February 25, 1972: Cardinals trade Steve Carlton to the Phillies

Philadelphia Phillies general manager Quinn answered the phone on Wednesday, February 25, 1972, to discover his Cardinals counterpart, Bing Devine, on the other end.

“Has Rick Wise signed?” Devine asked, referring to the 26-year-old right-hander who had led the Phillies in wins each of the past three seasons. Quinn answered that no, he had not come to terms with Wise.

“Well, neither has Carlton,” replied Devine. “Would you be interested in Carlton?”

This time, Quinn answered in the affirmative. [1] By the end of the day, not only had the two teams agreed to a straight swap of pitchers, but each had agreed to a new contract with their new acquisition for the upcoming season.

Though matters moved quickly following Devine’s phone call, the roots of the trade were established two years earlier, when Carlton refused to accept the Cardinals’ salary offer and sat out the first 18 days of training camp in 1970. To resolve the impasse, the Cardinals took the unusual step of invoking the renewal clause in his previous contract, requiring him to return for the same salary he earned in 1969.

Carlton reported to spring training on March 10, but continued to push for a new contract. Things grew so heated that on March 12, Busch said, “I don’t care if he ever pitches a ball for us again.”[2]

Finally, Richard A. Meyer, Busch’s longtime senior manager and aide, stepped in to lead the negotiation of a two-year contract.[3]

“I guess, really, this thing was generated by our differences with Carlton two years ago,” Devine said. “Having gone through that experience, we could sense a similar situation developing.”[4]

After back-to-back all-star seasons, Carlton went just 10-19 in 1970, leading the league in losses despite a 3.73 ERA. He bounced back in 1971 with his first 20-win season and a return to all-star form.

After earning a reported $50,000 in 1971, Carlton sought a significant raise for the 1972 season. While some reports claimed that Carlton sought $75,000,[5] the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Carlton was asking for $65,000.[6] The Cardinals, however, were unwilling to go above $57,500, leaving the two sides at an impasse.[7] After Carlton sent the team a letter expressing his unwillingness to sign the contract the team had sent him, he had just one meeting with Devine. That meeting took place “three or four days” before the trade, Carlton said.[8]

“This particular idea struck me as a solution to a problem that could be long lasting,” Devine said.[9]

In his 2004 autobiography, Devine said that the decision to trade Carlton wasn’t truly his to make: after delaying as long as he could, he received word that he had 48 hours to move Carlton. “Basically, Mr. Busch wanted him gone,” Devine wrote.[10]

“I dragged my feet as long as I could, because I didn’t want to do it. I don’t like to second-guess my deals, but after that one I did wonder: What if I had made a stronger effort to change Mr. Busch’s mind? So I asked Dick (Richard A. Meyer) what would have happened if I hadn’t moved Carlton within those 48 hours. Dick laughed and said, “I’ll tell you what would have happened. You’d have been gone first … and Carlton would have been gone right after you.”[11]

St. Louis Post-Dispatch — February 25, 1972

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, Wise also was asking for $65,000 and gaining no traction with his club.[12] Quinn, however, wanted to make it clear that he wasn’t making the trade simply because Wise hadn’t signed: the Phillies believed Carlton was the superior pitcher.

“We’re trading ballplayers because we think that Carlton is one of the better pitchers in the National League,” he said. “I talked to (manager) Frank Lucchesi and called (owner) Bob Carpenter and the rest of our fellows, and they thought if we could trade Wise for Carlton, that would be a good deal for the Phillies. And that’s why we made the trade.”[13]

Both pitchers were shocked. Devine called Carlton at the pitcher’s St. Louis home to inform him of the deal.[14]

“I really didn’t expect to be traded,” Carlton said. “I just don’t understand it. I came up through the organization and I never thought about leaving. I just didn’t have anything to say about where I was going. All of a sudden you’re traded – cold turkey.”[15]

Wise, meanwhile, was surprised when Quinn arrived at his Clearwater Beach apartment to inform him of the trade. At first, Wise assumed the Phillies’ general manager was there to continue negotiations.[16]

“I was completely surprised,” Wise said. “There were a couple of times a few years back when I half-expected to be traded, but not now.”[17]

A month earlier, Wise and his wife Susan had been at a banquet where Quinn spoke about Wise’s future with the team.

