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Steven Norman Carlton (born December 22, 1944) is a former left-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball, from to . He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Famemarker in . He was affectionately known to Philadelphia fans as "Lefty". He played the greatest number of years for the Philadelphia Phillies, receiving his greatest acclaim as a professional and winning four Cy Young Awards. In addition, Carlton spent time with the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago White Sox, San Francisco Giants, Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins.

Carlton has the second-most lifetime strikeouts of any left-handed pitcher (4th overall), and the second-most lifetime wins of any left-handed pitcher (11th overall). He was the first pitcher to win four Cy Young Awards in a career. He held the lifetime strikeout record several times between and , before his contemporary Nolan Ryan passed him. One of his most remarkable records was accounting for nearly half (46%) of his team's wins, when he won 27 games for the last-place (59-97) Phillies. He is still the last National League pitcher to win 25 or more games in one season, as well as the last pitcher from any team to throw more than 300 innings in a season. He also holds the record with the most career balks of any pitcher, with 90 (double the second on the all time list, Bob Welch).

St. Louis Cardinals

Carlton debuted with the St. Louis Cardinals as a 20-year-old in 1965 and by was a regular in the Cardinals rotation. An imposing (6'4"/1.93 m) man with a hard fastball and slider, Carlton was soon known as an intimidating and dominant pitcher. Carlton enjoyed immediate success in St. Louis, posting winning records and reaching the World Series in 1967 and 1968. On September 15, , Carlton struck out 19 New York Mets, while losing to the Mets, 4-3, setting the all-time modern-day record at that time for strikeouts in a nine-inning game. That season, he finished with a 17-11 record with a 2.17 ERA, second lowest in the NL, and 210 strikeouts. A contract dispute with the Cardinals made Carlton a no-show at spring training in . He proceeded to go 10-19 with a 3.73 ERA, leading the NL in losses. He rebounded in by becoming a 20-game winner for the first time, going 20-9 with a 3.56 ERA.

Philadelphia Phillies

Following a salary dispute, Cardinals owner Gussie Busch ordered Carlton traded. Eventually, he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies before the season for pitcher Rick Wise. The trade is now considered one of the most one-sided deals of the 1970s, as well as one of the worst (if not the worst) trades in Cardinals history, and, subsequently, one of the best trades in Phillies history.

Carlton's first season with the Phillies was among the greatest a pitcher ever had. He led the league in wins (27), complete games (30), strikeouts (310), and ERA (1.97), despite playing for a team whose final record was 59-97. His 1972 performance earned him the Hickok Belt as the top professional athlete of the year. His having won 46% of his team's victories is a record in modern major league history. Carlton attributed his success to his grueling training regime, which included Eastern martial arts techniques, the most famous of which was twisting his fist to the bottom of a 5 gallon bucket of rice.

Steve Carlton's 1972 year is worthy of some recounting.

He started the year off with 5 wins and 1 loss, then lost 5 games in a row, during which the Phillies scored only 10 runs.

Thus at the first third of the season,he was only 5 wins and 6 losses.From this point onward he began a famous 15 game winning streak. After finishing this winning streak (at 20-6) Steve finished the final third of the year with 7 more wins and 4 losses finishing the year with 27 wins and 10 losses. Completing 30 of 41 starts, the 1972 Phillies rarely needed the bullpen when Steve Carlton pitched.

During the 18 games of the streak (3 were no decisions), Carlton pitched 155 innings, allowed 103 hits, 28 runs (only 17 in the winning games), issued 39 walks, and had 140 strike outs. From July 19 1972 to August 13 1972 he pitched six complete games, won six games, allowed only 1 earned run and had four shutouts. Over this period he pitched 56 innings allowing only one unearned run.

Steve had three pitches, a rising fastball, a legendary slider, and a long looping curve ball. Baseball commentators during 1972 regularly remarked that Steve's slider was basically unhittable. He was also a good hitter for a pitcher. At times he pinch-hit for the Phillies during 1972.

Carlton's relationship with the media

Carlton slumped in , losing 20 games. The media's open questioning of his unusual training techniques led to an acrimonious relationship between them and Carlton, and he severed all ties with the media, refusing to answer press questions for the rest of his career with the Phillies. This reached a point where, in , while the Mexicanmarker rookie Fernando Valenzuela was achieving stardom with the Los Angeles Dodgers, a reporter remarked, "The two best pitchers in the National League don't speak English: Fernando Valenzuela and Steve Carlton."

More success

Carlton continued to enjoy many years of success with the Phillies, winning the Cy Young Award in , , , and , and pitching the Phillies to the best string of post-season appearances in club history. Carlton was the first pitcher to win four Cy Young Awards, a mark later matched by Greg Maddux, and exceeded by Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson. His Cy Young Award in 1972 was by unanimous vote, and he finished fifth in balloting for the National League MVP. Gradually the Phillies improved their team, and won the National League East three consecutive times from 1976-78. In 1980, Carlton helped the Phillies win their first World Series, personally winning the final game.

Carlton won a Gold Glove Award for his fielding in , and helped the Phillies to another pennant in 1983, but lost to the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.

Race with Nolan Ryan for the all time strikeout record

Over a three year period between - , Carlton was involved in an interesting pitching duel with Nolan Ryan, then of the Houston Astros, in which they often traded places at the top of the all-time strikeout list.

