Here’s something that you can file with other “almost didn’t happen” type things; Steve Carlton becoming a major league pitcher.
Carlton made an appearance at Coca-Cola Park, home of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, on Thursday as part of Steve Carlton Bobblehead Night. Prior to the game, upon hearing that he was going to be at the park, two old-time scouts launched into a discussion of Carlton and his career.
“You know, the Cardinals almost passed on signing him,” said one of the scouts. “Chase Riddle was the Cardinals scout that signed him, and when he had him pitch for the Cardinals brass, they weren’t overly impressed. Riddle practically threatened to quit if they didn’t sign him, and really stuck his neck out to get him signed.”
When asked about the story, Carlton had a different perspective, being just a young kid who didn’t know what to expect. The Cardinals flew Carlton in from his hometown of Miami to get a look at him prior to a home game. After throwing in front of manager Johnny Keane and pitching coach Howie Pollet, with Bob Gibson and other veterans watching, Carlton was told to watch the game from the press box and they would get back to him.
“I got to see Stan [Musial] get the last hit of his career,” said Carlton. “Nothing was said, so I just went back to college, I was doing Business Administration. We had a conversation later over the phone, but I was told that Howie said ‘you sign this guy, and I’ll take the money out of my own pocket.’ He was the pitching coach and saw something that he liked, I didn’t really even know about the big leagues until I was a senior in high school. North Miami is rural, they have college football and horse racing, so that was all that I knew. I didn’t really know what was going on, but I was told later about Howie really wanting them to sign me. It’s possible that the Cardinals balked at it, but Howie said ‘you gotta sign this guy.’ I got a $5,000 signing bonus, and my first year in the majors was a $6,000 salary.”
These days, Carlton knows about as much about major league players as he did as a young 19-year old kid getting a look from the Cardinals.
“I don’t have a TV. I got rid of my TV about 14 or 15 years ago, what’s the point? I don’t really follow it, but I’ll hear some stuff or see some stuff on YouTube, but I don’t really know the players any more, I don’t follow it. I know some of the coaches, but I’ve moved on, I’ve got other stuff to do. I owned it for 24 years, I played it, so I don’t need to do it again. I’ve moved on to other things,” said Carlton.
“I do as little as possible. I have an orchard and I watch the apples grow. I’m in the forestry program for the good of the nation and the planet; before Al Gore was green, I was green. I have my solar and an orchard of about 150 fruit trees and I plant trees under the forestry program. I do some stuff like this [appearances at ballparks], and I was here a couple of years ago to shoot a commercial. This is a great little facility. We used to have cow-pies in the outfield.”
While he’s not watching baseball every day, Carlton is well aware of how the game has changed and how pitchers careers are ruled by pitch counts. Carlton averaged 217 innings per season over his 24-year career, and that includes his later years when he wasn’t pitching deep into games and even worked as a reliever at a couple of points in his career. When you do the math, Carlton still averaged seven innings per game, and again, that takes into consideration the shorter outings late in his career.
“I wasn’t raised in this environment, so I think differently. These guys don’t know anything but pitch counts. I would balk at it, because I don’t agree with it, but they can’t because it’s all they know,” pointed out Carlton. “I don’t agree with it, because I think these guys aren’t really in shape, because they don’t throw enough. You need to throw so much so that the tendons, the ligaments, the muscle, the bone gets bigger and denser and stronger and are able to handle the stress of throwing.
“They don’t throw a lot, 100 pitches isn’t a lot, you can warm-up with 100 pitches and then you throw your 200, but now, they’re throwing 95 pitches in a game. Because I don’t think like that, I don’t know if I could do it. Philosophically, I don’t agree with it, because your arm needs more work.”
At 72, Carlton seems like a guy who is content with what he did in the majors, but was happier to just move on and truly make a new career and a new life for himself. He’s lived in Durango, Colorado since his playing days ended and enjoys the attention that public appearances give him, but is more comfortable at home just watching those apples grow.