug usage is now well-documented. And that’s why I’m sad. Because while watching Carter in his final season with Montreal could have probably been a tad depressing to some, it wasn’t—at all—to me. It was a celebration of a career; of a man; of a life. When he waved to the Olympic Stadium crowd that final time, well, a hero’s farewell could not have been better scripted.

With Houston, there was no hero’s farewell. In her final years, she looked tired and worn down; her voice a pathetic shell of what it once was. Though Elvis Presley was a few years younger when he died (42; Houston was 48), their final showings were strikinglu similar. People mocked the once-great King as he wobbled around the stage in an XXL white jumpsuit. People also mocked the once-great diva as she screeched out lyrics and desperately covered up the notes she could no longer hit. It was sad and sort of pathetic, and to watch those videos now is downright painful.

Gary Carter was, I would argue, the better person. Less selfish, less arrogant and probably—comparatively—less talented. But at least he got everything done.

He emptied the tank.

  • blmeanie

    I like the analogy and difference you point out between the two. However, based on agreeing with your points, I disagree with who I feel more sad about. Carter did most things the “right” way. That to me is sadder than someone who could have had or done so much more (not that anybody was owed it though), but didn’t.

    Sad that she didn’t achieve more? yeah. Sad that he achieved so much and died too early, yes.

  • David

    Here’s a question for you Jeff. What do you think about the interviews with all the other Mets from the ’86 team like Darryl Strawberry who now speak so glowingly of Gary Carter? I’ve read your Mets book and while a lot of the anti-Carter sentiment was somewhat anonymous, there was definite tension between Strawberry and Carter. When I heard Darryl speaking on either ESPN or MLB Network last night he seemed to speak about what a great teammate Carter was and what he learned from the man. I know I’m way too cynical for my own good but I just don’t buy it. It seems to fall into our culture’s “don’t speak ill of the dead” mentality. I think I’ve heard you say you regret portraying him the way you did in your book (maybe I’m wrong on that) but do you believe it?

  • http://politicsandfinance.blogspot.com Michael Haltman

    Hi Jeff:

    I wrote a piece today comparing Gary Carter and Whitney Houston as well but it was more of a commentary on the way in which the media has elevated Whitney Houston to something and someone in death who she most likely was not in life, other than a great singer in her day.

    The term that I used is mortal equivalence by which the media determines the way in which the public is directed to fell and therefore act.

    New Jersey flags flying at half-staff? I don’t know about that.

    If you’re curious the link to the article is http://politicsandfinance.blogspot.com/2012/02/mortal-equivalence-whitney-houston.html

    Mike

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

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