The Phillies Nation Top 100: #2 Steve Carlton – Phillies Nation

The Phillies Nation Top 100: #2 Steve Carlton

The Phillies Nation Top 100 continues today with #2. Our mission is to assess the Top 100 Phillies players of all time using impact to the Phillies, individual achievement, team achievement, traditional stats, and analytics as our criteria. The list was compiled by Ian Riccaboni and Pat Gallen with input from the rest of the Phillies Nation staff. 

From this point forward, each weekday, we will reveal two Phillies from the PN Top 100 in separate posts. To view the players listed thus far, please click here. To view the 2008 iteration of the list of Greatest Phillies of All Time as compiled by Tim Malcolm, please click here.

Please check back tomorrow for the Greatest Phillie of All Time. – Steve Carlton

Years: 1972-1986

241-161, 3.09 ERA, 1.211 WHIP in 3697.1 IP

Previous Rank: 2 (No Change)

fWAR Phillies Rank: 1st among pitchers, 2nd among Phillies

First-Ballot Hall of Fame Selection in 1994 as a Phillie

Won Four Cy Young Awards as a Phillie (1972, 1977, 1980, 1982)

Seven NL All-Star Selections as a Phillie, Won Gold Glove (1981)

Won 20 Games five times and 13 games or more in 13-straight seasons as a Phillie

All-Time leader in games started, wins, and strikeouts in Phillies history,

Signature Season: Went 27-10 for the 59-97 Phillies in 1972 with a career-low 1.97 ERA en route to his first Cy Young

Signature Series: Went 2-0 with a 0.66 ERA in 13.2 IP in the 1983 NLCS

Signature Game: Went seven innings, giving up only one earned in the 1980 Series-clinching Game Six en route to a win and the Phillies’ first World Series victory

Lefty, the greatest pitcher in Phillies history. Acquired from the Cardinals in a trade for the Top 100’s #40, Rick Wise, Carlton joined the Phillies a year after they had won just 67 games. Carlton came to the Phillies with an impressive pedigree: a World Series champion in 1967 with St. Louis, Carlton, at age 27, had already been a three-time selection to the NL All-Star team. Because of a contractual situation that decreased the Cardinals leverage, the Phillies were able to execute perhaps the greatest trade in franchise history: trading a very good pitcher for a pitcher that ranks among the greatest in not only franchise but baseball history.

Carlton would arrive in time for Spring Training in 1972 and immediately set a higher standard for pitching. Despite the team winning eight less games in 1972 than the season before (67 to 59), Carlton would win 27 decisions on his own, the highest in club history since Robin Roberts won 28 in 1952 on a team that went 87-67. Carlton earned the winning decision in 45.76% of his team’s games and was worth an astounding 12.1 fWAR to his team. Wise was worth 5.5 WAR that season, meaning, had the trade not happened, the Phillies likely would have hovered around 51-53 wins, making them one of the worst teams in history.

The Phillies trade for Steve Carlton single-handedly altered the directions that both the Phillies and Cardinals would take. From 1973 through 1980, the Cardinals would come close but fall short of a series of NL East crowns before breaking through in 1981. The Phillies, on the other hand, would put the pieces together in 1976 and win four division titles and a World Series crown in that time. During his parts of 15 seasons with the Phils, Carlton led baseball in wins while ranking second in WAR, games started, innings pitched, and strikeouts. His iconic 1972 Cy Young win would be his first of four with the Phillies, earning the award for the league’s best pitcher in 1977, 1980, and 1982 as well.

One of the very few knocks on Carlton is the fact that early in his time with the Phillies, Lefty struggled in the postseason. In his first three Phillies’ postseasons, Lefty posted a 1-2 record with a 5.53 ERA and a .269/.355/.472 BAA, dropping Game One of the 1976 NLCS against the Reds and the series ending Game Four of the 1977 NLCS against the Dodgers. In the Phillies return to the postseason in 1980 after missing the playoffs in 1979 for the first time in three seasons, Lefty was a different pitcher. Carlton went 3-0 in the 1980 playoffs, including wins in Game Two and Game Six of the 1980 World Series. Carlton would channel similar postseason dominance in 1983, putting up a League Championship series for the ages, going 13.2 innings against the Dodgers, striking out 13, and earning the win in Game One and the pennant-winning Game Four at the Vet.

