The hubbub was about $65,000.
Steve Carlton, a 27-year-old, 6-foot-4-inch lefty with a nasty slider, asked the St. Louis Cardinals for that amount following the 1971 season. The Cardinals said “No.” Carlton, coming off a 20-win season, held out.
That was Carlton’s second contract squabble as a Redbird. He reported late for spring training in 1970 following a big year in ’69. He went 17-11 that season with a 2.17 ERA (second lowest in the National League) and 210 strikeouts.
Lefty wanted $50,000 in 1970 (He made $26,000 in 1969). The Cardinals offered Carlton a more modest pay increase, to $31,000. The pitcher, maybe miffed about the whole affair, proceeded to go 10-19 and put up a 3.73 ERA.
Each side probably had a sour taste in the mouth during Squabble II. On Feb. 25, 1972, St. Louis unloaded Carlton, under the order of team owner Gussie Busch, to the Philadelphia Phillies for Rick Wise.
At that point, Carlton, going into his age-27 season, had 77 career wins. Wise, entering his age-26 campaign, had 75 career wins. It seemed like a fairly even deal. But, it wasn’t.
Wise put together a pretty good career. The right-hander from Jackson, Mich., pitched two seasons in St. Louis before moving on to the Boston Red Sox. He won a career-high 19 games in 1975, the year Boston celebrated an American League pennant.
Following four seasons with the Red Sox, Wise left for the Cleveland Indians. He ended his career in 1982 as a San Diego Padre. Wise retired with a 188-181 lifetime won-loss record in 18 seasons.
Carlton, though, did even better. His first season in Philadelphia was his best. The Phillies were terrible that year. Some teams limp into September. The Phillies limped into May. They finished the year 59-97, dead last in the N.L. East.
Lefty went 27-10. So, without Carlton, the team was 32-87. The Miami native posted a league-low 1.97 ERA and a league-high 310 strikeouts. He also topped the N.L. in innings pitched (346.1), complete games (30) and ERA+ (182). Not only did he win the Cy Young award, he finished fifth in the MVP voting.
Before retiring early in the 1988 season, Carlton won four Cy Young awards and at least 20 games six times. He topped the senior circuit in innings pitched and strikeouts five times each. He remains the last N.L. pitcher to win 25 games (1972) and the last pitcher from either league to pitch at least 300 innings (1980).
He retired with a 329-244 record in 24 seasons. Carlton went into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1994, He received 95.6 percent of the vote.
Cardinals fans still think back at Carlton’s departure and cringe. The hubbub was about $65,000.