Nine months after they got him from the Cardinals, the Phillies considered trading Steve Carlton, even though he was the dominant pitcher in the National League.
Multiple teams made offers for Carlton after the Phillies said they might deal him in exchange for five or six premium players.
The Dodgers came closest to making a trade, but the tempting offer fell through when the Phillies countered with a demand for Don Sutton.
Fitting with Phillies
Carlton was acquired by the Phillies from the Cardinals in February 1972 for pitcher Rick Wise. Cardinals owner Gussie Busch, angry because Carlton didn’t give in to contract terms, ordered general manager Bing Devine to trade him.
A left-hander who was 77-62 in seven seasons with St. Louis, Carlton pitched phenomenally for the Phillies in 1972. He led the league in wins (27), ERA (1.97), complete games (30), innings pitched (346.1) and strikeouts (310). He was a unanimous choice for the Cy Young Award.
After losing six of his first 11 decisions in 1972, Carlton won 15 in a row and finished with a 27-10 record for the last-place Phillies (59-97). Carlton accounted for 46 percent of the club’s wins. In four starts versus the Cardinals, Carlton was 4-0 with an 0.50 ERA. He allowed them two runs in 36 innings, making Busch pay a price greater than salary for his foolishness.
With the 1972 Phillies, Carlton started every fourth day, a schedule he said he liked.
With the Cardinals, Carlton started every fifth day. “That was because everything revolved around Bob Gibson,” Carlton told The Sporting News. “He was the ace of the staff and Gibby required four days rest between starts. So, to set up a rotation, the rest of the staff had to give way. I’m not saying it’s wrong, but that’s the way it was.
“Just working every fourth day was a big help. I was able to develop a high rate of consistency. I was able to keep my rhythm.”
Soon after the 1972 season ended, Carlton and three other big-league players, Tim McCarver, Joe Hoerner and Pat Jarvis, were on a hunting trip to Montana when they were ordered off their commercial flight.
Frontier Airline officials said the four players refused a flight attendant’s request to turn off a tape recorder they were playing and stop drinking liquor they brought onboard, United Press International reported.
The pilot landed the plane in Casper, Wyoming, and the four ballplayers were removed for refusing to observe federal regulations. According to United Press International, the group chartered a plane and continued on to Montana.
Carlton made more headlines when columnist Dick Young reported in The Sporting News that the Pirates were pursuing a trade with the Phillies. According to Young, the Pirates were ready to offer second baseman Dave Cash, outfielder Gene Clines, catcher Milt May and pitcher Luke Walker for Carlton. Another version had the Pirates offering May, pitcher Dock Ellis and second baseman Rennie Stennett, the Philadelphia Daily News reported.
Pirates outfielder Roberto Clemente confirmed to the Associated Press that the Pirates were negotiating with the Phillies for Carlton.
Explaining what it would take for a team to get Carlton, Phillies general manager Paul Owens told the Philadelphia Daily News, “Just to start with, I’d have to have two pitchers capable of winning 25 games between them. From there, I think we’d have to wind up with five or six players we feel can help us.”
Owens’ comment seemed to scare off the Pirates, whose general manager Joe Brown said, “We’d be interested in Carlton … but we won’t tear apart our club to land him.”
Several other clubs, though, showed serious interest.
Ready to deal
During the baseball winter meetings at Honolulu in late November, a headline in the Philadelphia Inquirer declared: “Carlton figures to be ex-Phil before end of week.”
“Carlton represents the Phillies’ only real bargaining power if they decide to make the sweeping changes that would be necessary for them to become a contender,” the Inquirer explained.
Though Owens conceded trading Carlton would be unpopular with Phillies fans, he said, “If I thought I could make a trade for Steve that would help us become a pennant contender, and if I didn’t do it, then I might as well admit I’m in the wrong job. It’s going to take a certain amount of guts to trade Steve Carlton. I’m not necessarily saying I’m going to trade him, but I am saying I have the guts to do it.”
The Athletics, Dodgers, Giants, Padres and Red Sox made offers for Carlton at the winter meetings. According to the Inquirer, the Giants’ offer included outfielder Bobby Bonds and first baseman Willie McCovey, and the Athletics’ bid featured pitcher Ken Holtzman and first baseman Mike Epstein.
The only one that interested Owens came from the Dodgers.
“You wouldn’t believe the deal the Phillies turned down for Steve Carlton,” Dick Young wrote in The Sporting News.
The Dodgers offered pitchers Claude Osteen and Bill Singer, outfielders Willie Crawford and Bobby Valentine, and second baseman Lee Lacy. “A hell of a package,” the Philadelphia Daily News declared.
Owens countered by asking for Don Sutton to be one of the pitchers the Dodgers dealt. “The deal would have been made if Sutton’s name had replaced Singer or Osteen,” the Philadelphia Daily News reported.
“We made a valid, honest offer, but trading Sutton was out of the question,” Dodgers general manager Al Campanis said. “He’s our ace, with youth and a great future ahead of him. We wanted Carlton to form a one-two punch like Drysdale and Koufax.
“I can’t criticize Owens for failing to make the deal. It’s going to take a lot of courage for him to make any deal for Carlton, but I think what we offered snapped some eyebrows to attention. We made them sit down and do a lot of soul-searching.”
A few hours after the Phillies rejected the Campanis offer, the Dodgers acquired pitcher Andy Messersmith and third baseman Ken McMullen for Singer, Valentine, outfielder Frank Robinson, infielder Billy Grabarkewitz and pitcher Mike Strahler.
Carlton stayed with the Phillies and helped them win two pennants and a World Series championship. He and Sutton both got elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.