Story of the Week

STEVE CARLTON

    Steve Carlton never won the hearts and minds of baseball writers, but he led the National League in innings pitched and strikeouts five times each, won 329 games, and captured four Cy Young Awards. Iíve stated it before, and Iíll do so again; I could make a case for Carlton being the best left-hander of all time if I were the attorney for the plaintiff.

    He trained by using isometrics, kung fu, and twisting his hands in three-foot deep buckets of rice. The powerful lefty made 30 or more starts in 16 seasons; donít be quick to slide by that statement. He never paced himself; he threw everything as hard as he could for as long as he could.

    Offered $4,000 by the Pirates as a junior college freshman, Carlton was signed by Cardinalsí scout Howard Pollet, himself a former Cardinals pitcher, for $5,000. On a Cards trip to Japan in 1968, he began developing the slider that became his "out" pitch. He fanned 19 Mets in a September, 1969 game to set an NL record, finished the season 17-11, and won 20 games in 1971.

    Carlton had a running battle with Cardinalsí management over, you guessed it, money, and Gussie Busch put an end to the dispute by making an absolutely terrible trade and one that defies description, sending Carlton to the Phillies for Rick Wise. Wise was an OK pitcher period, and certainly not in Carltonís league, pardon the pun; few ever have been. I was still living in St. Louis at the time, and Iíll never forget the furor Busch caused in St. Louis by trading this great pitcher.

    "Lefty" responded to the trade with a historic season. He won 27 games for the last-place Phils, notching an all-time record 46 percent of his teamís victories. He also led in ERA (1.97) and strikeouts (310), won his first Cy Young Award, and negotiated a salary of $167,000, then a record income for pitchers. It is absolutely incredible that a pitcher could win 27 games and post his great ERA for a last-place ball club, a club that won a total of 59 games. An asterisk to that great Carlton feat is the fact that Philadelphia played 156 games that year; it was not the 162-game schedule it is today, and that deprived Carlton of at least one more start.

    The bounces didnít go "Leftyís" way the next year, and he became a 20-game loser. He bounced back to win 59 games as the Phillies won division titles in 1976, 1977 and 1978. In 1980, Carlton was 24-9 in the regular season, captured his third Cy Young Award, and beat the Royals twice in the World Series to give the Phils their only world championship.

    Three years after his last Cy Young Award in 1982, Carlton went on the disabled list for the first time, and was released by the Phillies a year later. Obviously well past his peak by this time, he finished his career with other teams before retiring in 1988 as the all-time leading left-handed pitcher in the major leagues with 4,136 career kís. Steve Carlton could flat-out bring it!

Last Weekís Trivia

    What pitcher holds the major league record for most strikeouts in a World Series game? Bob Gibson at 17. He did it in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series as the Cardinals defeated Detroit, 4-0.

Trivia Question of the Week

    Who holds the career record for hitting the most home runs in World Series competition? See next weekís Sports Junkie for the answer.