From BR Bullpen
Steven Norman Carlton
- Bats Left, Throws Left
- Height 6' 4", Weight 210 lb.
- School Miami-Dade Community College
- Debut April 12, 1965
- Final Game April 23, 1988
- Born December 22, 1944 in Miami, FL USA
 Biographical Information
"Carlton does not pitch to the hitter, he pitches through him. The batter hardly exists for Steve. He's playing an elevated game of catch." - Tim McCarver, Carlton's catcher with the Cardinals
Steve Carlton was a big, imposing left-hander with a good fastball and an astonishing slider ("like drinking coffee with a fork," Willie Stargell supposedly said of trying to hit Carlton's signature pitch). He won over 300 games and is a member of the Hall of Fame.
 Early career with the Cardinals
Good enough to break into a formidable St. Louis Cardinals rotation in 1967, Carlton struggled with consistency in his early years. Good years alternated with bad ones; he could lose control of his pitches in a hurry and often seemed to be beating himself mentally.
Carlton credits an unnamed correspondent with changing his outlook toward pitching. Letters from this man began to arrive after a disastrous 10-19 season in 1970, and presented thoughtful analyses of Carlton's mental approach to the game. Carlton won 20 games the next year and was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies after the 1971 season for Rick Wise.
Carlton pitched on the same team as Hall of Famer Bob Gibson for seven years, from 1965 to 1971. While Gibson was more dominant, in 1969 Carlton's 2.17 ERA barely beat Gibson's 2.18 ERA, and in 1971, although Gibson had a lower ERA Carlton won 20 games to Gibson's 16.
 The years in Philadelphia
The Carlton/Wise trade is sometimes seen as a disaster for St. Louis, but both pitchers were top-flight if inconsistent talents, and Wise would have several good years with St. Louis and later on with the Boston Red Sox. Carlton, however, immediately responded with one of the greatest pitching seasons ever in 1972. He won the National League Cy Young Award and the Triple Crown, finishing the season with 27 wins, 310 strikeouts, and a 1.97 ERA.
By 1973, Carlton was a 20-game loser, his career no more promising than before the trade. Again, the problems seemed to be mental. He was ground down by the demands of superstardom and struggled to maintain his composure and his focus.
Carlton gradually stopped giving interviews. He disliked throwing to Phillies' star catcher Bob Boone and lobbied for the Phillies to sign his old Cardinal catcher, Tim McCarver, as his personal catcher (the Carlton-McCarver battery lasted from 1976 through 1979; in 1980, Carlton went back to working with Boone without incident).
Carlton also adopted training regimes that seemed bizarre in the laid-back culture of the 1970s: martial arts, running and strength conditioning, and the distinctive practice of bringing a large canister of rice into the clubhouse and working his hand to the bottom of the tin. That's a good deal harder than it sounds physically, but the mental effort seemed even more important to Carlton.
Carlton never truly broke out of the pattern of alternating good years with bad ones. He won four Cy Young Awards for prodigious seasons for Philadelphia, but was just as likely to turn in a near-.500 season with a near-league-average ERA. What seemed to distinguish him from merely good pitchers, however, was his intense focus and his hermetic isolation from the media circus of the sport, coupled with a sense that he drew power from arcane spiritual sources. He did not talk to media from 1977 until the press conference announcing his release from the Phillies in 1986. In 1980, he pitched 304 innings in leading the major leagues in innings pitched. The total was not extraordinary at the time - Phil Niekro had pitched 342 innings the year before -, but it marks the last time a pitcher has thrown more than 300 innings in a season.
In 1982, Carlton became the first pitcher ever to win four Cy Young Awards. He was the only 20-game winner in Major League Baseball that year, finishing with a total of 23 victories. A good-hitting pitcher, Carlton's batting average that season was 14 points higher than that of National League home run leader Dave Kingman.
 The competition for the all-time strikeouts record
In the early 1980s Carlton was locked in a classic pitchers' duel with Nolan Ryan for the lead in the all-time strikeouts list. Entering the 1983 season, three pitchers were within 100 strikeouts of Walter Johnson's career strikeout record of 3,508. It is a record he had held since passing Cy Young's total of 2,803 in 1921. Nolan Ryan was second on the list with 3,494 strikeouts (14 away), Gaylord Perry was third with 3,452 (56), and Steve Carlton was fourth with 3,434 (74). Ryan was the first to pass Johnson, however by the end of the year, Carlton who had a huge strikeout season (275) surpassed Perry, then Johnson and Nolan Ryan to take the overall strikeout lead. By the end of the year Carlton led Ryan 3,709-3,677. Gaylord Perry who was in his final season, was never a factor, although he too would surpass Johnson before retiring with 3,534 strikeouts. Now a two-man race, in 1984 Carlton and Ryan routinely alternated at the top spot in career strikeouts, with Ryan finishing with a two-strikeout lead 3,874-3,872. However, Carlton had an injury-plagued and ineffective 1985 and never overtook Ryan in 1985 or ever again. His last lead was after his September 4, 1984 start - 3,857 to 3,854. Nolan started the following day, struck out 8 for a 3,862-3,857 advantage and took the lead for good.
