Sunday, November 27, 2011

#120 Steve Carlton

Card thoughts: Kind of an awkward follow through picture. Also, Carlton is over 40 in this picture, but looks like a much younger man. This would be the last of Carlton's 14 Phillie cards.

The player: Carlton is regarded as one of the best left-handed pitchers of all-time. Early in his career, he featured a devastating curve to go with a blazing fastball. But the pitch he was most known for was a wicked slider. Carlton, besides being one of the most durable pitchers in the modern era (16 straight seasons of over 200 innings pitched, not counting the 1981 strike season), is 11th all time in wins (329), 6th all time in games started, 4th all time in strikeouts, 9th in innings pitched. Although Carlton spent most of his career as a Phillie, he started out as a Cardinal. He had several good years for St Louis, with ERAs consistently under 3. He made the all star team in 1968, 1969, and 1971 (he would go the game 7 more times with the Phillies), but he was always in the shadow of Bob Gibson.

The Cardinals inexplicably traded Carlton after a 20 win season in 1971 to the Phillies for Rick Wise, one of the worst trades ever made. Essentially, both pitchers were holding out for $5,000 more than their respective teams were willing to pay, so the hold outs were swapped. The very next year Carlton had one of the most incredible seasons ever en route to his first (of 4) Cy Young awards. For the last place Phillies (who only won 59 games), Carlton won 27 games (you read that right . . . Carlton won 45% of the team's victories all by himself!), completed 30 games, struck out 310, and had a 1.97 ERA (all of these numbers led the league). But the pressure of being a superstar took its toll. Carlton owed much of his success to his focus and concentration, which he honed with regimen of martial arts (and a ritual where he stuck his hand in a giant tin of rice, attempting push his way to the bottom). The magic left him the next year and he led the league in losses the next year with 20, his ERA a full 2 runs higher. Part of the problem was that he didn't like throwing to #62 Bob Boone, so he requested that his personal catcher, Tim McCarver, be brought over from the Cardinals. McCarver ended up catching almost all of his starts from 1976-1979.

Carlton suffered through some more mediocre seasons in the mid-70s as the Phillies floundered, but in the late 70s and early 80s, the Phillies began to dominate. Carlton was the anchor of those staffs, winning over 20 in 1976, 1977, 1980, and 1982 (leading the league in the latter three years). His 300 innings in 1980 may be the last time a pitcher will ever pitch over 300 innings. At age 37 in 1982, Carlton had his last great year, winning his last Cy Young award. After that, all those innings caught up to him, and he would never win more than 15 games again. His last full season for the Phillies, represented by this card, he went 1-8. He was released mid-season in 1986 and became a vagabond, desperate to squeeze every last win from his aging arm. He pitched for the Giants, White Sox, Indians and Twins those final three years, his ERA often over 5.

Carlton went in as a first ballot hall-of famer in 1994, getting 95% of the vote.

Rear guard: The 1985 season was Carlton first since his rookie season where he didn't complete a game. He was injured a lot of this season.

1 comment:

Brandon said...

Nice write up. I think even though he is in the HOF, Carlton is generally underrated probably due to his poor relationship with the media