Baseball players, especially pitchers, work hard to stay in shape during the off-season with cardio conditioning. But running just wasn’t for Steve Carlton.
Instead, Carlton, nicknamed “Lefty”, used martial arts and weight lifting as part of his conditioning program and propelled himself to a fitness level that allowed him to throw for 24 seasons in the big leagues. A focused competitor, Carlton used his biting slider and a great fastball to achieve excellence on the mound.
“Lefty was a craftsman, an artist,” said Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn. “He was a perfectionist. He painted a ballgame. Stroke, stroke, stroke, and when he got through it was a masterpiece.”
Born on Dec. 22, 1944 in Miami, Fla., Carlton signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1963. He made the big league club in 1965. He appeared in both World Series appearances for the Cardinals in 1967 and 1968, earning a ring in 1967. In 1971, he had his first 20-win season and requested a contract of $60,000 for the following year.
"Augie Busch traded me to the last-place Phillies over a salary dispute,” Carlton said. “I was mentally committed to winning 25 games with the Cardinals and now I had to re-think my goals. I decided to stay with the 25-win goal and won 27 of the Phillies 59 victories. I consider that season my finest individual achievement."
His first season in Philadelphia, Carlton led the league in wins, ERA, innings pitched and strikeouts. It earned him his first Cy Young Award.
In 15 seasons with the Phillies, Carlton led the league in wins four times, winning 20-or-more games five times. The 10-time All-Star would go on to win a total of four Cy Young Awards and a Gold Glove Award in 1981. On Sept. 24, 1983, he became just the 16th pitcher to win 300 games.
“Lefty has a hard time being human as a pitcher, so he became superhuman, and did things that were superhuman,” said his long-time Philadelphia battery-mate Tim McCarver.
He signed with the San Francisco Giants in 1986 and finished out his career with the Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins. He finished his career with 329 wins – second to only Warren Spahn among lefties – and 4,136 strikeouts.
Carlton was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1994.