Steve Carlton is the best trade the Philadelphia Phillies ever made in franchise history
The Philadelphia Phillies have made some terrible trades in their near-century-and-a-half. There was Grover Cleveland Alexander, Fergie Jenkins, Ryne Sandberg and Larry Bowa, and Dick Allen, to name a few.
They’ve made a lot of terrible decisions, but today is the anniversary of what has to be the best trade they’ve ever made. In fact, there’s a strong argument that it’s one of the greatest trades in MLB history.
At the time, the Phillies were coming off a dismal 67-95 season, in which they finished sixth in the NL East (at the time, there were only two divisions per league and the Central divisions were still over two decades away.) Way up higher in the standings were the St. Louis Cardinals, who’d won 90 games with a roster that included Lou Brock, Joe Torre, Bob Gibson, and Steve Carlton.
Except Carlton was unhappy in St. Louis. Despite his stellar performance over the first seven seasons of his big-league career, he and his team couldn’t agree on salary. He had a 3.10 ERA over 190 games and was an All-Star in three of the last four seasons. In 1969, struck out 19 New York Mets batters in a single game, setting a new record at the time.
But he wanted $65K for the next season and the Cardinals were only willing to give him $55K, so instead, they dealt Carlton to the Phillies for Rick Wise. The trade wasn’t so lopsided at the time but in retrospect, it’s like a seesaw with only one person on it.
In a pleasant departure from the norm, the trade didn’t backfire on the Phillies, but it absolutely crushed the Cardinals, as they watched Carlton win his first of four Cy Young Awards, all of which would be with the Phillies. In his first season with his new team, Carlton posted what would end up being the best ERA of his 24-year career, an NL-best 1.97 over 41 starts. He led MLB with a 2.01 FIP, 27 wins, and 30 complete games and led the NL in ERA, starts, innings pitched, and strikeouts. He threw 300+ innings for the first of two times in his career.
Between 1972-86, Carlton is beyond dominant for the Phillies. He compiles a 3.09 ERA over 499 starts, including 185 complete games and 39 shutouts. He adds seven more All-Star Games to his total, joins the exclusive 3,000 Strikeout Club, wins four Cy Youngs, a Triple Crown, and the only Gold Glove of his career.
If the Phillies don’t trade for Carlton, the landscape of their entire franchise history changes. Do they win the World Series in 1980, or does the drought continue past 97 years? Is the club successful enough that they keep Mike Schmidt, or is he traded away like so many other greats? It’s too scary to contemplate.