“He said, ‘We’d never trade Wise. This is the fellow we’re going to build around,’” Susan recalled.[18]

“I was surprised because I’d been reading all winter that I was among the Phillies’ untouchables,” Wise said, “but I’m delighted to come to a contending ball club and good organization.”[19]

Before the day was over, Carlton, who earned about $45,000 in 1971, had a new contract that would pay him $60,000 to pitch for the Phillies. Wise, who earned $32,500 the previous season, agreed to a $50,000 salary with the Cardinals.[20]

Philadelphia Daily News — February 26, 1972

In Carlton, the Phillies obtained a 6-foot-4, 210-pound left-hander who had gone 77-62 in seven seasons with the Cardinals. Since moving into the St. Louis starting rotation, Carlton had reached double-digits in wins for five consecutive seasons, including his difficult 1970 campaign.

In 1969, he set the modern major league record by striking out 19 Mets in a single nine-inning game.

“You have to give up something to get something, but we wouldn’t have made the trade if we didn’t think it would give us the edge,” said Phillies manager Frank Luccesi, who called it “the best deal we’ve made in years.”[21]

The trade marked the first deal between the Cardinals and Phillies since October 7, 1969, when St. Louis attempted to trade Curt Flood to Philadelphia and Flood subsequently refused to report to his new team.

“I just wish I’d had a say-so,” Carlton said. “Not that it’s a problem going to Philadelphia, but … well, with the reserve clause, you just don’t have any say-so. You go where they say or you don’t play at all.”[22]

In seven seasons with the struggling Phillies, Wise had gone 75-76. In each of the previous three seasons, he had led Philadelphia in wins, including a career-high 17 in 1971. With a 2.88 ERA over 272 1/3 innings that season, the 25-year-old set career highs in games started (37), complete games (17), strikeouts (155), shutouts (four), and ERA (2.88). He also made the first all-star appearance of his career.

Early in the year, Wise had said, “To win on this club you have to pitch a shutout and hit a homer.”[23] On June 23, he exceeded even that, throwing a no-hitter and hitting two home runs against the Reds to lead the Phillies to a 4-0 win.

“I think we got a good pitcher and gave up a good pitcher,” Devine said. “The only difference, to me, is that one is right-handed and one is left-handed.”[24]

“I don’t know how it feels to not be in the second division, but I’m looking forward to finding out,” Wise said. “I’m tired of being labeled a .500 pitcher when I’ve been pitching for a ball club that is well below .500. I’m really excited. I’ve never been with a ball club that could be in a World Series.”[25]

Phillies catcher Tim McCarver, who teamed with Carlton in St. Louis from Carlton’s rookie season in 1965 until 1969, when McCarver was traded to Philadelphia, considered it an even trade.

“I think it’s about as even a trade as can be made,” he said. “Rick might have a little more poise and mound savvy. Steve has an edge in raw ability and stuff. Both are excellent pitchers.”[26]

Though he didn’t reach the heights of his 1971 campaign, Wise continued to pitch well in his two seasons in St. Louis. In 1972, he went 16-16 with a 3.11 ERA over 269 innings. The following year, he earned his second career all-star nod en route to a 16-12 season and a 3.37 ERA. After the season, the Cardinals traded him and Bernie Carbo to the Red Sox for Reggie Smith and Ken Tatum.

1972 Topps

Wise made his final major league appearance in 1982, wrapping up a career that included 18 big league seasons. He retired with a 188-181 record and 3.69 ERA.

Meanwhile, Carlton went on to pitch the next 15 seasons for the Phillies, winning four Cy Young awards on his way to a Hall of Fame career. After removing the slider from his pitch arsenal in 1971 due to the strain it placed on his arm,[27] Carlton brought the pitch back with the Phillies and learned to master it.

