Tagged: Bob Welch

40 Years Of Steve Carlton

It remains, in short, the most amazing season a pitcher has put together since at least Sandy Koufax, and very probably since long before him. And now, Steve Carlton’s 1972 campaign, when he won 27 of his rotten team’s 59 games, dates to 40 years ago.

So much has been written about Lefty’s work that it is amazing to consider that an extraordinarily relevant detail is usually omitted from the recounting – one that makes winning 46 percent of one team’s entire supply of victories all the more remarkable.

Steve Carlton did it in a strike-shortened season.

The first sport-wide in-season strike in American history would in later contexts seem so brief as to be almost quaint. But when Opening Day was pushed back by a week forty years ago, and each team lost between six and nine games, it was traumatic – and it contributed to the distinct possibility that Carlton missed an opportunity to win 30 games.

The Phillies were to open in St. Louis on Friday, April 7 – 43 days after they had obtained Carlton straight-up from the Cardinals for Rick Wise – and were then to return for the home opener and an additional game against Montreal beginning April 10. They should’ve been in Chicago on April 14th, but that was the last of the six games which were wiped out, simply cancelled with no attempt to squeeze in make-ups nor compensate for the havoc of imbalanced schedules that would, among other things, largely decide who won the American League East that year.

One speculates about a small alteration in a large swath of history at one’s peril. Just because the guy got caught stealing does not mean the team would’ve scored two runs when the next batter homered. They could’ve pitched to him differently or they could’ve hit him or the guy standing safely at second at just that moment could’ve invoked a Rapture of some kind. Contemplating Carlton opening up against his erstwhile Cardinal teammates on April 7th instead of against the Cubs on April 15th is rife with hypothetical disaster. He might have hurt himself there, or begun the path to a bad habit, or not faced the right batter he challenged in just the right way to uncover the keys that led to his marvelous season. For all we know, if the players hadn’t struck and the games hadn’t been cancelled, Steve Carlton might’ve lost 27 games for the 1972 Phillies.

But it is deliciously intriguing to note that Carlton won all four of his starts against the Cards in his first season out of their uniform. With Phils’ skippers Frank Lucchesi and Paul Owens adhering pretty rigidly to a four-man rotation, Carlton would’ve pitched in the second home game against the Expos on April 12 – and of course Carlton also won all of his starts (three of them) against Montreal in ’72. But if the original schedule had been observed, that would have pushed his third start from April 15 against the Cubs to April 17 against the Cards, and it probably would have denied him the chance to start the last game before the All Star break. Thus if you buy any of the argument that the strike “cost” Carlton, it probably cost him one start and the most his theoretical full season should’ve netted him was 28 wins instead of the actual 27.

Of course, since we’re down the What-If rabbit hole, the real fun comes when we look at the 14 starts Carlton did not win, in route to 27-10.

The first stunning overarching truth about Carlton’s 1972 season was that he did it almost all by himself. He lasted through 30 Complete Games, and only three of his 27 wins were saved by other relievers. For contrast, when Bobby Welch won 27 for the 1990 A’s, the sport had already changed so much that all but seven of those wins had saves (19 by Dennis Eckersley) and Welch threw just two CG’s – both shutouts. Incredibly, Carlton blew the lead in one of his own non-win starts five times during 1972, and could only blame the tissue-thin Phillies’ bullpen for one other defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. Amazingly, Carlton endured a five-game losing streak beginning May 13th. His own error was the fulcrum in a 3-1 loss to the Dodgers and Claude Osteen at home that night, and the other games in the skein saw Carlton surrender at least three earned runs. The streak ended with a no-decision exactly a month later when Carlton helped cough up his own 5-0 lead to the Reds. Johnny Bench and Julian Javier homered in the 7th, but it was still 5-3 Phillies when Joe Morgan doubled off Carlton to lead the 8th. Reliever Chris Short let the inherited run score, and then Hal McRae touched him for the game-tying homer to start the 9th. The Phils would lose it in the 10th.

