Being a Hall of Famer, 1994 inductee, one of the greatest pitchers in the history of Major League Baseball, an iconic and somewhat mysterious figure during his glory years of the 1970s and ’80s, Steve Carlton might be the perfect person to ask about the state of baseball today.
“I have no idea,” he said Wednesday.
“I gave up my TV 15 years ago,” he said. “I do not know what’s going on. Ignorance is a bliss. Not really, but you get the idea.”
Should have known. A player who won 329 career games, who is ninth all-time in innings pitched, who was the last pitcher to throw 300 innings in a season, and who incredibly won 27 games on a 1972 Philadelphia Phillies team that won 59 games total, Carlton has always followed the beat of a different drum.
As a player, he studied the martial arts. As part of his training, he twisted his fist down to the bottom of a five-gallon bucket of rice. He refused to talk to the media. He has been known to espouse some off-the-wall views about politics and the world.
Now 72, Carlton was in Lexington on Wednesday — his first visit here — for an autograph signing as part of the grand opening for Ollie’s Bargain Outlet in the Lakeview Plaza off Richmond Road.
He was friendly and conversational, smiling for the camera phone pictures, signing anything and everything that was put in front of him.
Having retired after the 1988 season, Carlton now lives in Colorado, where he has a “little bit of a tree farm.” Colorado needs rain, by the way. He is still a wine collector. In fact, when asked about the fact that he signs autographs with his right hand after both pitching and batting in the majors as a left-hander — “Lefty” was the nickname given him by catcher Tim McCarver — Carlton said he is ambidextrous.
“I can open a wine bottle with both hands,” he said.
He does see some baseball.
“I see a lot of arm-throwers these days,” he said. “What I see with pitchers, the strides are shorter than they’ve ever been. That puts a lot of strain on the arm. That’s why they won’t have long careers, most of them.”
Carlton had a very long career. He broke in as a 20-year-old with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1965. By age 25, he was a 20-game winner with the Cardinals. Traded to Philadelphia in 1972, he won four Cy Young Awards (1972, 1977, 1980 and 1982) with the Phillies and went 24-9 with a 2.34 ERA for the Philadelphia team that won the World Series in 1980.
He pitched 304 innings that year, which makes him the last in either league to top the 300-inning mark. What does he think about that?
“I don’t,” he said. “I just plant trees, that’s all.”
He does return to Philadelphia every year for a Phillies reunion. He said that’s pretty much all the baseball he sees.
“It’s a different game now,” he said. “We used to get on Milt Pappas about it because we’d call him ‘Five and Fly.’ He’d throw five innings and then fly. That was the joke back then. Now everybody does that.
“I don’t think they throw enough to be in shape. You have to go through that ‘dead arm’ period to have your arm really get in shape. I don’t think that happens today.”
“There wasn’t a lot of money in the game toward the end of my career,” he said. “It was just something we loved to do. We could do it and we did it well.”
Few did better than Steve Carlton.
Major League Baseball career innings pitched