Later, after his career had ended, he was asked in an interview why he had been put this earth. “To teach the world to throw a slider,” Carlton answered with a grin.[28]

With Carlton at the top of the rotation, the Phillies won the National League East in 1976, 1977, and 1978, then won the World Series in 1980. Philadelphia made the playoffs again in the strike-shortened 1981 season, then captured the National League pennant again in 1983.

In 15 seasons with the Phillies, Carlton won 241 games and posted a 3.09 ERA over almost 3,700 innings. After making his final major league appearance in 1988, Carlton was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1994. He retired with a 329-244 career record, 3.22 ERA, and 10 all-star appearances. He posted a 38-14 record and 2.98 ERA for his career against the Cardinals.


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[1] Bruce Keidan, “Phils and Cards Solve Salary Problems – And Wise, Carlton Receive Increases,” Philadelphia Inquirer, February 26, 1972.

[2] Bob Broeg, “Busch: ‘I Don’t Care If Carlton Plays,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 12, 1970.

[3] Dick Kaegel, “Cards Deal Carlton To Phils For Wise,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 25, 1972.

[4] Dick Kaegel, “Cards Deal Carlton To Phils For Wise,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 25, 1972.

[5] Dick Kaegel, “Cards Deal Carlton To Phils For Wise,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 25, 1972.

[6] Bruce Keidan, “Phils and Cards Solve Salary Problems – And Wise, Carlton Receive Increases,” Philadelphia Inquirer, February 26, 1972.

[7] Dick Kaegel, “Cards Deal Carlton To Phils For Wise,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 25, 1972.

[8] “Trade Shocks Carlton,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 25, 1972.

[9] Dick Kaegel, “Cards Deal Carlton To Phils For Wise,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 25, 1972.

[10] Bing Devine with Tom Wheatley, The Memoirs of Bing Devine: Stealing Lou Brock and Other Winning Moves by a Master GM, Sports Publishing, New York, N.Y., Page 163.

[11] Bing Devine with Tom Wheatley, The Memoirs of Bing Devine: Stealing Lou Brock and Other Winning Moves by a Master GM, Sports Publishing, New York, N.Y., Page 165.

[12] Bruce Keidan, “Phils and Cards Solve Salary Problems – And Wise, Carlton Receive Increases,” Philadelphia Inquirer, February 26, 1972.

[13] Bruce Keidan, “Phils and Cards Solve Salary Problems – And Wise, Carlton Receive Increases,” Philadelphia Inquirer, February 26, 1972.

[14] “Trade Shocks Carlton,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 25, 1972.

[15] Bob Broeg, “For Rick Wise: ‘A New Feeling,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 26, 1972.

[16] Bruce Keidan, “Phils and Cards Solve Salary Problems – And Wise, Carlton Receive Increases,” Philadelphia Inquirer, February 26, 1972.

[17] Bruce Keidan, “Phils and Cards Solve Salary Problems – And Wise, Carlton Receive Increases,” Philadelphia Inquirer, February 26, 1972.

[18] Bruce Keidan, “Phils and Cards Solve Salary Problems – And Wise, Carlton Receive Increases,” Philadelphia Inquirer, February 26, 1972.

[19] Bob Broeg, “For Rick Wise: ‘A New Feeling,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 26, 1972.

[20] Bruce Keidan, “Phils and Cards Solve Salary Problems – And Wise, Carlton Receive Increases,” Philadelphia Inquirer, February 26, 1972.

[21] “Trade Shocks Carlton,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 25, 1972.

[22] Bruce Keidan, “Phils and Cards Solve Salary Problems – And Wise, Carlton Receive Increases,” Philadelphia Inquirer, February 26, 1972.

[23] “Trade Shocks Carlton,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 25, 1972.

[24] Dick Kaegel, “Cards Deal Carlton To Phils For Wise,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 25, 1972.

[25] Bob Broeg, “For Rick Wise: ‘A New Feeling,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 26, 1972.

[26] Bill Conlin, “No-Hit No-Run, No Longer Phil,” Philadelphia Daily News, February 26, 1972.

[27] Bill Conlin, “No-Hit No-Run, No Longer Phil,” Philadelphia Daily News, February 26, 1972.

[28] “Steve Carlton – Slider,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7xsdUOEnvg.

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