For the 20 wins Carlton thought another raise was in order. Busch, perhaps remembering the 10-19 year, did not. So Carlton started this season in Philadelphia, but with one small difference. He had the slider along with him. "It started to come back in the spring," he says, "and now it is one of my best pitches."
There are those who believe that each of Carlton's three pitches is as good as the best pitch of any pitcher in the game today. Carlton is not willing to go that far. "I admired Sandy Koufax' curve." he says, "but as to judging my fastball and slider against any other pitcher's, I wouldn't be capable of doing it." He is capable of judging his fielding. "Because of my motion," he says, "I come off the mound in a poor position. I know that it has hurt me and I've worked on it. But I'll admit I'm not the best fielder in the world."
Woefully shy as a youngster growing up on the edge of the Everglades in Miami, Carlton hunted doves and rabbits with rocks and knew how to take care of an occasional rattlesnake. He could throw an excellent curve at 12 but playing major league baseball was not much on his mind. Carlton was an excellent water skier and he is a fine pool shooter and golfer.
St. Louis signed him for a $5,000 bonus and in 1964 deposited him at Rock Hill, N.C. where he ran up a 10-1 record and an earned run average of 1.03 before being advanced to Winnipeg and then on to the No. 1 Cardinal farm team, Triple A Tulsa—all in his first year. He was brought up to the Cardinals to observe the end of the season from the bullpen. In the important next to last game the Cardinals were losing to the Mets and Carlton was the only man left in the bullpen. Although he did not get to pitch, he remembers the day well. "I was so nervous," he says, "I was throwing to Dave Ricketts and couldn't even see him."
Carlton spent the entire 1965 season with St. Louis but pitched only 25 innings and found himself back in Tulsa the following year. One day in July Manager Charlie Metro approached him and said, "Steve, pack your stuff up; you're going to Cooperstown."
Carlton said, "Already?"
The Cardinals were playing the annual Hall of Fame exhibition game against the Minnesota Twins there and Carlton went the full nine innings for a victory over the defending American League champions. His curve was excellent and his fastball hummed. He was brought back to the big club, this time to stay until Busch's ire got the best of him.
Carlton, who is 27 now, often keeps things to himself. As a friend says, "Steve can be standing with a group of friends and thinking deeply about something else even when he is talking to you." And that, according to some, has always been his problem. He frequently seems to have one too many things on his mind. While he was a Cardinal he drove management to distraction by his seeming lack of concentration while pitching. His mind would wander and suddenly he was in a jam.
Near the end of the 1970 season Carlton received a 10-page letter from a fan criticizing him for squandering his vast talents by not concentrating. Carlton took the letter to heart, as he does others he receives about once a week from the same person. He believes they are a personal matter and will not discuss them, but says they work on his imagination. "The imagination," he said recently, "always wins in a battle with the will and my imagination had a hell of a year in 1970."
His imagination is having a hell of a year in 1972, too. Imagine, for instance, the Philadelphia Phillies in 1972 without Steve Carlton.