Here’s looking at you Kid

Gary Carter died yesterday. The Hall of Fame catcher was the heart and soul of the New York Mets 1986 World Champions, the unquestioned team leader on the field and in the clubhouse.

Carter died from brain cancer, a disease I know very well since my father died from it 20 years ago. In those 20 years, not much has changed in how they treat people with aggressive tumors like Carter’s. First they tell you the bad news. Then they give you some hope that there are treatment options. Then you learn that the treatment options just extend your life a few months before the tumors start growing again. Then you start facing reality.

Carter was the kind of player you want on your team. He never gave up, never stopped believing. He was known as Kid, because he was always smiling and always enthusiastic about the game, like we all were when we were kids. For that he was mocked, taunted and criticized by everyone except his teammates, who understood what kind of man he was.

In the first game Gary Carter ever played for the Mets he hit the game winning, walk off home run in the 10th inning. In Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, the Mets were down three games to two, and down two runs in the bottom of the 10th. There were two outs and nobody on when Carter came up, and most of his teammates were already in the clubhouse realizing they just lost the Series. With two strikes on him, Carter got a hit. When he got to first base, he told the coach there was no way he was going to make the last out of the World Series.

Here's what I learned from Gary Carter:

Be real, be yourself
Carter was the Kid. Always smiling and always fired up. He always played hard. He was a vocal leader who got in your face if you screwed up. While the rest of the Mets were partying and cheating on their wives, Carter was getting his rest and working on his swing. A lot of players and fans thought that was an act. They thought he was a self-promoting jerk. They thought he was phony but he was just being himself and he was comfortable with who he was.

Never quit
With two outs in the bottom of the 10th in Game 6, Keith Hernandez was in the club house having a smoke. He was thinking about getting drunk that night. That’s when Carter got the hit that started the winning rally. Some players just know how to seize the moment.

The lasting image of Gary Carter for many fans is one with him laughing. He always had fun on the field. It was always a kid’s game for the Kid. It was always full of pure joy.  

You can’t win them all
There are some battles you are just not going to win. Like brain cancer. It will kick your butt no matter how strong or how positive or how tough you are. Sometimes you just have to accept the inevitable.

If I were the Mets PR counsel, I would be planning a ceremony to retire Carter’s number. It’s no secret the Mets could use some good PR. Met fans don't have much to cheer about these days but seeing number 8 on the outfield wall at Citi Field would be a constant reminder that beyond all the money and greed there is still a lot of good in baseball. And a lot of fun.

Here’s looking at you Kid.   

Listen up!

One month into 2012 and I’m already singing the blues. Like that Harry Nilsson song from Midnight Cowboy, “Everybody’s talking at me. I don’t hear a word they say.” Or as Dylan said, “You go your way and I’ll go mine.” 

This may be good news for therapists and mediators, but for Denver public relations pros, this is a bad trend. Public relations is about listening, which is becoming more of a lost art every day. 

Communication is a two-way street. We can’t develop a strategic communications plan without feedback. But how can we understand the feedback we’re getting unless we are willing to listen? If it just sounds like a lot of noise it won’t make any sense.  

In January a Republican congressman from Colorado Springs boycotted the State of the Union Address because he was certain he would not like what he thought the President was about to say. He stopped listening even before anyone said anything. But instead of being ridiculed, he’s considered the new normal by many.

Does anyone expect anything will get accomplished in Washington or in many state legislatures this year? Nothing happened last year, nothing will happen this year and maybe nothing will happen next year. Like boxers, we’ve gone to our separate corners. We only listen to our chosen channels. We only hear the voices of people who think exactly like us. We walk through the valley of nonstop election cycles with our blinders and our headphones to comfort us.

The decibel level is only getting worse. Negative campaign ads dominate the airwaves. Accusations are hurled without regard to truth or consequences. The only ones happy about this are fact checkers and advertising sales people. Talk about job security.

Four years ago, PRSA came out with a statement calling for civility and fairness in election campaigns. Nobody listened. Even so, our job as PR pros is to take that same stand again. Our counsel needs to always be on the side of reason, compassion, respect, tolerance and understanding. Our job is to convince our clients, employers and colleagues that they cannot be successful without a healthy dose of those values. We can disagree as long as we do it respectfully. We can be sure of ourselves only after we consider another opinion. 

Listen up people! The best musicians are the ones who never stop practicing. The smartest people are the ones who never stop learning. The most admired individuals are the ones who treat others with respect. Let’s lower the volume and not be too afraid to listen. Even if we don’t like what we hear.  
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