Saturday, February 12, 2011

#95 - Steve Carlton

Lefty's picture is on the left side - that's fitting. Steve Carlton has an action shot in Philly and he gets a "5" card but not for anything he did in '73. Rather it was because of his amazing '72 season.Steve's follow-up to his big year mirrored that '72 season in that it was streaky, but that was about it. His ERA spiked a bit from that minuscule one from the prior season and the Philly bats just weren't powerful enough to cover the difference. In fact, they weren't very much help at all - in Lefty's 40 starts that year his guys score three or fewer runs in 23 of them. And his record could have been even worse - in the games he didn't get a decision, the Phillies went 2-5. And his ERA wasn't THAT bad. Plus, along with leading the NL with his 20 losses, he also led it in starts, complete games, and innings. What really happened in '73 was that beginning in spring training the press got on Steve about his - then - unorthodox training regimen and they wouldn't leave him alone about it. In response Lefty stopped speaking to the press, a practice he held to for nearly the duration of his career.

Steve Carlton grew up in Florida and after high school went to nearby Miami Dade (North) College. But during the fall season of '63 he apparently couldn't break into the rotation and so when St. Louis dangled a $5,000 check in front of him that October, he signed with the Cards. His first season in the minors in '64 he won a combined 15 games with a 2.20 ERA and over a strikeout an inning between A and Double A ball. He spent all of '65 with the Cards but only pitched in 15 games, which alludes to either some military time or to keep him out of the first year draft. After returning to the minors to start the '66 season - 9-5 in Triple A - he got back to St. Louis at the end of July and immediately joined the rotation. In '67 and '68 he had nearly identical seasons as the Cards returned to the Series both years and he copped a ring the former one. In '69 Steve improved his numbers significantly in a the first year he crossed the 200 strikeout level. But in a '70 season very much a prelude to his '73 one the bottom fell out: by the end of August he was 6-18 when he received a long letter from a fan espousing positive thinking. Lefty embraced the contents of the letter, went 4-1 the rest of the season and followed it up with his first 20-win year in '71. Following that season he asked for a raise, got nowhere with the Busch family, and was sent to the Phillies for Rick Wise, another excellent young pitcher who was not having a good discourse with management.

In '72 Carlton had a season for the ages: 27-10 with a 1.98 ERA and 310 Ks for a team that won only 59 games. As noted above, it was a very streaky year for him: after the late start to the season brought about by the strike that year, he went 5-1 and the lost five straight as the Phillies gave him only ten runs of support. He then won 15 in a row and went on to win the pitching triple crown that brought him his first Cy. It was also the season he adopted his workout regimen including plunging his pitching hand into buckets of sand or rice, depending on the source. In '73 the Phillies improved a bit but Steve went the other way but he would recover in '74 and '75, putting up better ERA's and winning 16 and 15, respectively, both with winning records. In '76 he went 20-7 in a year the Phillies returned to the playoffs. In '77 he went 23-10 with a 2.64 ERA to win his second Cy. In '78 he won 16 with another excellent ERA and in '79 he won 18 and returned to the over 200 K club where he would remain every season through '83 except for the strike year of '81. In 1980 he went 24-9 with a 2.34 ERA to grab Cy number three in the year his team won the Series. '81 looked to be as good a season - 13-4 with a 2.42 ERA - but it got derailed by the strike. The fourth Cy came in '82 on the heels of a 23-11 season; in both '80 and '82 Lefty led the NL in both victories and strikeouts.. Around this time he was engaged in a back-and-forth duel between him and Nolan Ryan for all-time strike-out leadership. He had a losing record in '83 but again led the league in K's and would destroy the Dodgers in the playoffs (2-0 with a 0.66 ERA) before losing a game in that Series. It was around this time that he discovered that his long-time agent had done a host of nasty business with Steve's money and had lost over half of his career earnings, which was a significant blow to his finances.After a decent '84 during which he went 13-7, he finally hit the wall in '86 when he was 40. From that point on he went a combined 16-37 for the Phillies, Giants, White Sox, Indians, and Twins. While he'd returned - a bit - to speaking with the press in his last seasons and expressed a desire to continue pitching, it was thought that it was really about the paychecks. He finished things up in '88 with a 329-244 record, a 3.22 ERA, 254 complete games, 55 shutouts, two saves, and 4,136 strikeouts, fourth place all-time. He went 6-6 in the post-season with a 3.26 ERA. He hit pretty well, too, with a lifetime .201 average, 13 homers, and 140 RBI's. In the post-season he hit .222 with a homer and five RBI's in 16 games. He grabbed the four Cy Young awards - the first guy to do that - pitched in nine All-Star games, and was elected to the Hall on his first shot in '94.

Steve got those strikeouts against the Mets in '69. He was a very streaky pitcher and would tend to get wins and losses in bunches. He has his own website and is now very cordial with fans and the media, from what I've heard. As I've mentioned before, he always has one of the biggest grins in the HOF photos.

This one should be shorter than the last one:

1. Carlton and Tony Taylor '74 to '76 Phillies.
2. Taylor on the '73 Tigers.

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