Carlton’s time with the Phillies would conclude at age 41 when the Phillies released him on June 24, 1986. Carlton would play through 1988, spending time with the Giants, White Sox, Indians, and Twins. Carlton’s 329 career wins rank 11th all-time, fourth in strikeouts, sixth in games started, 75th in complete games, and 14th in shutouts. Carlton was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994 as a first-ballot selection and on to the Phillies Wall of Fame in 1989, when his number 32 was also retired.

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  1. mudmin

    February 27, 2014 at 6:13 pm

    It was an honor to have watched Lefty pitch. My first game at the vet was Lefty outduelling Nolan Ryan. I’d love to be able to go back and watch that game as an adult.

    Nothing was really said in the article about Lefty’s aloofness or his personality. I’d love to hear more about that from people who were adults during his career? I’ve heard a lot of mixed stories about his personality.

    Can’t wait to read about Rick Schu for number 1.

    • Ken Bland

      February 27, 2014 at 8:18 pm

      “I’d love to hear more about that from people who were adults during his career? I’ve heard a lot of mixed stories about his personality. ”

      The word mistake is a little too definitive for me to use it, but it’s as close as I can get to making this point. It’s not like you did anything wrong with the request in quotes, but it IS a mistake asking people to comment on his personality as conveyed during his athletic career during his Phillie years.

      The reason I say that is because I think it’s fair to say that at least in general, Carlton has this fairly fixed image, largely based on his refusal to talk to the press. I suppose sphinx is as good a word as any to apply to it.

      But I think the source of this “mixed stories” is you referenced is because Carlton was probably quite different in non public settings. So people who associated with him on a personal level have a unique perspective, particularly compared to those that just knew of his personality by image. So what anyone knows about Carlton is largely predicated upon if they actually had personal/professional dealings with him. I might be wrong, but I don’t remember hearing stories about Carlton being rude to fans.

      While a curiosity about this portrayed enigma is understandable to at least seek understanding of the personality behind the overall greatness, I don’t know that any stories shared are going to lead in that direction. He’d still be enigmatic. Probably best to just appreciate the greatness he put together in his career. Maybe he deserves that simplicity by way of his having been gone from the game for about 3 decades, and to my awareness, he’s stayed out of trouble, and nobody has told after the fact post career stories that portrayed him as a jerk. He’s been portrayed as unique in his thinking, but as it’s seemingly within the framework of the law, that’s pretty acceptable. To summarize, to me, it’s best to just appreciate his career as a pitcher, because without a personal relationship with this particular guy, it’s a waste of time trying to figure him out.

      I guess I should add to my reply that this perspective is based on a handful of personal contact situations with Carlton, and based on his being as pleasant and cordial as any guy who actually has such an upbeat image and perhaps actual substance (Kirby Puckett comes to mind as an example), it’s always been easy for me to believe that Carlton’s sphinx image with the press was a matter of principle, and consistency, and not disdain for the media. I thought it was terrific how he seemed very secure in marching to his standard with great consistency.

      • mudmin

        February 28, 2014 at 5:08 pm

        Sorry Ken. I think it is totally reasonable to ask for stories about the man himself… Especially because he was such an enigma. I’ve enjoyed reading the stories…including yours.

    • photoFred

      February 27, 2014 at 9:46 pm

      It was my observation at the time that, when 1973 didn’t go well, Carlton changed his approach to the media. After that amazing 1972 season he was everywhere, highly visible, even doing ads for local car dealerships as I remember. I can’t speak to the cause and effect relationship but it seemed that he retreated, refocussed, and became the intense single-minded athlete after 1973 failed to live up to the previous year.

    • wbramh

      February 28, 2014 at 1:21 am

      I never had the pleasure of meeting Lefty but apparently he was/is indeed a pleasure to know.

      I did know Harry Kalas pretty well and once asked him what the mysterious Steve Carlton was really like.
      Harry’s face lit up at the name.
      “Lefty? He’s a great guy – one of the nicest guys on the team!”

      Apparently, Harry used to socialize with Carlton – or at least go fishing with him.

      I sensed the only nasty thing about Steve was his slider.

  2. Laura Hoogerwerff

    February 27, 2014 at 8:17 pm

    The best pitcher I’ve ever seen. He always seemed so in control. Was never flustered by bad plays behind him.

  3. Jay Edwards

    February 27, 2014 at 9:21 pm

    I was privileged to watch him pitch on many occasions, the most memorable being Game 2 of the 1980 WS. His slider was second to none. And his focus, concentration, and conditioning made Doc Halladay look like a hyperactive couch potato.

