Carlton, Steve (1944—)
Carlton, Steve (1944—)
During the second half of his major league pitching career, Steve Carlton did not speak to reporters, preferring to let his left arm do the talking for him. Out of such determined resolve Carlton fashioned an exceptional career that left him destined for the Baseball Hall of Fame. A multiple Cy Young award winner, second only to Nolan Ryan in career strikeouts, Carlton became the first major leaguer since Robert Grove and Vernon Gomez to be universally known as "Lefty."
A Miami native, Carlton signed with the St. Louis Cardinals franchise and entered the major leagues in 1965. He became the team's number two starter, behind the fierce right-hander Bob Gibson, and helped the Cardinals to two pennants and the 1967 World Series. Yet Carlton never seemed to get respect; even the 1969 game when he struck out a then record nineteen New York Mets came during a defeat. After a salary dispute with Cardinals management in late 1971, he was traded to the woebegone Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Rick Wise. Wise was the only star on the perennial also-rans, as well as the Phillies' most popular player. Carlton responded to his uncomfortable new surroundings with one of the most dominant seasons in baseball history. While the 1972 Phillies won only 59 games, Carlton won 27, or nearly half his team's total, all by himself. During one stretch he won 15 games in a row. Combined with a 1.97 earned run average and 310 strikeouts, Carlton won his first National League Cy Young Award.
As Carlton developed, gradually so did the Phillies, as Carlton was joined by third baseman Mike Schmidt and, eventually, Tug McGraw, and Pete Rose. Carlton led the team to six division titles and two pennants between 1976 and 1983. And in 1980 his two victories in the World Series gave the Phillies their first world championship.
Carlton was an efficient left-hander who routinely led the major leagues by pitching nine-inning games in less than two hours and twenty minutes. Hitting him, slugger Willie Stargell once lamented, was like drinking coffee with a fork. Under the tutelage of Phillies trainer Gus Hoefling, Carlton embarked on a rigorous physical regimen, including karate, meditation, and stretching his left arm in a bag of rice. He also stopped talking to the media in 1979, following a feud with a Philadelphia columnist. While Carlton was loquacious with teammates on many subjects (in particular his hobby, wine collecting), he was mute to the press.
In 1983 and 1984, Carlton competed with the ageless Nolan Ryan for bragging rights to the all-time career strikeout record. Carlton held the top spot intermittently before Ryan pulled away in 1984. Carlton's total of 4,136 strikeouts is still the second highest of all time, and over 600 more than Walter Johnson's previous record.
In 1982, the 37-year-old Carlton won 23 games and a record fourth Cy Young Award. The next season, he won his 300th career game and again led the league in strikeouts. With his sophisticated training and focus, Carlton seemed capable of pitching in the major leagues until he was 50. Unfortunately, his pitching ability faded with age. He won only 16 games after his 40th birthday, and poignantly moved from team to team in the last two seasons of his career before retiring in 1988 with a won-loss record of 329-244.
Carlton's election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994 (in his first year of eligibility) was marred by an incident weeks later. Ending his silence with the press, Carlton gave a rambling interview in Philadelphia Magazine from his mountainside compound in Colorado, where he claimed that AIDS was concocted by government scientists, that teacher's unions were part of an organized conspiracy to indoctrinate students, and that world affairs were controlled by twelve Jewish bankers in Switzerland. Most Phillies fans ignored his idiosyncratic political commentary, however, and attended his Cooperstown induction that summer.
Aaseng, Nathan. Steve Carlton: Baseball's Silent Strongman. Minneapolis, Lerner Publishing, 1984.
James, Bill. The Bill James 1982 Baseball Abstract. New York, Ballantine, 1982
——. The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. New York, Villard, 1988.
Westcott, Rich. The New Phillies Encyclopedia. Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1993.
"Carlton, Steve (1944—)." St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 23, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/media/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/carlton-steve-1944
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