Silent to the media for years, Carlton opens up at Card Show

By on April 1, 2015
With the help of Ephrata Lions’ Club member Jack Forney (left), Phil¬lies’ legend Steve Carlton (right) signs a jersey at the Ephrata Card Show last Saturday. (Photo by Preston Whitcraft)

With the help of Ephrata Lions’ Club member Jack Forney (left), Phil¬lies’ legend Steve Carlton (right) signs a jersey at the Ephrata Card Show last Saturday. (Photo by Preston Whitcraft)

In Philadelphia, there are few sports fans who don’t know of radio personality Howard Eskin.
But his listeners would have been surprised to hear a tale that Philadelphia Phillies’ legend Steve Carlton shared about him last Saturday at the Ephrata Lions’ 36th annual Sports Card Show and Auction.
“A little known story is Howard Eskin drove my Mercedes up (from spring training) when he was like 17, 18 or 19,” Carlton recalled with a laugh. “Now they ship them or whatever they do. Well, Howard wrecked my Mercedes. So every time I look at him, I say, ‘Howard, don’t get on my … because I know what you did.’”
Although the man known as “Lefty” didn’t talk to the media during a 24-year career with the Cardinals, Phillies, Giants, White Sox, Indians and Twins, he was engaging with reporters during a 30-minute interview session at the Ephrata Rec.
“It’s a different (time),” Carlton said of his relationship with the media. “We don’t need to go there. It’s not that I didn’t like them &tstr; I disagreed with them.”
While occasionally injecting a sense of humor, Carlton discussed how Tim McCarver became his personal catcher, the impact that Cardinals’ Hall of Famer Bob Gibson had on his career, his thoughts about Pete Rose’s application for reinstatement and other fascinating stories.
Later, fans of all ages lined up to get autographs and pictures with one of &tstr; if not the &tstr; top guests ever at the Ephrata Lions Show.
Carlton was at the young age of 20 when he made his debut with the Redbirds in 1965, the same season that Gibson was on his way to the first of his five 20-win seasons.
In the process of getting his feet wet, Lefty took an immediate liking to Gibson’s style of pitching.
“Gibby was all about standing on the mound and getting the ball and throwing, bang-bang-bang,” Carlton said. “So we saw eye-to-eye there. And just his ability to intimidate hitters … Being left-handed, pitching inside is not as easy as a guy with a two-seam fastball that rides up and in. So for me to pitch inside, that’s why the slider was important.”
Lefty was eventually traded to Philadelphia in February, 1972 for Rick Wise. But in one important manner, Gibson was very similar to a player who would later become a teammate of Carlton’s with the Phillies.
“You watch Pete Rose (and say), ‘God, I want to play with this guy. He’s amazing the way he energizes a game,’ and Gibby’s the same way,” Carlton said. “You can’t wait to see him pitch. He just energizes the game because he’s intimidating and he’s coming after you and he’s quick. He said, ‘Let’s get this game over with.’”
Rose, who helped lead the Phillies to their first World Series title in 1980, was of course banned from baseball nine years later for gambling. But the game’s all-time hit king has recently submitted a request with new Commissioner Rob Manfred to be reinstated.
“My thing is, I never read the Dowd Report, so I can’t talk from authority whatever he did,” Carlton said. “But the way things are going today, he looks like a pretty good guy to me. He’s going to get in, I think. I didn’t really want to answer the question years ago, but with all the stuff that’s going on today with the steroid stuff, he looks like a pretty good guy right now.”
McCarver, too, is a pretty good guy from Lefty’s point of view. The two of them were initially teammates in St. Louis and then they were reunited in Philadelphia, after McCarver was traded there in 1969 and then Carlton in 1972. But just four months after Lefty arrived in the City of Brotherly Love, McCarver was sent packing to Montreal.
It was in 1975 that McCarver thought his career was over when he was released by the Boston Red Sox in June. But while passing through Philadelphia while driving home to Memphis, Tenn., he ran into Phillies GM Paul Owens at Veterans Stadium.
“He was going to talk about broadcasting, so he stops and Paul Owens sees him in the runway at the Vet, down underneath. It was not in the clubhouse,” Carlton recalled. “So Paul Owens says, ‘Hey Timmy, how would you like to catch Lefty again,’ because I’m having trouble with Booney (Bob Boone). I throw three pitches and Booney and I were six pitches apart sometimes and it was frustrating because I like to pitch quick.”
Still, Owens’ intentions were a surprise to Carlton, who was trying to work things out with Boone.
“Paul Owens, unbeknownst to me, asked Timmy and Timmy said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that,’” Lefty said. “So they resigned Timmy and that’s when he became my personal catcher. Every fourth or fifth day when I’m pitching, he’s catching and Booney gets to sit.”
The difficulties with Boone weren’t anything related to personalities, but rather their thoughts about how to set up a hitter.
“We would have gotten to the pitch, but I like to pitch quickly, so if I shake once, I want you thinking with me and Timmy and I had that continuity,” Carlton said. “Later, (Boone and I) did that, but the reason Timmy got signed was because we were having a problem and it was only me. Everybody else was fine with him. (Boone)’s a Stanford graduate and I’m just from high school, so he was just a little smarter than me.”
Another long-time teammate of Carlton’s was shortstop Larry Bowa, and as Lefty recalls, he wasn’t much different off the field than he was on it. In particular, Lefty remembered the plane ride from Philadelphia to Los Angeles in the 1978 NLCS in which the Phillies found themselves trailing 2-0 in the series.
“You know Bowa, he’s always stirring the pot,” Carlton laughed. “That’s Bowa … Bowa’s sitting right behind me over in the next row and I’m hearing Bowa say, ‘Why are we going out with him, we’re going to lose, blah, blah, blah.’ And I looked over at him and said, ‘Listen, I’m pitching tomorrow. We ain’t losing tomorrow. You may lose the next day, but we ain’t losing tomorrow.’ I think I pitched a complete game, but I hit a home run off (Don) Sutton and beat him (9-4).”
At the end of his career, Carlton pitched in the American League with the White Sox, Indians and Twins, winning a World Series ring in Minnesota in 1987. But he didn’t hide the fact that he was not a fan of playing in the AL.
“I didn’t like the American League,” Carlton remarked. “I said, ‘Boy, this is not baseball.’ You go out and throw and you come back and sit. I like to be in the whole part of the game &tstr; hitting and bunting and running the bases, stuff like that. The stadiums were older back then. It just wasn’t fun.”
Nor was it a lot of fun pitching in pain at that time.
“I had eight bone chips in my shoulder and nobody diagnosed it, so I didn’t have them taken out until I was out of the game,” Carlton said. “I was still throwing 92 at the end of my career, in pain obviously, but I still had the hum-baby.”
This past Dec. 22, Lefty had a milestone birthday when he turned 70 years old. But it passed without fanfare.
“I don’t celebrate birthdays,” he said. “I always trick my kids, I tell them it’s on the 23rd. They’re like, ‘Ah, shoot, you got me again, dad.’ I don’t celebrate birthdays. Why celebrate getting older. I don’t do that. There’s a psychology to that. Conscious energy creates the nature of reality.”
These days, while Lefty still catches up with former teammates at the Phillies’ alumni event every August or perhaps at card show signings and golf events, most of his energy is spent around his house in Durango, Colo.
“I go to the gym five days a week,” Carlton said. “I’ve got about 140, 150 fruit trees that I take care of. I do a garden in the summer time.”

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