    A couple things worth mentioning. One, he controlled the running game well with one of the sneakiest pickoff moves ever. It was a borderline balk — and he did get called for that quite a bit — but he would nail a few dozen runners a year. Half the time he would deliver a pitch and the runner would be diving back to first. And two, he could hit as well. No Drysdale, but he was far from an automatic out, having a .201 career BA and 13 HR (plus another in the playoffs).

    His decision to stop talking to the media was, in retrospect, a good one. When he did start talking again you realized it was better when he was “Silent Steve.” He did his talking on the field, and as phenomenal as he was, that was all that was necessary.

    • wbramh

      February 28, 2014 at 2:28 am

      I was sitting near the last row of the upper deck in left center (near the flag pole) for that 2nd game in 1980.

      Carlton was magnificent with 10 SOs but was also just missing a walked another 6. But what was most memorable was the fact that the most exciting play of any game I’ve ever attended occurred in the 8th inning – and I didn’t see it – just heard it.

      For a quick recap, the Phils faced the always tough Dan Quisenberry entering the 8th inning and were down to the Royals by a score of 4-2.

      Boone worked Quisenberry for a walk on a full count and Unser (pinch-hitting for Lonnie Smith) drove him in with a double to left center. Rose grounded to first sending Unser to 3rd who quickly scored on a first-pitch single by McBride. With the score now tied and McBride on 1st, Michael Jack Schmidt came to bat.

      Schmidt jumped on Quisenberry’s first offering. The ball shot out from his bat like a rocket on a rope and headed for left center field. The sound of the crack of the bat reached my distant seat at about the same time the ball disappeared from my view which was obstructed by the curve of the stands. Everyone in my section held their collective breath until we heard the distinctive and beautiful sound of the ball colliding with the wooden fence. A delayed roar surged from our section and others around me like a rolling wave as the reality of Schmidt’s feat sunk in. Mike easily made it to second and took 3rd when the relay to the plate was too late to nab McBride from scoring what turned out to be the winning run.

      And that’s how I heard the most exciting play I never saw.
      To this day, I’d swear I had the best seat in the house.

      • wbramh

        February 28, 2014 at 2:41 am

        Important typo correction note: Mike’s line drive went to Right center field, not left center – which is why the view was that much more obstructed and the time lag of the sound reaching our section was greater.

      • Jay Edwards

        February 28, 2014 at 9:42 am

        Through a bizarre confluence of events I got to sit in the 200 level above first base — to this day the best seats I ever had. When we were down 4-2 nobody panicked — after Game 5 of the NLCS anything was possible. Unser was the most clutch pinch-hitter I ever saw (remember when he hit 3 straight pinch home runs? I was at the game for his next pinch AB — and they intentionally walked him. The boos rained down in a flood). Then when Schmidt doubled over Cardenal’s head you knew — as if you needed more proof — that team was magic.

        You’re right, Lefty was uncharacteristically wild that game. Don’t forget, he was approaching 350 innings for that year. But he kept the team in the game with grit, against a really tough Royals lineup. Then Ron Reed came in to close it out because Tug McGraw had thrown about 87 innings the previous few weeks.

      • wbramh

        February 28, 2014 at 12:29 pm

        I recall reading somewhere a quote from Lefty claiming he never attempted to throw a strike on a full count. Does that quote sound familiar or am I imagining it?

  4. RAH

    February 27, 2014 at 9:24 pm

    The thought that comes to mind as I recall Lefty was how smooth and in control he always seemed on the mound. As a fan you always felt super secure and confident when he was pitching. A win felt almost like a certainty. I also remember him being a dangerous hitter with surprising power for a pitcher. Lefty is the greatest Philly pitcher of my lifetime followed by Doc, Schilling, Cliff and Cole.

  5. Bart Shart

    February 27, 2014 at 9:28 pm

    According to Tim McCarver, announcer, personal friend of Carlton and Carlton’s designated catcher for a number of years — Steve Carlton was a very bright individual and was very nonconformist in his thinking. McCarver said he never met anyone quite like Steve. He was truly unique and had a unique perspective on life and baseball.

    What that means, I don’t know and really don’t care. I loved to watch him pitch. He really was a great one.

  6. Dan Murphy

    February 27, 2014 at 10:47 pm

    The first team Left pitched for he won 27, the Phils’ only won 59 (NOT 67 as article states). Even more impressive at 45% of the actual wins for the season. He was a master and a joy to watch pitch. His Slider was unhittable at times and he had a solid fastball too. When he lost a few feet on his fastball at the end of his career, the hitters finally hit him hard. Always silent to the Press and far ahead of his time in the work out regimen, I’m so glad I grew up watching Lefty pitch.

