Year Inducted: 1994 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 436/456)
Money has long been the driving force of baseball. Before the banning of the Reserve Clause in 1975, players were on the short end of the stick. No matter how much a player liked or hated playing in a certain city, the rights to his contract belonged to the team even after its expiration. There was little guaranteed money tied up in contracts, so if a player was released he most likely got nothing. Lots of players, some stars some role players, would hold out at contract time to force the team’s hand. Most famously, players like Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale once waited out most of Spring Training to get a raise from the Dodgers. Some owners were so cheap that if a contract dispute came up, no matter how great the player was, they would ship them off in a trade to lessen payroll. That is why, instead of twenty years of a dream rotation with him and Bob Gibson in St. Louis, Steve Carlton moved on to Philadelphia and cemented his Hall of Fame legacy there.
Carlton was one of the best left handed pitchers ever. He pitched in parts of 24 seasons in St. Louis and Philadelphia before bouncing around a lot at the end of his career. Carlton won 329 games and lost 244 times while throwing more than 5200 innings. Carlton was the second man to strikeout 4,000 batters in a career, having done so after Nolan Ryan achieved the feat, making him and Ryan two of four players to win 300 games and strikeout 4,000 batters (Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson being the others). He was also the first player ever to win 4 Cy Young Awards, including a 27 win campaign for the Phillies while they won 59 games which remains possibly the best season ever for a pitcher.
During the 1983 season, Carlton battled Ryan and Gaylord Perry for the all-time strikeout lead. While Ryan was the first to eclipse the then-record, Carlton wound up in first place at the end of the season and Perry, while passing Walter Johnson’s record eventually, opted to retire at the end of the season. For the rest of their careers Ryan and Carlton would duel to determine the top strikeout spot. Following 1983, however, Carlton ran out of gas and became injured, allowing Nolan Ryan to blow past him.
Carlton slumped through an ugly decline phase at the end of his career. From 1985-1988 he had an ERA and FIP above 5.00 and was 21 games below .500, while pitching for five different teams and being released twice. Carlton’s superlative career loses some luster due to that decline, inflating his ERA- and FIP- from 83 to 87, a solid jump from only a few seasons worth of decline.
Having said all that, it is absolutely evident that Carlton was one of the top pitchers ever, left handed or otherwise, and the Cardinals were fools to trade him over a salary dispute. Carlton was elected in a landslide in his first ballot, one of the best moves ever by the BBWAA.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 10/26/16: This pitcher was another player who had to fight some racism in his career because he was an American Indian.