There were four occasions when just slightly more offense from the Philadelphia bats might’ve gotten him another win or two.  On June 16th in the Astrodome he struck out a dozen and gave up just six hits and four walks in ten innings, but the Phils could do nothing with Don Wilson and Tom Griffin, and Dick Selma lost it in the 11th on a walk-off homer to Jimmy Wynn. On August 21st, Carlton again did marathon work without a win: 11 innings of seven hit, two run ball. He struck out 10 more, but the Phils turned nine hits and a walk off Phil Niekro into just one score, and Carlton’s 15-game winning streak was snapped. At Shea on September 24th, he gave up a lead-off homer to Tommie Agee and then watched John Bateman throw away a squib in the 8th, setting up the game-deciding sacrifice fly by the very non-immortal Lute Barnes in a 2-1 defeat (one of seven career RBI in a cameo career by the Mets’ second baseman).

But the best bet for another Carlton win probably came at Candlestick on July 15th. Carlton struggled through five, and was trailing 4-0 when Joe Lis pinch-hit for him. In the seventh, the winds changed and Phillies scored eleven off the Giants, and Bucky Brandon would vulture the win.

In short, we all knew as it happened that Carlton was creating something none of us had ever seen before. Just how special it was is only becoming clear now, with 40 years to ponder it.

Hall Of Fame…Coaches?

As the Hall of Fame induction looms, something I heard on a Cardinals’ broadcast the other day inspired me to hit the books. The gist of the discussion, which was dead serious and included not even a hint that the view might be a little skewed by some homerism, was that while there weren’t any coaches in Cooperstown, and there was no mechanism for electing any, obviously Dave Duncan would be elected, and just as soon as possible.

This is not to dismiss the idea. Far from it. I’ve always thought coaches were under-appreciated, and the first bit of research (and vanity publishing) I ever did was when I realized there were plenty of records of players and managers and umpires, but as of 1973, there wasn’t even a list of coaches anywhere. I spent a week in the Hall of Fame library that summer jotting down, by hand, all the data I could find.
I’m a “coaches guy.”
I’m just not sure Dave Duncan is the first choice to go to Cooperstown, even among just the pitching coaches, even if a side exhibit were to open honoring just them (and maybe scouts as well – that’s far more overdue). The problem, obviously, is evaluation. What constitutes a great coach? Number of .300 hitters coached? 20-game winners coached? Is it more esoteric? Does Duncan get a plaque because he managed to keep Todd Wellemeyer in the majors, and turned around Dave Stewart and Dennis Eckersley? Should he be elected solely because Kent Bottenfield, winner of 46 career major league games, went 18-7 under Duncan’s tutelage in 1999?
The bigger issue, of course, is how much is the tutelage, and how much is the talent? These aren’t exactly hunks of clay out there, being shaped by a sculptor. If coaches ever do go to the Hall of Fame, certainly SABR-metrics will probably be able to prove a coach’s impact on a staff, or a batting order, but subjectivity will be a huge factor. And what of the proverbial “bold print” data that form the shorthand of research into a player’s success relative to his peers?
This, finally, gets me to my scratch-the-surface research. Which men have coached the most Cy Young Winners? Which have coached the most World Series Champions? There are a few surprises, and though the leaders in the latter category do tend to become weighted in favor of the Yankee dynasties, there is some insight to be had.
First, the Series winners. There are a few caveats. The “coach” is largely unheard of in baseball until the early years of the 20th Century. Managers inevitably ran the team from the third base coach’s box (Gene Mauch did this well into the ’60s in Philadelphia, and Tommy Lasorda tried it as a slump-buster in the ’90s), and a pitcher or non-starting player would coach from first. Gradually the New York teams began to experiment with somebody to help the manager out – 19th Century stars Duke Farrell with the Yankees and Arlie Latham with the Giants in 1909. The Yanks clearly weren’t sold on the idea. Farrell did not coach in 1910, but came back in 1911. They then eliminated the position entirely until 1914.
The “pitching coach” was even later to evolve. Wikipedia erroneously lists Wilbert Robinson as John McGraw’s pitching coach from 1903 through 1913 and credits him with all manner of successes. In point of fact, contemporary records show Robinson managing in the minors in 1903 and 1904, playing in Baltimore as late as 1908, and running the family saloon there. He clearly helped McGraw instruct pitchers in spring training, but did not join the Giants full time as a coach until 1911.
It seems that the first World Series winning team with a coach dedicated to supervising and instructing pitchers was McGraw’s 1921 Giants, with the immortal Christy Mathewson doing the honors. But even then Matty’s health was failing and just how much time he really did the job is speculation at best. Nick Altrock might have been the nominal pitching coach of Washington’s only World Champions in 1924, but he was better known for comic antics in the coach’s box. The first true pitching coach on a World Series winner might in fact be ex-catcher Cy Perkins with the 1932 Yankees. It was still a novelty; the 1933 World Champion Giants had no pitching coach, nor did the 1945 Tigers.
In any event, the leaders by World Series wins are as follows:
7 – John Schulte, Yankees, 1936-1947
7 – Jim Turner, Yankees, 1949-1958
5 – Mel Stottlemyre, Mets, Yankees, 1986-2000
4 – Mike Gonzalez, Cardinals, 1934-1946
3 – Johnny Sain, Yankees, Tigers, 1961-1968
3 – Joe Becker, Dodgers, 1955-1963