    • Ian Riccaboni

      February 27, 2014 at 11:32 pm

      In two separate locations, the number 59 appears and has appeared since it’s first draft. I’m not sure where the confusion lies.

      Thank you for reading.

      • Vinnie

        February 28, 2014 at 9:30 am

        “Lefty, the greatest pitcher in Phillies history. Acquired from the Cardinals in a trade for the Top 100′s #40, Rick Wise, Carlton joined the Phillies a year after they had won just 67 games. ”

        This means that the Phillies won 67 games in 1971, the year before he joined. I think this is where there is a little bit of confusion, but no harm done.

  7. Lefty

    February 28, 2014 at 5:27 am

    Carlton was simply the best left-hander I ever had the pleasure of watching. He had the most amazing, most devastating slider I have ever seen.

    The funny thing about that 1973 season when he was 13-20 was that he wasn’t that bad. Can you imagine any pitcher today throwing a league leading 293 innings and and a league leading 18 complete games in a league leading 40 starts? Can you imagine us saying that pitcher had a bad season? Yes it’s true it was a bad season for HIM, but as I remember it, the press was brutal and I really didn’t blame him for his temporary moratorium of talking to the press. How could anyone expect him to match 72?

    But then he pitched great again for many years thereafter, and came close to matching 72 again in 1980.

    • Jay Edwards

      February 28, 2014 at 4:39 pm

      Schmidt said it best — Philly is where you can experience the thrill of victory and the agony of reading about it the next day.

      • Lefty

        February 28, 2014 at 4:49 pm

        Thanks for bringing that memory back, that was a great quote.

  8. jeff orbach

    February 28, 2014 at 9:04 am

    I met lefty once when he was with with the Indians (my wife is an Indians fan) in Baltimore. That was after a doubleheader in which Phil Niekro won the first game and Carlton won the second.

    I went up to him told him I was a Phillies fan and thanked him for all the pleasure he gave us . His face lit up and he talked with me for a while and was so nice.

    Great guy, Greatest Pitcher I’ve ever seen

  9. schmenkman

    February 28, 2014 at 10:34 am

    “Carlton earned the winning decision in 45.76% of his team’s games and was worth an astounding 12.1 fWAR to his team.”

    By the way, this is the highest single-season fWAR total recorded by a pitcher since 1900.

  10. jeff orbach

    February 28, 2014 at 11:06 am

    Denny Doyle for #1

    • wbramh

      February 28, 2014 at 2:17 pm

      Ironically, the weak-hitting Denny Doyle was responsible for breaking up 3 different no-hitter bids – and getting the only hit in each of those games. He was also the only Red Sox player to get a hit in all seven games in the ’75 Cincy-Boston series.

      Another interesting statistic – Denny Doyle’s salary in the Sox 1975 pennant year was $80K, the same salary as Carlton Fisk! Fred Lynn made $38K that year and Jim Rice just $27K.
      So maybe Denny was a HOFer after all.

      The Phils have had so many terrible players over the considerable length of the franchise to make Denny’s ignoble stats among the bottom 25 precarious at best, especially since the bottom 1 through10 are all named MiniMart.

  11. Dave

    February 28, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    The best Phillies pitcher of all time – and that is not likely to change for the next 20 years at least.

  12. Lefty

    February 28, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    wbramh- I don’t remember Lefty ever saying that, but McCarver used to say it. He said most of his swinging K’s were balls low, having dropped out of the strike zone at the last second. All I remember is how nasty that slider looked on TV. It must have been something to stand in and see first hand. I can imagine myself flailing all over the place, or even more likely, bailing out on the tight ones.

    • wbramh

      February 28, 2014 at 5:27 pm

      Thanks Lefty, I ‘m sure I must have heard McCarver say it, too – especially since Tim did most of Lefty’s talking.
      As for his big slider, I think it even looked nasty from space since it started in California and ended up in France.

  13. wbramh

    February 28, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    Unless Ian and Pat celebrate April Fool’s Day on March 1, I ‘m pretty sure I know their pick for greatest Phillies’ player of all time. Sorry, but I refuse to spoil it for the rest of you.

  14. Brett

    February 28, 2014 at 9:39 pm

    I met lefty 2 years ago at the llws…he spent an hour talking to on the field during the challenger game…very personable and gracious especially since I was on the field with a press pass

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