Steve Carlton’s Phenomenal Year

The Phillies finished last again in 1972, but nobody noticed, they were too busy watching Steve Carlton pitch. His point to St. Louis Cardinal’s management was that, coming off a 20-9 season, he was worth more money than they were offering.

In Philadelphia, pitcher Rick Wise was also unhappy with what he was being offered; for a last place team, he went 17-14, and on June 23 in Cincinnati had electrified the Philly fan base by a feat of unprecedented baseball virtuosity—he pitched a no hit- no-run game and hit two home runs; that ought to be worth something.

St. Louis owner August “Gussie” Busch was fed up with Carlton and instructed his General Manager Bing Devine to get rid of him. Phillies’ GM John Jacob Quinn was receptive and, on February 25, just in time for Spring Training, pulled the trigger on a deal that arguably was the best in franchise history: Wise for Carlton, straight up.Wise won 16 games for the Cardinals in 1972 and went on to have a nice career,winning 188 games in 18 years. Carlton pitched on a level with the best in Major League history—329 wins in 24 years with 4,136 strikeouts, second all-time to Nolan Ryan’s 5,701. Carlton won four Cy Young awards as the league’s best pitcher and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995. And to say 1972 was a phenomenal year for Steve Carlton is like saying the Liberty Bell has a crack. The team won a pale 59 games, Carlton accounted for 27 of those wins—45.7%. In baseball history no pitcher has approached that achievement.

Carlton and Wise were not the only unhappy ballplayers in 1972; for the first time in baseball history, the players mounted a strike against management, refusing to play until some things were settled regarding the pension fund and the salary arbitration issue. The start of  the season was delayed 10 days until the owners agreed to add $500,000 to the pension fund.

When the Phillies’ season started on April 15 in Chicago, Carlton was primed and ready. So were the Cubs. In a touch of irony not apparent at the time, the Cubs started Ferguson Jenkins who over the previous five years had won 116 games after the Phillies in 1966 had traded the 23-year-old future Hall of Famer for a couple of journeymen pitchers. But this was Carlton’s day; he allowed only four hits in a 4-2 Phillies win. The next day, the Cubs’ Burt Hooton put the Phillies down without a hit in a 4-0 win. Three days later the Phillies were in St.Louis and Carlton was up against the fearsome Bob Gibson, and the challenge of showing Gussie Busch what he had given away. Dodger announcer Vin Scully had famously said of Gibson, “He pitches like he’s double-parked.” So did Carlton, and the game was over in 93 minutes, the only run scoring in the Phillies’ sixth inning when Willie Montanez hit a leadoff triple and scored on Deron Johnson’s single. Carlton posted a three-hit, complete game shutout.

It didn’t get any easier. On April 25 in San Francisco, Carlton was matched against nine-time all-star Juan Marichal. The big lefthanded Carlton, known only as “Lefty,” struck out 14 in a one-hit shutout for his third straight win. Carlton was cruising, and so was the team. On May 7, after another dominant performance against San Francisco, striking out 13, Carlton was 5-1 and the Phillies were in first place with a 13-7 record. But then it happened: Lefty couldn’t win and neither could the team. From May 13 to May 30, Carlton lost four straight games and through June 6 the Phillies lost 19 of 20 and dropped to last place with a 17-29 record, 16 games behind the New York Mets who even Carlton had trouble beating.

Manager Frank Lucchesi buried second base more than once in tirades against umpire calls but it didn’t help. By the time June rolled around, Phillies’ owner Robert Carpenter had seen enough;  he replaced General Manager John Quinn with Paul Owens. On June 14, Owens traded Tim McCarver to Montreal for catcher John Bateman, and a month later with the Phillies wallowing at 28-50, Owens fired manager Lucchesi, and named himself Field Manager.

The team was in turmoil, but Steve Carlton could not have been more tranquil; from June 7 to August 21 when he pitched all 11 innings in a 2-1 loss to Atlanta, the big lefty was undefeated, winning 15 straight games to run his record to 20-7. During that period, Manager Owens saw his team go 26-63 and fall 29 1/2 games behind Pittsburgh. On September 7, Lefty pushed his record to 23-9 with a satisfying 2-1 win over St.Louis; it was his 100th career victory. Two weeks later he beat Rick Wise and the Cardinals 2-1 to go 25-9.   He ended the year 27-10, with 41 starts, 30 complete games, 346 innings pitched, 310 strikeouts, eight shutouts, and an ERA of 1.97. He was the runaway choice for the Cy Young.

September, 1972 was also notable for the Major League debut of Mike Schmidt. On September 12, Schmidt singled off the Mets’ Rob McAndrew for his first Major League hit, then on the 16th, with 6,471 Veterans Stadium fans watching, Michael Jack, as announcer Harry Kalas liked to call him, delivered the first of 548 career home runs. It came in the seventh inning off Montreal lefthander Baylor Moore and accounted for all the runs in a 3-1 Phillies’ win for Wayne Twitchell (4-8).

Larry Bowa won a Gold Glove as the league’s best Shorstop.

December 10, 1972 – The American League Clubs voted unanimously to adopt the designated-hitter rule for a three-year experiment. In 1975 the Clubs voted to permanently adopt the DH. The National League declined to adopt the DH rule.

By max blue
Bob Gibson, Burt Hooton, Cy Young Award, Designated hitter, Frank Lucchesi, John Bateman, John Quinn (gm), Juan Marichal, Larry Bowa, Mike Schmidt, Paul Owens, Philadelphia Phillies, Rick Wise, St. Louis Cardinals, Steve Carlton, Tim McCarver, Vin Scully, Wayne Twitchell


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