Steven Norman Carlton (born December 22, 1944), nicknamed "Lefty", is a former Major League Baseball left-handed pitcher. He pitched from 1965-1988 for six different teams in his career, but it is his time with the Philadelphia Phillies where he received his greatest acclaim as a professional and won four Cy Young Awards. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994. As of 2011, 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 1982 and 1984, 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) 1972 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).
Carlton was born and reared in Miami, Florida, where he played little league and American Legion baseball during his youth. He attended North Miami High School, and later Miami-Dade Community College. In 1963, while a student at Miami-Dade, he signed with the St. Louis Cardinals for a $5,000 bonus. Carlton debuted with the St. Louis Cardinals as a 20-year-old in 1965 and by 1967 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, 1969, 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 1970. He proceeded to go 10-19 with a 3.73 ERA, leading the NL in losses. In 1971, he became a 20-game winner for the first time, going 20-9 with a 3.56 ERA. Following a salary dispute, Cardinals owner Gussie Busch ordered Carlton traded. Eventually, he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies before the 1972 season for pitcher Rick Wise. The trade is now considered one of the most lopsided deals in baseball history. However, at the time, the trade appeared to make some sense from the Cardinals' perspective. Carlton had won 77 games to Wise's 75, and both were considered the best pitchers in the game. Tim McCarver, caught for Carlton in St. Louis and for Wise in Philadelphia, described the trade as "a real good one for a real good one." He felt that Carlton had more raw talent, but Wise had better command on the mound. Nonetheless, the trade is now reckoned as an epoch-making deal for the Phillies, as well as one of the worst trades in Cardinals history. While Wise stayed in the majors for another 11 years, only two of them (1972 and 1973) were in St. Louis.
In Carlton's first season with Philadelphia, 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. Some highlights of Carlton's 1972 season included starting the season with 5 wins and 1 loss, then losing 5 games in a row, during which the Phillies scored only 10 runs. At this point he began a 15-game winning streak. After it ended at a 20-6 record, he finished the final third of the year with 7 more wins and 4 losses, ending with 27 wins and 10 losses. Since he completed 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 and 28 runs (only 17 in the winning games), issued 39 walks, and had 140 strikeouts. From July 19, 1972 to August 13, 1972 he pitched six complete games, won six games, allowed only 1 earned run, and threw 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 continued to enjoy many years of success with the Phillies, winning the Cy Young Award in 1972, 1977, 1980, and 1982, 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 1981, and helped the Phillies to another pennant in 1983, but lost to the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. On September 23, 1983, in a game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Carlton won the 300th game of his career, becoming the 15th pitcher to accomplish the feat.
Over a three year period between 1982-1984, Carlton was involved in an interesting pitching duel with Nolan Ryan,& Gaylord Perry, 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, 1983 against the Montreal Expos. However a stint on the disabled list shortly after he set the record, combined with a spectacular season by Carlton, allowed Carlton to make up ground and on June 7, 1983, 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 to 3,677. Gaylord Perry, aging and in his final season, was never a huge 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 fallen to ninth place on the all time strikeout list. There would be five more lead changes and a tie in 1984 before Carlton ran out of gas. His last-ever lead in the all-time strikeout race was after his start on September 4, 1984, when he struck out four Cubs to lead Ryan by three (3,857 to 3,854). Although the season ended with a mere two-strikeout lead for Ryan (3,874 to 3,872), Carlton had an injury-riddled season in 1985 and an even worse season in 1986 before being released by the Phillies just 18 strikeouts short of 4,000.
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.
His retirement was brief: he almost immediately signed with the Chicago White Sox for the remainder of the 1986 season. He was effective, going 4-3 with a respectable 3.69 ERA, but was not offered a contract for 1987.
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 Stadium, 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.)
He was traded to the Minnesota Twins, who 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 House to meet President Reagan along with his teammates. The Twins brought him back in 1988 but he lasted only a month before the Twins released 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-1920). Steve Carlton's number 32 was retired by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1989. 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 Fame in 1994 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 Stadium that was later moved to Citizens Bank Park (along with a similar statue of fellow Phillies Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt). In 1998, The Sporting News ranked him number 30 on its list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players. In 1999, he was a nominee for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.