Thursday, December 22, 2011

#70 Steve Carlton - Happy Birthday!

I debated whether I wanted to post today, but when I heard it was Carlton's 67th birthday, I knew I had to do it. He's next in line anyway...

Happy Birthday Lefty!

Card:  This is Carlton's 18th Topps card.  His rookie card was in 1965.  Carlton didn't have a card in '66 but had cards every year after through the 1987 set.

Pic:  Carlton wasn't really the most approachable guy and Topps used similar action shots repeatedly in the 80's.  Here is a look at his '83 card next to his '84, '84 All-Star,and '84 Record Breaker:

Player:  Steve Carlton spent a year in the minors before making his MLB debut with the Cardinals in 1965.  He pitched in 15 games with a 2.52 ERA in 25 innings.  Lefty started '66 in the minors but made nine starts for the Cards winning three and posting a 3.12 ERA.  The 22 year-old worked at the back of the Cards rotation in '67, winning 14 with a 2.98 ERA.  Allowing just one unearned run in six innings he was the hard-luck loser in game 5 of the World Series against the Red Sox.  St. Louis won in seven games to give Carlton his first ring.  He went 13-11 for the pennant winning Cardinals in '68.  In the year of the pitcher, his ERA of 2.99 was a tad over league average and he did not make a postseason start.  Carlton gave up three runs in two relief appearances as the Cards fell to the Tigers.

Carlton broke through in '69 with a 2.17 ERA and a 17 win season.  He tied a record on 9/15 when he struck out 19 Mets in a losing effort.  Despite similar ERA's in '70-'71 (3.73/3.56) his record fluctuated from 10-19 to 20-9. Carlton and the Cards had contract disputes over the years and he was traded 2/25/72 to the Phillies for Rick Wise.

Carlton's '72 season is undoubtedly one of the best pitching seasons in the modern era.  In his first year in Philly, the intense Carlton won 27 games for the last place Phils.  The 27 wins represented 46% of the team's meager 59 wins, and interestingly they scored more than four runs in only 11 of his 41 starts.  He posted a 1.97 ERA in a whopping 346 innings, and accumulated 12.2 WAR.  He was the unanimous Cy Young winner but somehow finished only fifth in MVP voting.   

Carlton was merely average in '73 as his ERA jumped to 3.93 and he lost 20 games.  His next two seasons were good but not great, winning 16 in '74 and 15 in '75.  Carlton had a 20 win season in '76 and improved on that with a 23 win season and Cy Young in '77.  Carlton's ERA in '78 was similar (2.84/2.64) to his '77 mark but he won only 16.  Over the '76 through '78 seasons, Carlton led the Phillies to the playoffs but they were unable to claim a pennant.  Lefty struggled in four starts over this time, allowing 17 runs in four starts.

Carlton won 18 in '79 with a 3.62 ERA and was named to his 7th All-Star team.  He put together another memorable Cy Young winning year, winning 24 games with a 2.34 ERA in 1980.  His 304 innings were the last time a pitcher has worked over 300 in a season.  Carlton won three postseason games as the Phils knocked off the Astros and the Royals for Lefty's second ring.  Carlton pitched well in the '81 strike year, winning 13 with a 2.42 ERA.  The short season broke a streak of 13 seasons with at least 232 innings pitched. 

Although now in his late 30s, Carlton was still a workhorse logging over 578 innings over the '82 and '83 seasons.  Carlton won 23 in '82 on his way to what was then an unprecedented fourth Cy Young award.  Carlton won two games over the Dodgers in the '83 NLCS but lost his only start against the eventual champion Orioles.  Over the '83 season Carlton won his 300th game and he and Nolan Ryan both surpassed Walter Johnson's all-time strikeout mark. Carlton and Ryan traded the lead several times with Lefty holding the mark at the end of the year.  The 39 year-old Carlton won 13 with a 3.58 ERA in '84 and logged over 200 innings for the last time. 

Carlton was still effective but humbled by injury and lack of support as his teammates scored more than four runs just once in his sixteen starts.  Carlton was 1-8 with a 3.33 ERA, breaking a string of 18 straight double digit win seasons.  Carlton's struggles were the beginning of the end, and although he reached the 4,000 strikeout milestone he was terrible in 1986.  He was released by the Phillies, signed by the Giants, and dumped a month later. He retired for a few days and was signed by the White Sox where he pitched relatively well.  His combined totals for his three teams in '86: 9-14 with a 5.10 ERA.  Carlton started '87 in Chicago but was let go and signed by Minnesota.  Carlton was not impressive with either team and was not on the Twins playoff roster as they won a championship.  This gave Lefty a third World Series ring. 

He was hit hard to start the '88 season and released after four games.  Carlton kept hope alive and worked out unofficially in the Yankees camp in spring of '89, but when no one offered him a contract he retired for good.

Stuff:  Four-seam fastball low 90s, slider and curve.



Oddball: The Twins visited the White House after winning the '87 World Series and Carlton was misidentified in a St.Paul newspaper photo as a secret service agent.

Carlton holds the major league record with 90 balks, twice the number of the second place Bob Welch.  Carlton also has the most career pickoffs with 144, quite a bit more than runner up Jerry Koosman who had 82.  

History:  Carlton won 329 career games, struck out 4,136 batters, and is among the best pitchers of all time.   Carlton employed unique training methods and kept himself in tip-top shape long before off season conditioning became routine. 
He refused to talk to the media for a long time, breaking the silence when he signed with the Giants in '86. 
Carlton was a first ballot Hall of Famer, voted into the Hall in '94. 
I'll cover more of his lifetime achievements in the next post: Steve Carlton Super Veteran

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