The 1970s was a decade of real good catchers - like Munson, Bench, Simmons, and Freehan - and Carter was there as well. Some of the great catchers from the 1970s played into the 1980s, but the 80s generally was an era of so-so catching.
Even the Yankees, a team with a history of breeding good backstops could not find an adequate replacement for their fallen captain Thurman Munson. Carter was the outlier of the group. He was a dynamite catcher in a non-catcher era. In fact, he was the one great catcher that bridged those two eras in baseball, having started in 1974 with the Expos.
Sure there was Tony Pena, Benito Santiago, and you could not help but love Mike Scioscia of Los Angeles, but they were not powerhouse types at the position like Carter.
Carter played for ten years in that cold ugly Olympic Stadium in Montreal. He was a franchise player, and although the Mets had already begun to gain traction in the National League East following a trade that brought Keith Hernandez from St. Louis a season earlier, he gave the Mets confidence.
When they acquired Carter in the off-season, New York newspapers started to put the Mets at the top of all expected outcomes for the 1985 season.
Think about the most competitive teams in the 1980s, namely the Cardinals, Dodgers, Cubs, and Red Sox. (For what it’s worth, the Yankees won the most games in that decade with 854, but with little to show for it, and they hung their catching hopes on Joel Skinner – use Wikipedia if you’re under the age of 35).
St. Louis had Darrell Porter, who could have been as good as Carter had he not had bouts with drug abuse. Porter, like Carter, died too young. Los Angeles had Scioscia, who was all grit, but still not of Carter’s magnitude. The Cubs’ Jody Davis and Boston’s Rich Gedman were good, but not great. So we have Carter, the real standard bearer of catchers in the 1980s.
This is not to suggest that Carter would not have been a standout in a catcher-heavy era of Major League Baseball, he certainly would have been great in any era. The 1980s, however, allowed for Carter’s accomplishments to stand out.
Here is one more thing to consider. Thus far, New Yorkers focus most on his contribution to the Mets. Consider, however, that it was not long after he left Montreal that the Expos franchise was unable to remain solvent. Sure, they were on their way to the post-season before the strike in 1994, but they would never have been able to hold onto those great players like Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez.
Three events killed baseball in Montreal: losing Gary Carter, the strike of 1994, and that mausoleum of a ball park. That was how influential the man was to the game in the 1980s.