Gil Carter was piling up awards and honors for his baseball playing career this summer, and he wanted to be ready.
Carter, who lived in Topeka, seemed most excited about receiving the Pride of Kansas Award from the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame on June 3.
“He tried to make it to June 3 to get his award there,” said Carter’s daughter, Babette. “He kept asking me every day, ‘Is it June 3rd yet? I need to go buy me a suit!’”
Carter, who had been battling brain cancer, died three days before he was to receive that honor. He was 83. Babette accepted his enshrinement into the Shawnee County Baseball Hall of Fame this month and will be at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium when her father is inducted on Sunday into the National Baseball Congress Hall of Fame.
Carter won NBC World Series championships with the Wichita Rapid Transit Dreamliners in 1962 and ’63.
“Everything I loved about my dad,” Babette Carter said. “He would always come to my house to visit me. He has been honored a lot here lately and he would always tell his story.”
Fame – though he didn’t thrive on it – proved an apt description for Carter’s career, because he owned an unmatched claim.
In 1959, while playing for the Class D Carlsbad (N.M.) Potashers in the Chicago Cubs system, Carter hit a home run so far against Odessa right-hander Wayne Schaper that it needed aerial photographs to measure. It traveled an estimated 700 to 733 feet, an accomplishment lost on at least one witness.
“(He talked) about when he used to play baseball. Where he hit his home run and what the lady said when she brought the baseball back to the ballpark,” Babette Carter said. “She said, ‘You put a dent in my peach tree, and here’s your ball.’”
Carter was a strong candidate to hit the game’s longest home run – it’s credited at 650 feet by the Minor League Baseball Encyclopedia. He hit 34 homers that season for Carlsbad and 72 in 296 minor-league games.
But a 650-, 700- or 733-foot home run never seemed in the realm of possibilities even for Carter’s prodigious power. He claimed his second-longest was a 500-footer in 1960, his last minor-league season.
“I haven’t hit a ball harder and certainly not that far,” Carter told Minor League Baseball’s website in 2006. “I watched it go, and it came down two blocks from the ballpark. I knew it was something special. I could feel it in my bat when I hit it. I just stood there and watched it.”
Carter’s baseball legacy went beyond the ball he hit on that August night nearly 56 years ago. He was signed to the Cubs by legendary Negro Leagues player and ambassador Buck O’Neil, then a Cubs scout.
Prior to joining the Cubs’ minor leagues, where he played three seasons, Carter played in the Negro Leagues for the Kansas City Giants and the Memphis Mud Hens. He was a star outfielder for the Dreamliners, a flagship team from the earlier days of the NBC World Series.
“As I got to know him better, I started realizing that he really accomplished more than he was actually telling me,” said Dave McGeeney, who became friends with Carter during the last few years.
McGeeney said information and stories from Carter’s baseball career were difficult to pry out of him, while Carter’s daughter said he loved to share tales about his home-run record and about other notable exploits.
They agree, however, that Carter’s career wasn’t his main source of pride. Neither were the awards and Hall of Fame inductions he earned.
Carter, a graduate of Topeka High who lived in Wichita for 39 years before returning to Topeka in 2000, loved to talk baseball with kids. He spoke at schools over the final years of his life and was eager to offer encouragement to students and young ballplayers, using baseball to connect with a younger generation.
“Especially when he started going to the schools and talking to the children,” Babette Carter said. “He told them, ‘You can conquer anything. See what I’ve done with my life.’ He loved it, and the kids loved him, too. One little boy, when my father was passing, he came and sat by my father’s bed. He wouldn’t let anyone else touch him. Kids loved him.”
NBC World Series
When: Sunday, six games beginning at 8 a.m.
Where: Lawrence-Dumont Stadium