This is the final trade in the Top 10 Trades in Phillies History. Consideration was given to the performance of the players traded with their new club v. the performance of the players acquired with the Phillies in addition to heavily weighing the success of the Phillies once the trade was completed. Thank you for following along with our countdown.
This series will be immediately followed by the Top 10 Worst Trades in Phillies History, starting approximately on July 7.
The number one trade in Phillies history should come as a surprise to very few. But at the time of the trade, one could have argued that the trade was pretty even. Let’s look at both players in a blind comparison:
Player A: Age 25, 75-76, 3.60 ERA, 1.302 WHIP, 5.2 K/9 IP, One-time All-Star
Player B: Age 26, 77-62, 3.10 ERA, 1.279 WHIP, 6.8 K/9 IP, Three-time All-Star
Player B was better but with better defense, Player A’s stats might look better. And whichever person was on the better team would benefit the most, right? Player A is right-hander Rick Wise, a player the Phillies signed as an amateur free agent in 1963. Player B is, of course, “Lefty” Steve Carlton.
Phillies General Manager John Quinn had seen the fortunes of his squad slowly deteriorating. After narrowly missing the pennant in 1964 due to a painful late season collapse, Quinn’s squads would finish no higher than fifth in the newly-created NL East, winning just 67 games in 1971. In a July 25, 1989 interview with the Philadelphia Daily News’ Stan Hochman, Wise recalled he wanted a 100 percent raise from Quinn: “After seven years with the Phillies I was only making $25,000. And then I led the league in fielding, in hitting, hit six homers, threw that no-hitter, led the Phillies’ pitchers in every major category… John Quinn offered me a $10,000 raise. “
Out in St. Louis, Cardinals’ owner Augie Busch was playing the same game with Carlton. According to Wise, Busch said “he wasn’t gonna give (Carlton) one more red cent.” Strangely, both players were traded for each other on February 25, 1972 as pitchers and catchers began to report to Spring Training and got the raises each desired but from different teams.
Wise had been an asset to the Phillies for the bulk of his seven seasons in Philadelphia. 1971 was Wise’s first All-Star season, winning 17 games for a team that only won 67, posting a career-best 2.88 ERA under manager Frank Lucchesi. Wise hit a career-high six homers including a pair during his June 23 no-hitter at Riverfront Stadium and retired 32 batters in a row on September 18, falling four shy of Harvey Haddix’s Major League mark.
Meanwhile, Carlton had made three All-Star teams as a young man on talented St. Louis Cardinals teams. Carlton won a World Series ring in 1967 with the Cardinals, tossing six innings in a Game 5 start. Carlton was on the precipice of becoming an upper echelon pitcher but had a rocky 1970 season, seeing his ERA jump from 2.17 in 1969 to 3.73 in 1970, going from 17-11 in ’69 to 10-19 in ’70. In 1971, Carlton was an All-Star once more, winning 20 games but posted an ERA of 3.56.
Tim McCarver, who had caught both pitchers, is cited by Rob Neyer in his 2006 book Big Book of Baseball Blunders is noting the trade as a “real good one for a real good one”. Until the beginning of the 1972 season, McCarver was right. By the time 1972 was over, it was very clear that the trade became a real good one for a really great one.
Carlton in 1972 was unlike any pitcher in baseball history. On a historically-bad Phillies team that won just 59 games, Carlton won the NL Cy Young and pitching’s Triple Crown with an MLB-best 27 wins and an NL-best 1.97 and 310 Ks while pitching an NL-best 346.1 innings. The Phillies scored just 503 runs and reached base at a .302 clip, both worst in the NL. Somehow, Carlton was that good to make up for a lousy Phillies offense that regularly featured .222-hitting third baseman Don Money, .222-hitting catcher John Bateman, .225-hitting right fielder Roger Freed, and .213-hitting back-up Deron Johnson.
Amazingly, General Manager Quinn wouldn’t last the season to see the fruits of his trade. Quinn was fired on June 3, 1972 and would be replaced by “The Pope” Paul Owens. Despite Carlton’s one-in-a-lifetime season in 1972, the trade had its detractors following the 1973 season. The Phillies would win 12 more games, seeing increased contributions from Greg Luzinski, Willie Montanez, and Del Unser, but Carlton took a major step backwards while Wise remained consistent and earned an All-Star birth. In 1973, Wise went 16-12 with a 3.37 ERA versus Carlton’s 13-20 mark with a 3.90 ERA.
By 1976, however, it was clear that the trade was a clear win for the Phillies. The Cardinals had traded Wise to Boston following the 1973 season while Carlton would average 18 wins a season with a 2.97 ERA from 1976 through 1984. Carlton would win his second Cy Young in 1977, third in 1980, and fourth in 1982, ultimately leading the National League in wins four teams, innings pitched five times, and strikeouts five times.
Initially, Carlton would struggle in the postseason with the Phillies until 1980. In four starts from 1976 through 1978, Carlton would go 1-2 with a 5.53 ERA with his best result coming in Game 3 of the 1978 NLCS when Lefty threw a complete game, striking out eight against the Los Angeles Dodgers. From 1980 on, however, Carlton began one of the top postseason pitching runs in Major League history.
Carlton would win three games in the 1980 postseason, beating the Astros in Game 1 of the NLCS, pitching well enough to lead to an eventual win for the Phillies but a no decision in Game 4 of the NLCS, and beating the Royals in Games 2 and 6 of the World Series, striking out a combined 17 in the World Series en route to the Phillies’ first World Series championship. Lefty would put the Phillies on his back once more in 1983, beating the Dodgers in Games 1 and 4 of the NLCS en route to their second World Series appearance in four seasons.
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. 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.
While Carlton became one of the greatest ever, Wise became a serviceable starter on some winning ball clubs. Wise would win 19 games for the 1975 AL Pennant-winning Boston Red Sox winning Game 3 of the ALCS while vulturing a win in relief in the 12th inning of the historic Game 6 of the 1975 World Series by keeping the game tied before Carlton Fisk end things with a walk off homer aided by his mojo. Wise would win 113 games with a 3.74 ERA in 11 seasons after being traded. While the numbers pale in comparison to Carlton’s 252 wins with a 3.25 ERA in 17 seasons after being traded, Wise was a fine pitcher in his own right. It’s just unfortunate for Wise that he was traded for one of the finest pitchers ever.