Lefty’s Slow Descent

25 years ago today, the Phillies said goodbye to the greatest pitcher in the franchise’s history. It was not an easy decision to make. The Phillies had hoped that Carlton would see that his skills had deteriorated, that his fastball no longer had pop or movement, and that he would agree to retire. But Lefty was nothing if not stubborn, and he refused to acknowledge that he was done. Bill Giles explained how it went down at a press conference.

“I met with Steve and his wife, Beverly, a week ago at their Center City apartment, and we discussed his retiring,” Giles said. “He convinced me at that time that he could still pitch, so I decided we’d give him another start.

“But when he was knocked out of the game in the fifth inning Saturday, I decided we had to do something. I couldn’t take it anymore, I couldn’t watch him struggling anymore. And it took me three days to get up the nerve to tell him.

“We met again Tuesday night. He again expressed his belief that he could still pitch and that he did not want to retire. But I told him that it just was not in the best interest of the Phillies to have him keep pitching for us.

“And this is easily the toughest thing I’ve had to do since becoming president of the club. I apologize for my emotions. You build up great attachments to someone who is with a club for 14 years. He’s probably had more impact than any pitcher in this club’s history.”

The club had hoped to send him out Julius Erving style, with an enormous standing ovation for his last start. Instead, two years later, after bouncing around several teams, the end came quietly in Minnesota, where he racked up a 16.22 ERA before the Twins pulled the plug. Sadly, Carlton had long been represented by an agent who was ripping him off, so part of the reason he held on for so long was money. But it was dumbass Tim McCarver who gave the real reason that Lefty held on for so long.

“Lefty has an irascible contempt for being human. To a great degree, he feels superhuman. He refuses to think like other mortals. It’s not in his makeup to ever consider things in realistic, practical fashion.

“Everybody says, ‘If I were in his shoes, I’d quit.’ But if you’re not in his shoes, you don’t understand how he thinks. Part of the things that made him great are part of the things that are making him hang on.”


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