Before he won 329 big league games, four Cy Young Awards and a World Series ring, Steve Carlton made 12 starts for the Winnipeg Goldeyes in 1964. At that time, the club was the Northern League Class-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. While in Manitoba, the 19-year-old southpaw would register four wins and a 3.36 ERA, and earn himself a promotion to Double-A Tulsa, where he would start three games and record a 2.62 ERA for the Texas League club.
The 6-foot-4 Miami native advanced through the Cards’ minor league system and was soon starring in the majors. Employing a biting slider and an almost equally potent fastball, Carlton won 14 games for the World Champion Cards in 1967. After racking up 17 victories in 1969, the intense left-hander experienced his first contract dispute with Cardinals owner Gussie Busch the following spring. Carlton again squabbled with management over his value after his 20-win season in 1971. These battles were the impetus behind the Cards’ decision to deal Carlton to the Phillies for Rick Wise on February 25, 1972.
It was a deal the Cardinals would come to regret. Hurling on a last-place Phillies club that would win only 59 games in 1972, Carlton registered 27 wins and a sparkling 1.97 ERA to become the first pitcher to win the Cy Young Award while on a last place team. Over the next 16 years, Carlton would evolve into one of the greatest pitchers in big league history. When he finally retired in 1988, Carlton had secured four Cy Young Awards, recorded six 20-win seasons and earned 10 all-star selections. His 329 wins are the second-most by a left-hander in big league history and his 4,136 strikeouts rank him fourth on the all-time list. “Lefty” was also the ace on three division-winning Phillies teams and the World Champion 1980 club. For his efforts, he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994, his first year of eligibility.
Over the course of his career, Carlton earned a reputation as an eccentric. His workout routine included dipping his arm in a bucket of rice and he steadfastly refused to speak to the media for the bulk of his career. More recently his longtime battery mate Tim McCarver has said that Carlton refuses to acknowledge birthdays. McCarver says that Carlton believes that if he doesn’t acknowledge them he won’t age.
Over his 22 seasons in the National League, Carlton was 26-25 with a 3.37 ERA in 65 games against the Expos. Hardcore Expos fans will remember that Steve Rogers defeated Carlton twice in the 1981 National League Division Series.
Carlton also pitched for the Giants, White Sox, Indians and Twins after leaving the Phillies in 1986. His only career start against the Toronto Blue Jays was on September 7, 1986 at Comiskey Park. Carlton allowed three runs in 3-2/3 innings and would record a no-decision in a game the White Sox eventually won 4-3.
Steve Carlton and Bob Gibson on the same pitching staff. It sounds scary, even now. Great post, as always, Kevin. Excellent writing and just the right balance of stats and color commentary.