There is something nice and reassuring about picking up the sports section and seeing the names Carlton and Seaver listed among the day's "Probable Pitchers." Except that in Sunday's paper, quite improbably, Steve Carlton was slated to start for the San Francisco Giants, while Tom Seaver was going for the Boston Red Sox. The two certain Hall of Famers, the best pitchers of their generation, found themselves in new surroundings as their clubs prepared for their respective second-half pennant races, and it was strange to see their names tied to different places.
Actually, Carlton was the bigger surprise of the two, not only because the Giants signed him, but also because he, the human clam, chose to commemorate the occasion with—now get a grip on yourselves—a press conference. Is it finally true of Carlton, as it was once said of Bob Meusel, a distant star of another time, that "he finally learned to say hello when it was time to say goodbye?"
Not even Carlton could remember accurately the last time he talked to the press. He told the stunned reporters in the Candlestick Park clubhouse last Friday that "I've had it good for 10 years," meaning he hadn't obliged an inquiring newsman for that long. But a historian in the assemblage vaguely recalled Carlton addressing the press during the 1978 National League playoffs, and that would make it a mere eight years of holding his tongue. But there he was on Friday, fielding questions as if he were some hired spokesperson. He even went so far as to say, "You can't make a move like this without talking to the media." You can't?
The move he had in mind was the one from somewhere near oblivion to the shores of San Francisco Bay. The Phillies, Carlton's employers for the past 14 years, dropped him like a sack of old laundry on June 25, concluding with considerable evidence on their side that the 318-game winner was washed up. Carlton thought otherwise, and so he shopped himself around, conferring, as he admitted in his historic media confrontation, with the Yankees, the Braves, the Reds and the Angels. But the Giants were the most eager to sign him and, in his view, they had the most to offer. "I love the city," he said. "...a helluva town, great dining...Napa Valley's close. I'm sort of a wine buff." He is also, at least in his opinion, still a pitcher, and the Giants not only have a winning team but, in Roger Craig, one of the game's keenest pitching scholars as their manager.
July 13, 1986
Carlton may have been further influenced by a conversation he had in late May with Mike Krukow, a former Phillies teammate who is currently the ace of Craig's staff. "I told Lefty this is the happiest I've been in four years," Krukow said of playing under Craig. "I told him my pitching mechanics had never been better and that Roger had had a lot to do with that. I told him Roger had also instilled confidence in all of us pitchers. Lefty seemed intrigued and impressed."
The Giants got Carlton for a song. The Phillies are obliged to pay his $1.1 million salary for the season; the Giants will chip in little more than the equivalent of the minimum player wage for half a season—about $30,000. But Carlton hadn't been worth even that piddling sum in his 16 starts for Philadelphia, of which he'd won four and lost eight. His earned run average when he went to the Giants was a messy 6.18, and it was a horrendous 12.56 for his last four starts. Since 1984 he has had only one complete game, and since the start of the '85 season he has had only five wins. He's also 41 years old. But Craig, who has already steered Krukow (10-4) and Mike LaCoss (8-3) toward their best seasons, is convinced the old lefthander can help the Giants in their second-half drive for a division championship. To prove his faith, he immediately transferred Scott Garrelts, a bullpen star last year and an erratic starter this year, to short relief and replaced him in the rotation with Carlton. And he gave Carlton his first San Francisco start just two days after he signed.
Sunday was Willie McCovey Hall of Fame Day at Candlestick, as well as Carlton's debut day, and 40,473 fans paid to see the grand old hero honored for his recent election to the baseball Hall of Fame and to find out what, if anything, the Giants' brand-new pitcher had left. McCovey, as gracious an athlete as ever pulled on a sock, did not let Carlton's arrival go unrecognized. In a speech in which he thanked everyone from Willie Mays—"it was an honor to wear the same uniform you wore"—to old boss and retiring NL President Chub Feeney, McCovey did not skip the southpaw oenophile. "And Steve Carlton," said Stretch, "welcome to San Francisco. You couldn't be at a better place."
Carlton must have thought the same thing as he took the mound to resounding cheers. But the first batter he faced, the Cardinals' Vince Coleman, doubled to left, and though he didn't score, there were indications—25 pitches in the inning—that Lefty was struggling. In the third, he gave up three hits and two runs. With another run in, one out and runners on first and third in the fourth, Craig came out to get him. Carlton had thrown 77 pitches in just 3‚Öì innings, given up eight hits, walked two and allowed three runs. His reliever, Mark Davis, saved him even more trouble by getting Willie McGee to ground into an inning-ending double play. Carlton left the game with the Giants trailing 3-0. No problem this year. Pinch hitter extraordinaire Candy Maldonado (12 for 27,4 homers, 16 RBIs in that role) drove in two runs with a bases-loaded single in the seventh and the Giants got six more in a crazy eighth inning on only three hits, two sacrifice flies, the team's 12th successful suicide squeeze and three Cardinal errors. Davis, Greg Minton and Garrelts shut down the Cardinals from the time of Lefty's departure. The Giants, who finished the week leading the NL West, have been doing that sort of thing all season. They've got an enthusiastic bunch of kids (10 rookies have played), whom, as their slogan implores, "you gotta like" and a manager so relentlessly cheerful and optimistic he has a HUMM BABY sign affixed to the wall above his office door.
