Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Philadelphia County
Hall of Fame pitcher Steve Carlton spent most of his career with the Phillies.
Awards: Baseball Hall of Fame; Cy Young Award
Born in Miami, Florida, in 1944, Steve Carlton was one of the best pitchers in baseball history. Over a twenty-four year career, Carlton led both the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies to two World Series appearances, winning with Philadelphia in 1980. Carlton became the first pitcher to win four Cy Young Awards, and currently ranks second all-time with 4,136 strikeouts. Widely considered the best left-handed pitcher ever, he was inducted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994.
Steve "Lefty" Carlton was born in Miami, Florida, on December 22, 1944. Carlton played little league and American Legion baseball while growing up in Florida and went on to pitch at Miami-Dade Community College. Carlton continued to pitch at Miami-Dade until he signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1963. He spent the majority of the next three years pitching within the Cardinals farm system before earning a spot in the Cardinals regular rotation at the end of the 1966 season. Carlton would remain in the major leagues until he retired in 1988.
Steve Carlton is considered by many to be the most dominate left-handed pitcher to ever play the game. Hall of Fame player Willie Stargell once stated that hitting Carlton "is like trying to drink coffee with a fork." Carlton began to earn this reputation during his second season, helping the Cardinals to the World Series in 1967 and again in 1968. Carlton continued pitching for St. Louis until 1971. During his career in St. Louis, Carlton established himself as one of the top pitchers in the game, gaining All-Star status in the 1968, 1969 and 1971 seasons.
Carlton's career in St. Louis ended on February 25, 1972, after contract disputes led him to be traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, where he would spend the next 15 seasons. Despite pitching for the last place club, Carlton managed to win 27 of the Phillies 59 victories. Carlton's remarkable 27-10 season included a 15-game winning streak, eight shutouts, and thirty complete games. He also won the National League's pitching Triple Crown, leading the league in wins, ERA, and strikeouts. The season concluded with Carlton unanimously winning the National League Cy Young Award, an award given to the best pitcher in the league. Over the next few seasons the Phillies began to improve with Carlton remaining at the top of his game. In 1977, he won his second Cy Young Award after winning a league leading 23 games.
The 1980 season was a successful season for Carlton and the Phillies. This season Carlton won his third Cy Young award, leading the league in strikeouts (286) and wins (24), while posting a 2.34 ERA. Carlton's success did not end with the regular season, as he won two games against the Kansas City Royals in the World Series, leading the Phillies to the 1980 World Series Championship.
Over the next six seasons in Philadelphia, Carlton remained one of the game's most dominant pitchers. He managed to win his fourth Cy Young Award in 1982 which set a Major League record. He also led the Phillies to another National League pennant during the 1983 season. When the Phillies released Carlton during the 1986 season, his tenure in Philadelphia came to an end. Carlton held almost every franchise pitching record.
After leaving Philadelphia, Carlton pitched for the Chicago White Sox (1986), San Francisco Giants (1986), Cleveland Indians (1987) and the Minnesota Twins (1987-1988). However, Carlton's arm problems during these final seasons eventually led to his retirement in 1988.
Carlton had a unique relationship with the media. When he struggled early in his career, Carlton remembers the media portrayed him rather harshly. Carlton states, "I got slammed quite a bit. To pick up the paper and read about yourself getting slammed, that doesn't start your day off right." This negative view of the press led Carlton to refrain from speaking to the media from 1984 through the end of his career. Sports author Peter Golenbock summarized Carlton's characteristic personality when he wrote, "Steve Carlton was not your normal guy. On the mound, he would tune out all distractions. Off the mound, he did the same. If he considered you the distraction, he'd direct at you an icy stare. Teammates considered him to be a recluse. He hated to sign autographs. He pissed people off with his stand-offishness and arrogance. Carlton was also the finest left handed pitcher of his generation."
Over his twenty-four year career, Carton compiled 329 career wins, second among lefties, 4,136 strikeouts which is only exceeded by Nolan Ryan, six 20-win seasons and ten All-Star appearances. These accomplishments were quickly recognized by the baseball community. Former Phillies outfielder and announcer Richie Ashburn recalled, "Lefty was a craftsman, an artist. He was a perfectionist. He painted a ballgame. Stroke, stroke, stroke, and when he got through (pitching a game) it was a masterpiece." Many others shared this view and in 1989, the Phillies retired Carlton's number and in 1994 he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Carlton's legacy is remembered similarly to his Hall of Fame plaque that reads, "Steve Carlton was an extremely focused competitor with complete dedication to excellence. He thrived on the mound by physically and mentally challenging himself off the field. His out-pitch, a hard, biting slider complemented a great fastball."
Roberts, Russell. 100 Baseball Legends Who Shaped Sports History. San Mateo, CA: Bluewood Books, 2003.