With the perfect hindsight of history as a guide, the trade now looks terribly one-sided.
But when the St. Louis Cardinals shipped Steve Carlton to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Rick Wise on Feb. 25, 1972, the baseball world didn't exactly gasp in horror.
Eight months later – following Carlton's remarkable 27-win season which put him on the path to the Hall of Fame – the trade was already being called one of the greatest heists in history.
Carlton was a seven-year big league veteran that winter and was coming off a 20-9 season for St. Louis. Still relatively young at 27, Carlton asked the Cardinals for a salary of $65,000 for 1972. The Cardinals balked, and Carlton held out. But a solution was found when the Phillies offered to send holdout pitcher Rick Wise to St. Louis in exchange for Carlton.
Steve Carlton of the Philadelphia Phillies pitching in game. - BL-3705.84 (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)
Both pitchers received one-year deals from their new teams worth $65,000 for the 1972 season. Entering that year, Carlton had won 77 big league games compared to 75 for Wise. But after the trade, Carlton went on to post 252 more victories – including 241 with the Phillies – and win four Cy Young Awards. Wise won 113 more games.
Carlton's 1972 season was magical. Despite pitching for a last-place Philadelphia club that won 59 games, he went 27-10 with a 1.97 ERA and 310 strikeouts to take home the National League’s pitching Triple Crown. He won 45.8 percent of the Phillies' games that season en route to his first Cy Young Award.
After slumping to a 13-20 record in 1973, Carlton reeled off nine straight winning seasons, taking home Cy Young Awards in 1977, '80 and '82. He won Game 6 of the 1980 World Series, clinching the franchise's first world title. He retired after the 1988 season with 329 wins, 10 All-Star Game selections and 4,136 strikeouts – still the fourth-best total in big league history and making Carlton one of only four pitchers (along with Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens) with at least 4,000 strikeouts.
And just to remind the Cardinals what they missed, Carlton was an amazing 38-14 against St. Louis after the 1972 trade.
Carlton was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1994 in his first year of eligibility with 95.82 percent of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America vote.
Craig Muder is director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
Baseball used by Steve Carlton to record his 3000th strikeout of career, April 29, 1981 at Philadelphia vs. Tim Wallach of the Montreal Expos. - B-31-81 (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)