At the start of the 1982 season, the 55-year-old mark of the great Walter Johnson still stood at 3,508 strikeouts, but now there were three pitchers who would start the season within 100 strikeouts of Johnson: Nolan Ryan (3,494), Gaylord Perry (3,452), and Carlton (3,434). Ryan would be the first to surpass Johnson on April 22, against the Montreal Expos. However a stint on the disabled list shortly after setting the record, combined with a spectacular season by Carlton, allowed him to make up ground rather quickly and on June 7, , Carlton passed Ryan as the all time strikeout king with 3,526 to Ryan's 3,524. There would be a total of 14-lead changes and one tie that season, often after each of their respective starts, before the season ended with Carlton leading 3,709-3,677. Gaylord Perry, aging and in his final season, was never a factor, although he did eventually pass Johnson to finish his career with 3,534 strikeouts. Since then five other pitchers have surpassed Johnson's mark and he has now plummeted to ninth place on the all time strikeout list.

There would be five more lead changes and a tie in before Carlton ran out of gas. His last ever lead in the all-time strikeout race was after his start on September 4 when he struck out four Cubs to lead Ryan by three (3,857-3,854). Although the season ended with a mere two-strikeout lead for Ryan (3,874-3,872), Carlton had an injury-riddled season in and an even worse season in before being released by the Phillies just 18 strikeouts short of 4,000.


San Francisco Giants

He caught on with the San Francisco Giants, but pitched ineffectively save for seven shutout innings in a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in which he also hit a 3-run homer for his only win as a Giant. He would hang around just long enough to collect his 4,000th strikeout (against Eric Davis) before retiring. He went 1-3 with a 5.10 ERA in six games for the Giants. He did however break his self imposed boycott of the media, giving a press conference after signing with the Giants.

Chicago White Sox

His retirement was brief: he almost immediately signed with the Chicago White Sox for the remainder of the season. He was surprisingly effective, going 4-3 with a respectable 3.69 ERA, but was not offered a contract for .

Cleveland Indians

He caught on with the lowly Cleveland Indians, where his most notable achievement was teaming up with Phil Niekro in a game against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadiummarker where they became the first teammates and 300-game winners to appear in the same game. Both were ineffective in a 10-6 Yankee victory. It would be his first and only pitching appearance in Yankee Stadium, having spent the majority of his career in the National League before the inception of interleague play. (He was selected to the 1977 National League All-Star team which was held in Yankee Stadium, but he didn't appear in the game.)

Minnesota Twins

He was traded to the Minnesota Twins, where he was yet again ineffective. He went a combined 6-14 with a 5.74 ERA for both the Indians and Twins. However the Twins, who had been a bad team for most of the 1980s, would go on to a surprising win in the 1987 World Series, albeit without Carlton on the postseason roster, to earn him a third World Series ring and a trip to the White Housemarker to meet President Reagan along with his teammates. Interestingly, when Carlton was photographed with his teammates at the White House, newspapers listed each member of the team with the notable exception of Carlton. Instead, Carlton was listed as an "unidentified Secret Service agent." The Twins brought him back in but he lasted only a month (0-1 16.76 ERA in four games) before the Twins released him.


He attempted to find work in but found no takers. The closest thing to an offer was the New York Yankees offering him the use of their facilities for training purposes but no spot on the spring training team. Nolan Ryan would pitch until and would extend his strikeout lead over Carlton to almost 1,600 before retiring. Carlton would eventually fall to third and then fourth place on the all time strikeout list after Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson passed him.


A ten-time All-Star, Carlton led the league in many pitching categories. He struck out 4,136 batters in his career, setting a record for a left-handed pitcher (since surpassed by Randy Johnson), and holds many other records for both left-handed and Phillies pitchers. His 329 career wins are the eleventh most in baseball history, behind Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, and Warren Spahn among pitchers of the live-ball era (post- ).

Carlton picked 144 runners off base, by far the most in Major League Baseball since pickoff records began being collected in 1957. Jerry Koosman is second with 82.

He never threw a no hitter, but pitched six one-hitters.

Carlton was elected to the Baseball Hall of Famemarker in with 96% of the vote, one of the highest percentages ever. The Phillies retired his number 32, and honored him with a statue outside Veterans Stadiummarker that was later moved to Citizens Bank Parkmarker (along with a similar statue of fellow Phillies Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt). In , he ranked number 30 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, and was a nominee for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. Despite his career-long rivalry with Ryan, Carlton maintains his greatest rival was Tom Seaver.

Carlton appeared in an episode of Married... with Children, playing himself in an episode where former athletes humiliate Al Bundy while filming a shoe commercial. In the episode, Bud asks him for an autograph and he is shown writing with his right hand.

Steve Carlton is the last pitcher to ever throw 300 innings in a single season.

See also


  1. "Imagination, It's Funny" by William Leggett, Sports Illustrated, August 21 1972
  2. "Steve Carlton's Long Winning Streak in '72 Still Amazing" by Ted Silary from Baseball Digest Nov 1992
  3. Paul Cheffers lived in Philadelphia in 1972, listened to the Phillies on the radio and attended several games where Steve Carlton pitched.

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