Craig, needless to say, was not discouraged by his new pitcher's unimpressive start. On the contrary, "I was impressed," he said. "We clocked his pitches at about 88, 89 [miles an hour], but it will take him two or three more starts to get real pop on the ball. He hadn't pitched in 10 days [15 days, actually] and he was a little rusty. He's still rushing the ball a little, but we'll have him 100 percent after the All-Star Game."
Carlton's catcher, Bob Melvin, was equally taken with the new man. "He threw the ball where he wanted to throw it," Melvin said. "I think he'll be one of our best starters. He's like a robot out there. He just shuts out all emotion. I was the one who was excited...just by the idea of catching him." And Melvin, whose locker in the Giants' clubhouse is in between those of part-time coaches Mays and McCovey, is now not so easily impressed by greatness.
The cold fact remains, however, that Carlton didn't pitch very well. He had had a disconcerting week, of course, what with a landmark press conference and a new job. Still, the weak-hitting Cardinals (.230 team batting average) hammered him. Krukow is convinced that under the patient and analytical Craig, Carlton will regain some of his majestic form. And Craig, who will limit the number of pitches Carlton throws, has no intention of rushing the process. After the All-Star break, he expects to have yet another starter, Roger Mason, back from the disabled list, and with Garrelts anchoring the bullpen, the Giants feel they are ready for a second-half roll.
So what does the new guy think about all this? How does he assess his own progress? Surely, in his new gabby frame of mind, he would have something to say about these important issues. A score or more of media representatives assembled before his locker after the Sunday game to catch his next public utterance. This time, waiting for Lefty proved a futile enterprise. An hour or so after the game, Carlton was observed slipping out a back door into the gathering dusk. Probably had a sore throat from all that chatter of a couple of days before. Either that or Carlton thought his pitching just wasn't worth talking about. He might have a point there.
Meanwhile, a continent away, Seaver was making his second start for the Red Sox, after coming over from the White Sox for infielder-outfielder Steve Lyons ("Cy Young for Psy-cho," suggested one writer, referring to Seaver's talent and Lyons's nickname). Seaver had told White Sox executive Ken Harrelson he might retire at the All-Star break if he weren't traded close to his home, and so the trade was consummated on June 29. Fenway Park is not exactly a commute from Greenwich, Conn., but at least Seaver was reunited with his old Cincinnati manager, John McNamara, and pitching coach, Bill Fischer.
Upon Seaver's arrival, several of his teammates acted like star-struck teeny-boppers. As reliever Joe Sambito recalled to SI's Peter Gammons, "In 1970 I wrote my senior English thesis at Bethpage [N.Y.] High School on the Miracle Mets and Tom Seaver. I only got a C+, but my teacher didn't appreciate good literature. Every kid who pitched where I grew up had to have his knee dirty." Pitcher' Al Nipper swore that while growing up in St. Louis, he saw every one of Seaver's starts against the Cardinals. After Seaver moved into a locker next to that of Roger Clemens, Nipper said, "This is the first time that two pitchers who struck out 19 batters in one game have lockered next to each other."
When Seaver came out of the dugout on the evening of July 1 to warm up for his Boston debut, he received his first standing ovation; when he walked back from the bullpen at 7:25, he got another; and when he went to the mound against the Blue Jays, he received yet a third standing O. Each time, he tipped his cap, which meant that before he even threw a pitch, he had tipped his cap to a Boston audience three more times than Ted Williams had in his entire career.
Seaver's first start was hardly a masterpiece, although he did exactly what McNamara promised he would do: "keep us in the game." The Red Sox staked him to an early 7-1 lead, and Seaver left the game after the seventh with Boston ahead 9-4. When he didn't come out for the eighth, the 32,729 fans stood and chanted, "Sea-vah, Sea-vah," for more than three minutes. Sambito got the save in the 9-7 victory and made sure he kept the ball from the final out to have it autographed by Seaver. "This is special," said Sambito. "I always want to remember I saved Tom Seaver's first win in Boston."
Seaver said, "The reception I received here from both teammates and fans has been nothing short of spectacular. I'd like to earn this kind of feeling with performance. The Red Sox got into first place without me. I have to prove to them I can still pitch effectively. When I feel I've contributed, then I'll be really happy."
