Historically speaking the Philadelphia Phillies have always had some of the best pitchers in the game at their respective times, whether it was Grover Cleveland Alexander back in the 1910s, Jim Bunning in the 1960s, or Roy Halladay in the 2010s. But today, the legend in focus is Steve Carlton, who pitched for the Phillies in the 1970s to mid-1980s.
Steve Carlton was born in Miami, Fl. It was during his high school years that he broke out as a star pitcher, but it wasn't until 1965 when he was pitching at Miami Dade College when he was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals.
Carlton started with the Cardinals in the bullpen. Two years into his career, he was moved to the starting rotation, along with the great Bob Gibson.
During his time with the Cardinals, Lefty would develop his form and find pitching success. Carlton would be named to the NL All-Star team three times whilst being a Cardinal. During 1972 offseason, the Cardinals traded Carlton to Philadelphia for pitcher Rick Wise.
During Carlton's first season with the Phillies in 1972, Carlton tore up the league, finishing the season with a career-high and major league-leading 27 wins, an ERA of 1.97, 310 strikeouts, and a FIP of 2.01.
Carlton would also attend his fourth All-Star game, win his first Cy Young award, Triple Crown, and would come in fifth place in NL MVP voting. His pitching record was the Phillies' shining achievement that year, with his 27 wins accounting for 45% of the Phillies overall wins as they finished the season with a record of 59-97.
Prior to joining the Phillies in 1972, Carlton had only participated in two playoff series, one being in 1967 when he was on the Cardinals championship team, and the second being in 1968 when the Cardinals would fall to the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. However, Carlton was only granted one playoff start, in Game 5 of the 1967 World Series. 1976 would be Carlton's next big season, as it'd mark the return of Philadelphia playoff baseball, thus landing him more playoff experience.
Carlton's 1976 playoff performance would play out much of the same way that his 1967 performance did, this time without the World Series ring. Carlton would take the mound against the Cincinnati Reds, making it through seven innings before being taken out after he had allowed four earned runs. Cincinnati would go on to sweep Philadelphia in the series.
In 1977, Carlton would secure his second Cy Young award after winning 23 games, maintaining an ERA of 2.64, and a FIP of 3.47. This definitely wasn't as strong as a ballot as his first Cy Young campaign, but it got the job done and saw him bring the award home to Philadelphia.
For the second straight year, the Phillies would make the playoffs, this time squaring off against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
For Carlton, this series would be more than anything he had experienced before, as he started multiple games in the same series. First taking the mound in Game 1, where he'd have a rocky start, allowing five earn runs and only striking out three batters. His second start was in Game 4 when the Phillies had their backs against the wall. For the second straight start, Carlton would crumble under the pressure, walking five batters and allowing four earned runs.
1978 and 1979 would follow the trend set by Carlton's previous seasons, as he continued to help lead Philadelphia to the playoffs in 1978. Although much like 1977, to no avail, but more importantly, Carlton would start to gather that playoff experience that would soon pay off.
Perhaps the biggest season of Carlton's career was in 1980, which was also a championship year for the Phillies. He took to the mound for a major league-leading 304 innings, in which he won 24 games, and struck out 286 batters, which also led the majors. This would propel Carlton to winning his third Cy Young Award in just eight years.
Carlton's performance during the 1980 season helped Philadelphia make it into the playoffs, beating the Houston Astros in the NLCS to make it to the Fall Classic against George Brett and the Kansas City Royals.
The 1980 Fall Classic would be Carlton's third World Series trip, where all of the experience he gathered over the previous 15 seasons would finally come to fruition. He would take the mound for the Phillies in Games 2 and 6 of the World Series.
Game 2 would see Lefty strike out 10 Royals before being taken out in the ninth inning, going on to earn the win for the Phillies. But it was in Game 6 where he would really come up clutch for the Phillies, striking out seven, and only allowing four hits, leading his team to their first World Series title.
In 1981, he would post a record of 13-4, an ERA of 2.42, a WHIP of 1.12, and a major league-leading SO/9 of 8.5. Carlton would come close to winning his third Cy Young award, but would lose out to New York Mets' Tom Seaver. Once again, Carlton got to taste October baseball, but the Phillies would ultimately lose in the NLDS to the Montreal Expos.
In 1982, Carlton was dominant, mirroring his 1972 season. Carlton had a MLB-leading 23 wins, 19 complete games, 286 strikeouts, and a FIP of 2.41. When you lead the MLB in this many categories, it's no surprise when you win the NL Cy Young award, which would be the fourth and final time Carlton would lift the award during his illustrious and well-decorated career.
1982 would be the last big season of Carlton's career. The 37-year-old was still a workhorse for Philadelphia, but as his career wound down, his age played a factor in dwindling his stats more and more.
1983 would be rather quiet for Carlton after he had pitched to a 15-15 record, with only two real highlights, one being Carlton leading MLB in SO/9, and the second being on Sept. 23, when he picked up his 300th career win against his former team.
This season would also mark the last time Carlton would partake in playoff baseball. The Phillies beat the Dodgers in the NLCS to advance to the World Series, but eventually lost to the Baltimore Orioles.
Carlton would play two more seasons for the Phillies before being traded to the Giants in 1986, where he'd be traded that same season to the Chicago White Sox. After 24 seasons, Carlton retired in 1988 when he was a member of the Minnesota Twins.
Let's take a look back at accolades Carlton achieved during his impressive career:
Inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame (1994)
2x World Series Champion (1967, 1980)
4x NL Cy Young Award Winner
1x Triple Crown (1972)
1x Gold Glove (1981)
Following his retirement, Carlton found himself a first-ballot Hall of Famer after being inducted into Cooperstown in 1994. Along with his spot in Cooperstown, he also has a spot on the Phillies' Wall of Fame, as well as having a statue erected of him in 2004 and his iconic number 32 retired. The Phillies have done a lot to commemorate potentially the best pitcher to don the red pinstripes.
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