Carlton trade 'phantastic' for Phils in '72

Lefty went on to win 27 games for a Phillies team that won only 59

February 22nd, 2017
Steve Carlton won 27 games for the Phillies in 1972, a Major League record for a last-place team. (Getty)

Two quality pitchers were traded for each other, because they couldn't agree to a contract with their original clubs. The record shows that on Feb. 25, 1972, left-hander Steve Carlton was dealt to the Philadelphia Phillies from the St. Louis Cardinals, for right-hander Rick Wise. It turned out to be the last trade Phillies general manager John Quinn -- who spent 28 years as a Major League GM -- ever made.

Carlton, 27, was fresh from a 20-win season for a team that tied for second place in the National League East; Wise, 26, was a 17-game-winner with the last-place Phillies. Carlton had 77 big league wins to Wise's 75. Each was seeking a raise to $65,000, and both clubs balked. Ironically, after the trade, Carlton got $65,000 from the Phillies and Wise almost that much from St. Louis, according to the New York Times.

• Phillies alumni

Agents, arbitration and free agency didn't exist 40 years ago. Players were on their own when it came to negotiating contracts.

Phillies fans were not happy because Wise was a fan favorite. Carlton was not happy because he didn't want to leave the Cardinals and he didn't have any say in the matter.

Quinn and Paul Owens, then director of the Minor Leagues and scouting for the Phillies, had dinner the night before at the Garden Seat restaurant in Clearwater, Fla. Quinn asked Owens, "Would you trade Wise for Carlton straight up?" Owens replied, "What are we waiting for?"

So, the next morning the Phillies PR staff got four writers from Philadelphia together at the Fort Harrison Hotel to tell them about the trade. No major press conference. Television and radio stations from Philly didn't go to Spring Training. There was no ESPN, talk radio, computers, cell phones or social media. Heck, typewriters were manual, not electric.

"Lefty" Carlton's first season with the Phillies was electric; one of the greatest individual performances ever by a starting pitcher.

• He finished with a 27-10 record, eight shutouts, a league-low 1.97 ERA and a club-record 310 strikeouts in 346 1/3 innings. In his 41 starts, he completed 30 games. He was 14-5 at Veterans Stadium and 13-5 on the road. He won his first three starts, allowing a total of two earned runs, including a 1-0 decision over his former teammate Bob Gibson.

• His win total that year was a Major League record for a last-place team. He also set a Major League record by winning 48.5 percent of his team's wins (59).

• He did all of this in baseball's first strike-shortened season, in which the first two weeks of the season were wiped out. The Phillies missed six games, meaning Carlton missed two starts.

• The Phillies scored a total of 16 runs in his 10 losses. Five of those losses came in a row (May 13-30).

• Sitting at 5-6, "Lefty" went on a club-record 15-game streak without a loss in games in which he pitched -- from June 7 through Aug. 17. Shortstop Larry Bowa said, "When Lefty pitches, it's win-day."

• The streak ended with a 2-1, 11-inning decision against the Braves at Veterans Stadium on Aug. 21.

• During the 15-game winning streak, he had three no-decision starts. The Phillies lost 1-0 in 11 innings in Houston, 9-7 at Atlanta and won 11-4 in San Francisco. Lefty gave up four runs in five innings in that outing but the Phillies scored 11 times to take him off the hook.

• Five of the 15 wins were shutouts, 1-0, 2-0, 2-0, 5-0, 2-0.

• He won the ERA title by allowing four earned runs over his last five starts (4-1). The last Phillies pitcher to lead the National League in ERA was Grover Cleveland Alexander, who held a 1.83 ERA in 1917.

• Only three of his wins were saved by the bullpen, as indicated by his 30 complete games.

When the 1972 NL Cy Young Award voting was announced after the season, he was the unanimous winner. It was the first of four such awards he would win while pitching for the Phillies.

Owens replaced Quinn as GM in June, and then went to the dugout in July, acting as the team's manager the rest of the season. He returned to his front office position at the end of the season. On Jan. 16, 1973, Owens gave Carlton a $165,000 contract, making him the highest-paid pitcher in the Major Leagues. How times have changed.