Hard to believe the Carlton-Wise trade happened 50 years ago. Here’s the story plus how we announced it, not the way you think.
By Larry Shenk
Two quality pitchers were traded for each other because they couldn’t agree on a contract with their original clubs. The record shows on February 25, 1972, LHP Steve Carlton was dealt to the Phillies from the Cardinals for RHP Rick Wise. It turned out to be the last trade for Phillies GM John Quinn, who spent 28 years as a big-league GM.
Carlton, 27, was fresh from a 20-win season for a team that tied for second place; Wise, 26, a 17-game-winner with the last-place Phillies. Carlton had 77 big league wins, Wise, 75. Each was seeking a raise to $65,000 and both clubs balked. Ironically, after the trade, Lefty got $65,000 from the Phillies and Wise almost that from St. Louis, according to the New York Times.
Agents, arbitration, free agency didn’t exist 50 years ago. Players were on their own negotiating contracts.
Phillies fans were not happy because Wise was a favorite. Carlton was not happy because he didn’t want to leave the Cardinals and he didn’t have any say.
Quinn and Paul Owens, then director of the minor leagues and scouting, had dinner the night before at the Garden Seat restaurant in Clearwater. Quinn asked Owens, “Would you trade Wise for Carlton even-up?” Owens replied, “What are we waiting for?”
Lefty Carlton’s first season with the Phillies was electric, one of the greatest individual performances ever by a pitcher.
**He finished with a 27–10 record, eight shutouts, a league-low 1.98 ERA and a club-record 310 strikeouts in 346 innings. Of his 41 starts, he finished 30. He was 14–5 at Veterans Stadium, 13–5 on the road. He won his first three starts, allowing two earned runs, including a 1–0 decision over his former teammate Bob Gibson. That game took 1 hour, 33 minutes.
**His win total was a major league record for a last-place team. He also set a major league record with 48.5% of his team’s wins (59).
**He did all this in baseball’s first strike-shortened season in which the first week was wiped out. The Phillies missed six games, meaning Carlton missed two starts.
**The Phillies scored a total of 16 runs in his 10 losses. Five of those losses came in a row (May 13–30). Yes, his 10-losses included a five-game losing streak.
**Sitting at 5–6, Lefty went on a club-record 15-game winning streak, June 7 through August 17. Shortstop Larry Bowa said, “When Lefty pitches, its win-day.
**The streak ended with a 2–1, 11-inning decision against the Braves at Veterans Stadium, August 21.
**During the 15-game winning streak, he had three no decision starts. The Phillies lost, 1–0 in 11 innings in Houston, 9–7 at Atlanta and won 11–4 in San Francisco. Lefty gave up four runs in five innings in that outing but the Phillies scored 11 times to take him off the hook.
**Five of the 15 wins were shutouts, 1–0, 2–0, 2–0, 5–0, 2–0.
**He won the ERA title by allowing four earned runs over his last five starts (4–1). Last Phillies pitcher to lead the NL in ERA was Grover Cleveland Alexander, 1.83 in 1917.
**Only three of his wins were saved by the bullpen as indicated by his 30 complete games.
When the Cy Young voting by the Baseball Writers Association of America was announced after the season, he was the unanimous winner. It was the first of four such awards he would win while pitching for the Phillies.
Owens replaced Quinn as GM in June and then went to the dugout in July to manage the rest of the season. He returned to his front office position at the end of the season. On January 16, 1973, Owens gave Lefty a $165,000 contract, making him baseball’s highest-paid pitcher. How times have changed.
Behind The Scenes
PR Department was me, assistant Chris Wheeler and secretary Adele (Mizia) MacDonald. She was so young she’s still employed by the Phillies as Manager, Executive Offices, while Wheels and I are retired.
Spring training was close to beginning in 1972 when GM John Quinn called me early in the morning. 25. All of us in spring training stayed at the Fort Harrison Hotel in downtown Clearwater. Quinn’s message, we’re trading Rick Wise to the Cardinals for Steve Carlton. Said he would get back to me later after both players were notified. I called Wheels’ room. No answer. Went to the coffee shop off the main lobby and there he was sitting at the counter having breakfast.
“I remember you sat down next to me. You had a strange look on your face,” Wheels recalls. “You said ‘we’ve made a big trade that will not be very popular with the fans…Wise for Carlton.’ I was stunned but then thought Carlton’s a pretty darn good pitcher.”
First order of business was to type a press release. We went to my room where a card table and manual typewriter served as an office. Then, one of us called Adele back in the Veterans Stadium and dictated the press release to her. Wheels and I would gather the four writers who were also staying at the hotel (Inquirer, Daily News, Evening Bulletin and Wilmington News-Journal) once we got the call from Quinn. Adele was to call and dictate the two wire services (AP and UPI) and the TV stations.
“I was new to the department,” says Adele. “I was really, really nervous making the calls, afraid something would go wrong.”
No major press conference, Philly TV stations didn’t go to spring training until later in the spring and neither Carlton nor Wise was available to the media by telephone. This was way before fax machines and way, way before cell phones and the wonderful new world of zoom.
We all survived. Fan reaction was one of anger but there was no sports talk radio to fuel the flames. Just phone calls and old-fashioned mail, both plentiful.
Shudder to think what the response would have been if social media existed. Oh, Wheels and I were fully involved with social media back then…..socializing by taking them to dinner and indulging in a few drinks. Then try to safely zoom back to the hotel.