Sunday, August 11, 2013

Into the Sunset, Pt. 20: Steve Carlton

Steve Carlton's 1972 season has always fascinated me.

That year, the future Hall of Famer captured his first of four career NL Cy Young Awards in his initial season with the Phillies.

Carlton went 27-10, struck out a staggering 310 batters in 346 and 1/3 innings, and posted an amazing 1.93 ERA in his historic campaign.

I can take or leave the win stat these days, but the fact that "Lefty" won 27 games on a dreadful '72 Phillies squad that won just 59 games all season is pretty darn impressive, no matter how you slice it.

Fittingly, Topps rewarded Carlton with an awesome card the following year, one that happens to be a personal favorite from the wacky '73 checklist.

I'm still not sure if what we're seeing is the catcher is congratulating "Lefty" on another superb performance, or if he's simply pumping him up after a mound conference. It's a great shot either way.

While he did enjoy a long and hallowed big league career, Carlton probably hung around for a few years too long.

That's where our "sunset" recap begins.

Between 1986 and '87, Carlton pitched for a whopping five different teams.

His '86 season was split between the Phillies, Giants, and White Sox. Many of his earlier '87 releases feature him during his brief 10-game stint on the South Side of Chicago.

Donruss's final tribute to "Lefty" came in their '87 checklist, featuring him in those beer league softball-esque '80s Sox uniforms that I just can't seem to like.

The '87 Donruss design isn't much to look at, either, as far as I'm concerned. The overproduction era was a dark time for Donruss.

Still, this is one of just four cards I own of Carlton with the White Sox, and I'll always appreciate it for that.

"Lefty" went on to pitch for two more teams in 1987, splitting his season with the Indians and Twins.

He pitched in just 23 games for the Tribe (with a bloated 5.37 ERA) before being dealt to Minnesota in July of that year.

While Carlton's tenure in Cleveland wasn't all that memorable, I've always thought his '87 Topps Traded issue is one of the better-kept secrets in this hobby.

For one thing, it features the iconic '87 Topps design, which is a favorite amongst many collectors. (Myself included.)

The redeeming aspect of this one, however, is the young kid leaning over the rail in the background, excited about the action taking place in front of him. I'd be willing to bet that the kid wound up becoming a lifelong baseball fan.

This card is a great reminder that baseball is, at its base, a kid's game.

As far as my collection goes, this is one of the more enigmatic cards I own.

I've never been all that big on Fleer's 1988 release. It's not horrible, by any means, but I've always been fairly indifferent towards the design.

Of course, the unbelievably ghastly photo Fleer used for Carlton's card in the set didn't help things, either. "Lefty" looks like a ghost in this shot, not happy that a photo was taken of him in the first place. (Although, considering his career-long squabbles with the media, it makes sense.)

Yet, all that considered, I still absolutely love this card.

As far as I know, it was the only one ever made that featured Carlton as a Minnesota Twin.

He pitched in nine games for the Twinkies in '87, earning his final career win (against five losses) with a 6.70 ERA. He'd appear in four games in Minnesota during the '88 season, posting a horrid 16.76 ERA in 9 2/3 innings before being released.

To my knowledge, Carlton and Phil Niekro are the only players to have "sunset" issues with three different franchises. (Although, unlike Carlton, Niekro's all came during a single season.)

Lots of fans remember "Lefty" for the often mind-blowing numbers he put up during his Cardinals and Phillies days.

While I'm well aware of those stats, Carlton has become an especially legendary figure in my collection due to the sheer amount of unfamiliar uniforms he sported during his later years.

They made for one of the wackiest "sunset" groupings in baseball history.


Red Cardboard said...

Don't forget the 30 complete games during that '72 season. starters are lucky to get 30 starts anymore, much less 30 finishes. i suppose no one trusted the phillies' relief staff.

Mike said...

He only pitched 10 games for the Sox?!....I remember it was such a big deal when he came to Chicago....seemed a lot longer!

Fuji said...

Great post. Love me some Lefty. One of my favorite pitchers of all-time.