He certainly contributed on Sunday against Seattle. Seaver picked up his 308th win by giving up only four hits and one run—unearned—in seven innings as the Sox beat the Mariners 7-3. The way things are going, the Red Sox and Mets are heading for the World Series and what an improbable thing that would be, Seaver of Boston versus the team he pitched to a world championship 17 years ago.
And maybe that old chatterbox, Steve Carlton, could be up in the broadcast booth working the Series for NBC.
LEFTY MOUTHS OFF: A HISTORIC TRANSCRIPT
Steve Carlton had not talked to the media through two Cy Young Awards, two World Series and his 300th victory. But he agreed to a press conference on July 4 at Candlestick Park to explain his decision to sign with the Giants. Here is an edited transcript of that historic conference, which began at 12:32 p.m., Pacific time:
SC: Pardon me if I make any mistakes. Go ahead, shoot, whattaya like. Nothing of the past, O.K.? Just contemporary stuff.
Q: Why San Francisco?
SC: Well, there weren't a whole lot of teams interested. Roger Craig had a lot to do with it, I like the climate out here. I don't care for the wind per se but I like the colder weather. It's a helluva city. I've always liked San Francisco.
Q: What do you think you can add to the Giants?
SC: I can win. I can still win. The problems I had in the past were strictly mechanical. It wasn't a matter of losing anything, my arm is sound. I had no physical problems, it was just something mechanical. I never had the time to work it out. They [the Phillies] wanted to go with the youth movement, which is the reason I'm here now.
Q: Why did you decide to talk to us?
SC: Well, you can't make a move like this and not talk to the media. I don't know about the future, we'll see what that holds. But this is fine, no problems.
Q: The fact that the Giants are in the pennant race, does that have anything to do with it?
SC: That has a lot to do with it, yeah. You want to be with a contender. These guys have got a lot of talent on the club, they can go all the way. I think I can contribute to a lot of that. I can still pitch effectively and still win.
Q: There are a lot of young players here. Do you see yourself as being a teacher as well as a pitcher?
SC: Well I've been around for 20 years. If they have some questions I'll be glad to answer them if I can, but I didn't come over here to be a coach. I came over to pitch.
Q: You played with Roger Craig back in '64. What kind of a player was he?
SC: I don't remember much being just a rookie like that. I was just awed with being in big league stadiums and Roger was.... I remember one thing: He was crafty, he could always get you out. But I don't remember a whole lot about it. That was a long time ago.
Q: Was that a factor, your coming here, that you knew Roger?
SC: Yeah, it was, a lot. Roger is a pitcher's manager. He understands part of the problems I was having. I think he'll be a little more patient with my pitching.
Q: How do you like pitching in this park over the years?
SC: I don't know recordwise what I've done here, but I remember pitching fairly successfully here. Like I say, I like the colder climate. Nobody likes the wind down here, but I do like the colder weather to pitch in. It always makes you feel good...I like the team. I know a few of the guys. I don't know everybody on the club, but, I've played with [Mike] Krukow in the past, and I know Atlee [Hammaker] and Joel Youngblood and some of the other guys, and that has a lot to do with it. Like I said, I love the city. I've always liked San Francisco ever since I was in the National League. It's a helluva town, great dining and areas like that. The Napa Valley's close. I'm sort of a wine buff so that has a lot to do with it. And my wife's never seen San Francisco. So I thought, well, here's one way to see it.
Q: Who are the other teams that were interested in you?
SC: Well, I talked with George Steinbrenner, Cincinnati and we talked with the Angels. I spoke briefly with Atlanta, and there might have been one or two other teams, but nothing was very serious. I wanted to pitch, I wanted to get back pitching, that's very important. I was down for 10 days, you know, not throwing to a catcher, so it's important to get back and throw.
Q: Excuse me, have you come to grips with the fact that you might not pitch again?
SC: No, I would have walked away from the game if I felt that I had maximized all my efforts. I would have just walked away. I would have retired then. But, I knew I wasn't...my mechanics were a problem. My arm wasn't completely as strong as I'd hoped it would be. I wasn't getting a lot of innings each week. And all those things were a detriment to pitching. You gotta pitch. You gotta get out there and pitch. And I knew I could...I had some good games. I struck out 10 Mets in six innings, pitched well here. So, I'm capable of that kind of game.
Q: I don't know if you've talked about this, but have you had a chance to talk to any other players?
SC: No, just, 'Hi, how you doin'?
Q: Steve, I think we're all pleased that you're giving this interview. Do you think that there'll be a change now, that you'll be talking to the press?
SC: Uh...I...[laughter] I don't know, we'll have to wait and see. I had it good for 10 years, and that's the way I liked it. The press was very favorable to me in my abstinence from speaking, and we'll just have to wait and see.