 The last difficult seasons
In 1985, Carlton had a 1-8 record but a respectable ERA of 3.33. However in 1986, he was 4-8 with a 6.18 ERA before being released by the Phillies on June 24th. The Phillies, out of contention early due to the fast start of the 1986 Mets, didn't even give him the courtesy of notching his 4,000th career strikeout in a Phillies uniform, releasing him with 3,982, just 18 shy. He signed on with the San Francisco Giants and struck out exactly the 18 he needed for 4,000 before retiring. However, he quickly changed his mind and signed with the Chicago White Sox later that year, where he surprisingly pitched respectably with a 4-3 record and a 3.69 ERA. However, he would somewhat tarnish his legacy by committing the cardinal sin for a ballplayer, "hanging on too long". He pitched ineffectively in 1987 and 1988 for the Cleveland Indians and then the Minnesota Twins, before finally retiring in 1989 spring training when no team offered him a tryout. He retired with 329 career wins. He ironically was a member of the World Champion Minnesota Twins in 1987, but never made their postseason roster, due to ineffectiveness.
Carlton always remained a fairly typical major-leaguer off the field, however, enjoying hunting and fishing; he never ran away and joined a commune or an ashram. In retirement he kept away from baseball, living in relative isolation in Colorado. A 1994 Philadelphia Magazine article by Pat Jordan quoted Carlton as making anti-Semitic remarks. Carlton denied the remarks, but they have cast a pall over his subsequent reputation.
 Famous Last
Last pitcher to throw more than 300 innings (1980, 304 IP)
 Notable Achievements
- 10-time NL All-Star (1968, 1969, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1977 & 1979-1982)
- 4-time NL Cy Young Award Winner (1972, 1977, 1980 & 1982)
- NL Pitcher's Triple Crown (1972)
- NL Gold Glove Winner (1981)
- NL ERA Leader (1972)
- 4-time NL Wins Leader (1972, 1977, 1980 & 1982)
- 2-time NL Strikeouts Leader (1981 & 1983)
- 5-time NL Innings Pitched Leader (1972, 1973, 1980, 1982 & 1983)
- 5-time NL Strikeouts Leader (1972, 1974, 1980, 1982 & 1983)
- 3-time NL Complete Games Leader (1972, 1973 & 1982)
- NL Shutouts Leader (1982)
- 15 Win Seasons: 12 (1969, 1971, 1972, 1974-1980, 1982 & 1983)
- 20 Win Seasons: 6 (1971, 1972, 1976, 1977, 1980 & 1982)
- 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 16 (1968-1980 & 1982-1984)
- 300 Innings Pitched Seasons: 2 (1972 & 1980)
- 200 Strikeouts Seasons: 8 (1969, 1972-1974, 1979, 1980, 1982 & 1983)
- 300 Strikeouts Seasons: 1 (1972)
- Won three World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals (1967), the Philadelphia Phillies (1980) and the Minnesota Twins (1987; he did not play in the World Series).
- Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 1994
|NL Cy Young Award|
|Fergie Jenkins||Steve Carlton||Tom Seaver|
|Randy Jones||Steve Carlton||Gaylord Perry|
|Bruce Sutter||Steve Carlton||Fernando Valenzuela|
|Fernando Valenzuela||Steve Carlton||John Denny|
 Records Held
- Games started, pitcher, left-handed, career, 709
- Bases on balls, left-handed pitcher, career, 1833
 Further Reading
- Thomas Boswell: "Baseball's Dark Lord", in How Life Imitates the World Series, Penguin Books, New York, NY, 1982, pp. 208-212.
- Steve Bucci and Dave Brown: Drinking Coffee With a Fork: The Story of Steve Carlton and the '72 Phillies, Camino Books, Philadelphia, PA, 2011. ISBN 1933822252
- Bruce Morgan: Steve Carlton and the 1972 Phillies, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2012. ISBN 078646836X