Steve Carlton refused to give in. He never gave in when he was the best pitcher in the game and he wasn’t giving in now. Carlton was trying to make the Philadelphia Phillies nine months after they had released him on June 24, 1986.
There were some moments during spring training in 1987 when it appeared that the old Carlton was returning, but he was generally ineffective. He didn't make the Phillies the second time around, but the first time had been fantastic.
Carlton was traded from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Phillies in exchange for Rick Wise in February 1972. It was one of the great trades in history for the Phillies. Only Grover Cleveland Alexander had ever been a greater pitcher for the Phillies than Carlton.
In his first season in Philadelphia, Carlton had one of the greatest seasons any pitcher ever had. He was 27-10 for a team that finished last with a 59-97 record. Carlton accounted for 46 percent of his team’s wins.
As a comparison, the 2001 Seattle Mariners won 116 games. Jamie Moyer, who was ancient even then, won 20 games. To win 46 percent of the Mariners’ games, Moyer would have had to win 53 games. Shades of Old Hoss Radbourn.
From 1972-84, Carlton was a top-flight pitcher. Actually, he probably was the best pitcher in the game most of those seasons.
During those years, he was 236-145 with a 3.01 ERA, a 1.23 ERA+ and a 1.190 WHIP. In 1980, he beat the Kansas City Royals twice in the World Series.
Following the 1984 season, Carlton struggled. After the Phillies released him, he played, with little success, for the San Francisco Giants, the Chicago White Sox, the Cleveland Indians and the Minnesota Twins.
At the age of 43, Carlton was forced to pack it in. His former teammate with the Phillies, Bill Campbell, said that most players couldn’t summarily retire. The reason was that it would be terrible to wake up one morning and realize that you still might be able to play.
Carlton won 329 games in his career, which is more than Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Randy Johnson and the greatest left-hander of all, Lefty Grove.