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Carter, however, spent his first full season in the majors primarily as Montreal's right fielder. His first All-Star appearance came that year, in 1975, as a defensive replacement in left field for Pete Rose.
Later, Carter was recognized for his contributions off the field when he was honored with the Roberto Clemente Award.
Carter hit his first major league homer in September 1974 off future Hall of Famer Steve Carlton as a 20-year-old rookie -- Carter homered 11 times against the ace lefty, his top victim.
Carter spent his first 11 years with the Expos and was part of a solid core that put them into the 1981 playoffs. They beat the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies in a new first round created after the strike split the season into two halves, but lost to the Dodgers in the NL championship series.
"Learning of Gary's passing feels as if I just lost a family member," former Expos pitcher Steve Rogers said. "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."
A perennial fan favorite, Carter returned to Montreal in 1992 for one final season. His last swing was a memorable one -- he hit an RBI double in the seventh inning at Olympic Stadium, left for a pinch-runner to a huge ovation from the home crowd and walked away after that 1-0 win over the Cubs.
Carter was elected to the Hall in 2003 on his sixth try. He had joked that he wanted his Cooperstown cap to be a half-and-halfer, split between the Expos and Mets. The Hall makes the ultimate call on the logo.
Carter pleased Canadian fans by delivering part of his induction speech in French. Born and raised in California, he took a Berlitz course to help him learn the language after the Expos drafted him.
"It's nice to know that even though my body feels like an old man now, I will always be a kid at heart," Carter said on his election.
The Expos traded him to the Mets after the 1984 season for Hubie Brooks, Mike Fitzgerald, Herm Winningham and Floyd Youmans. Carter turned out to be one of the last missing pieces on a New York team that already had the likes of Strawberry, Gooden and Keith Hernandez.
He made an immediate impression -- it just took a little extra time to get it right in his Mets debut in 1985. In the season opener at Shea Stadium, Carter took strike three, had a passed ball that gave St. Louis a run and watched Cardinals pitcher Joaquin Andujar steal a base against him.
But in the bottom of the 10th inning, Carter hit a home run that won the game and drew a standing ovation plus chants of "Gary! Gary! Gary!"
"What a way to start," Carter said with a grin afterward. "Hit by a pitch, strike out looking, a stolen base, a passed ball and then the home run."
"There's not enough words to describe what it feels like," he said. "I'll certainly remember this the rest of my life."
It wasn't the only time he bounced back from a rugged start. Slumping badly in the 1986 NL championship series, Carter hit a winning single in the bottom of the 12th to beat Houston in Game 5, putting the Mets within one win of the World Series.
"Nobody loved life in a bigger way than Gary," said former Mets manager Davey Johnson, who now has the same job with the Washington Nationals. "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."
A two-sport athlete as a boy, Carter won the 7-year-old national division of the NFL's first Punt, Pass & Kick skills competition in 1961. He was a pitcher and shortstop in Little League and switched to catching in high school after a scout suggested it was the fastest path to the big leagues, turning down a chance to play football at UCLA.
Carter stayed in baseball after his playing days ended. He became a broadcaster for the Florida Marlins, coached and managed for the Mets in the minors, managed two independent minor league teams and coached in college.
Carter made it to opening day for Palm Beach Atlantic University on Feb. 2, shaking hands with each player on the team. He watched about three innings and received a standing ovation from the crowd. The Mets had invited him to spring training, which opens Wednesday.
The only hint of negative publicity Carter drew came a few years ago when he appeared to be campaigning for the Mets' managing job though it was already filled.
Carter, however, always had a winning touch. At the ballpark or away, he greeted fans with a hearty handshake -- many marveling at how his big right hand had swallowed up theirs.
Current Mets pitcher Jonathon Niese played under Carter in 2005 and 2006.
"The one thing Gary stressed to us was team. He said individual goals were meaningless," Niese said. "He said the name on the front of the uniform was more important than the name on the back. That's what I'll take from my two years with him."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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