Steve Carlton is probably the least known of the 300-game winners whose careers started after 1950, the result of him rarely appearing in the media since his retirement and his career being played out mostly before cable tv began. At this point, he may be better known for his reluctance to talk to the media than for his pitching skills. This post aims to introduce (or re-introduce) Carlton, in his own words, rather than talk about his image.
Here are some Carlton quotes from mid-1988, in an interview with Frank Dolson of Knight-Ridder News Service:
“I don’t like to talk about myself. A lot of people like to talk about themselves. I find it boring, and a little bit embarrassing. So here I am talking about myself. Well, talking about the game.”
On trying to hang on in the game at 43: “People are entitled to their opinions, but you have to go with what you know. It’s my life. It’s not their life.
“It’s in your blood. You don’t do something for 23 years and all of a sudden walk away and totally forget it. That’s insane. The game becomes part of you. It is you.
“That’s one of the things that kept me going – not wanting to give that [Hall of Fame] speech. I knew the longer I stayed in the game the longer I could push that date back. But if it happens, it happens.”
On playing baseball: “There are very few jobs that you can have where people ask you, “Hey, did you play today?’ Of the four major sports, I think baseball is the most unique of all. You travel all over the country. You spend three or four days in each city. You get meal money. The traveling secretary takes care of all your needs. Everything’s done for you. There’s so much free time. The money’s fabulous. But even if the circumstances were less than they are, the game’s so beautiful – the clubhouse, the environment.
“It’s funny, these ‘dream weekers’, they come down (each spring) and they pay to play. We’re the other way around. We’re getting paid to play. And if you love the game, there’s probably nothing you wouldn’t do to stay in it.”
On not talking to reporters: “Writers depend on the quotes too much, and they get away from their skills. They didn’t go to college and train just to write down quotes. I can write down quotes and I have no skills as far as journalism.
“What I did, I think, brought a little more creativity out of the writers. Like the guy down here (who) used to carry on that bogus interview with me every spring. He’d make up the questions and answer them. By not talking, I extracted from the writers a little more ingenuity.
“It’s not that you walk around with tunnel vision all your life. It’s just that when something starts taking away from your focus of attention, you eliminate it.
“My job was not to be a politician. My job was to perform on the field. So I chose a way for me to perform better. I did it a way. I did it my way. I’m not saying it’s the way.”
On the approach to the game: “I knew I was just like an ordinary pitcher (in) the early part of my career until I started keying in on the mental power. (Often) the game comes down to one pitch. You don’t make it, the game’s over. To be able to make that pitch in a situation, you have to be more than a physical individual. I recognized at an early age that I had to learn to tap into this inner strength, this concentration, this ability to make the key pitches under that type of so-called pressure. I never recognized pressure because recognizing it gives it credibility.
“A lot of these clubhouses today, everybody’s gone within 10, 15 minutes of the end of the game and you don’t know when they come out if they won or lost. There’s no facial expression to give it away…. I’d lock the door so they couldn’t get out, make them stay for at least an hour. When I was with the Cardinals we used to stay around, sip a few beers and talk about the game. That’s how you develop that unity. That’s how you get smarter baseball-wise.
“There are certain things (besides talent) that make a ballclub work. You’re not robots when you go out there. You must converse in the clubhouse and work as a unit. Baseball isn’t really a team sport in a sense because you can only do something when the ball comes to you. But it is a team sport off the field and in the clubhouse.”
And, on a possible post-playing career: “I always measure things in life by aggravation levels, and managing probably teeters along that line where the level might be a little too high. But I like people, and I don’t think you manage people as much as you lead them. I’m very secure about myself, so I don’t think people would sense any problem with me being insecure like a lot of managers are. Actually, I’ve got a lot to offer to the game. I know a lot about training the body, a lot about pitching.”
Here are some quotes from Carlton, talking in 1987 as a Twin, about not talking to the media: “It was just the thing to do. It was just the right time. We won’t go into specifics. It was the thing to do at the time. There’s only so much you can tolerate in life, and I have to live with myself. To thine own self be true, right? That’s Shakespeare.
“See, I don’t want everybody to know me, and you guys want everybody to know me. That’s where the conflict is. . . . But it’s time to put all that behind. It’s time to move on. Life is in continuous flux. You have to move with it.”
About his status: “I have goals, but I won’t say. My goal was to win 250, but I screwed up. Sure, it’s important to have goals. That’s where the mental part comes in, because the thought always precedes the act, and your mind has to have something to exercise, along with the body. Train the body, train the mind.”
About the “tarnished legacy” of ending his career playing for five different teams in his last two years: “That’s what you guys think. I’m not like that. . . . Why not go for 400 (wins), or 500. That’s why I don’t look back on any of the records, because it has a tendency to belabor what you’ve done. Whatever is behind you is behind you. Keep striving, keep at it. (If) Cy Young would have felt like that, he’d have had 320 victories (instead of 511). Life is for doing.”
Finally, here’s Carlton talking to reporters after his Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 1994: “This is not in my nature to sit up here and take questions. I really don’t feel comfortable in the limelight . . . It’s not my nature. I’ve been trained differently, so these things that feed ego are not really a necessary part of my life, and I don’t desire it. I enjoy my privacy, I enjoy my meditation and the way I conduct my life. I could do that for the rest of my life without any witnesses . . .
“But I’m sure with this type of exposure it will be more difficult to walk around and not be recognized.”