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On This Date in Sports November 2, 1972: A Special Season

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Steve Carlton of the Philadelphia Phillies is the unanimous winner of the Cy Young Award in the National League. Carlton, in his first season with the Phillies, won the pitching Triple Crown, leading the league with a 27-10 record, with a 1.97 ERA and 310 strikeouts. Making Steve Carlton’s starts more remarkable is the Phillies were the worst team in the National League with a record of 59-97. Carlton’s 45.8% of his team wins are the most in the modern era.

Steve Carlton was born in Miami, Florida, on December 22, 1944. At 20, the hard-throwing left-hander made his debut with the St. Louis Cardinals. In seven years with the Cardinals, Steve Carlton showed flashes of brilliance as he pitched in the shadow of Bob Gibson. On September 15, 1969, Carlton set a nine-inning record with 19 strikeouts against the New York Mets in a 4-3 loss giving up a pair of two-run home runs to Ron Swoboda. After a contract holdout in 1970, Lefty had a disappointing 19-loss season but rebounded for his first 20-win season in 1971.

With another holdout looming in 1972, the Cardinals traded Steve Carlton to the Philadelphia Phillies for Rick Wise at the start of Spring Training. At the time of the trade, the Phillies were rebuilding and among the National League's worst teams. Steve Carlton made an excellent first impression in Philadelphia by winning five of his first six decisions after a players’ strike slightly delayed the season. Steve Carlton would fall victim to the Phillies' lack of offense in his next five starts, losing all five as the Phillies only scored ten runs. After the losing streak, Carlton ran off a 15-game winning streak. During the streak in which he made 18 starts, with three no-decisions Steve Carlton allowed 28 runs on 103 hits in 155 innings while striking out 140 with just 39 walks. When the season was over, Steve Carlton had nearly half of his team’s wins with a record of 27-10, as he won the pitching Triple Crown with a 1.97 ERA and 310 strikeouts.

Steve Carlton struggled in his second season in Philadelphia, losing 20 games and beginning an adversarial relationship with the media. As the Phillies' fortunes improved, Steve Carlton became a driving force, winning the Cy Young three more times in 1977, 1980, and 1982. This success came when Steve Carlton cut off all contact with the media in 1976, refusing to do a single interview for the next ten years. The Phillies won three straight division titles in 1976, 1977, and 1978. They ended nearly a century of frustration two years later by winning their first World Series. Three years later, they won another National League pennant. That same season saw Steve Carlton battle, Nolan Ryan for the record in strikeouts as both broke the long-standing record held by Walter Johnson. In 1983 there would be 14 lead changes between Ryan and Carlton, with an additional five swaps in 1984. At the end of the 1984 season, Nolan Ryan led by two strikeouts at 3,874 to Carlton’s 3,872.


The race would end there as Steve Carlton’s began a steep decline in 1985 when he finished 1-8. A year later, he was released by the Phillies after posting a 4-8 record with a 6.18 ERA. Steve Carlton would record his 4,000th career strikeout during a brief stint with the San Francisco Giants in 1986, finishing the year with the Chicago White Sox. In 1987, Carlton split the season between the Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins, earning his third World Series ring before his career ended in April 1988. Steve Carlton posted a record of 329-244, with a 3.22 ERA and 4,672 strikeouts which was the record for left-handed pitchers until it was topped by Randy Johnson two decades later. Steve Carlton was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1994, his first year of eligibility.