The others with as many as two? Duncan (1989 A’s, 2006, Cards), Galen Cisco (1992-93 Jays), Ron Perranoski (1981, 1988 Dodgers), Larry Shepard (1975-76 Reds), Wes Stock (1973-74 A’s), Dick Such (1987, 1991 Twins).

Two notes on the above. You may or may not want to give Stottlemyre the 5th Series. He had to leave the team to undergo intensive treatment for multiple myeloma in September, 2000, and the pitching coach duties were assumed by Billy Connors. And whereas Turner was the embodiment of the modern pitching coach, Schulte, as late as the 1947 World Series program, is described more informally as “the man who readies the pitchers.”
The Cy Young Winning coaches are a little more diverse. The usefulness of the data also suffers from the fact there were no awards before 1956, and only one for both leagues until 1967. Nevertheless they provide some insight:
6 – Leo Mazzone: Glavine ’91 ’98, Maddux ’93 ’94 ’95, Smoltz ’96
4 – George Bamberger: Cuellar ’69, Palmer ’73 ’75 ’76
4 – Dave Duncan: Hoyt ’83, Welch ’90, Eckersley ’92, Carpenter ’05
3 – Joe Becker: Newcombe ’56, Drysdale ’62, Koufax ’63
3 – Bill Fischer: Clemens ’86 ’87 ’91
3 – Ray Miller: Flanagan ’79, Stone ’80, Drabek ’90
3 – Claude Osteen: Carlton ’82, Denny ’83, Bedrosian ’87
3 – Johnny Sain: Ford ’61, McLain ’68 ’69
3 – Rube Walker: Seaver ’69 ’73 ’75
The others with two apiece: Rick Anderson (Santana ’04 ’06), Mark Connor (Johnson ’99 ’00),  Billy Connors (Sutcliffe ’84, Maddux ’92), Roger Craig (Jones ’76, Hernandez ’84), Bobby Cuellar (Johnson ’95, Martinez ’97), Art Fowler (Lyle ’77, Guidry ’78), Marv Grissom (Chance ’64, J. Perry ’70), Cal McLish (Fingers ’81, Vuckovich ’82), Billy Muffett (Gibson ’68 ’70), Lefty Phillips (Koufax ’65 ’66), Mel Queen (Clemens ’97 ’98), Dave Righetti (Lincecum ’08 ’09), Ray Rippelmeyer (Carlton ’72 ’77), Mel Stottlemyre (Gooden ’85, Clemens ’01), Carl Willis (Sabathia ’07 Lee ’08).
There’s one scorer’s judgement required here. In both 1977 and 1978 Art Fowler gets partial credit. The first year saw Sparky Lyle’s Cy Young season, as well as what might have been the first full-time Bullpen Pitching Coach, in the Yanks’ Cloyd Boyer. In ’78 Fowler exited at mid-year along with manager Billy Martin, and Clyde King coached Ron Guidry the rest of the way.
Obviously the two lists barely coincide. Schulte’s career was over before there were Cy’s, and though he coached in the majors all but two years from 1949 through 1973, Jim Turner coached only one winner (Bob Turley in 1958). The men who fared the best on both lists seem to be Joe Becker and Johnny Sain. Consider Becker for a second. How does the team that hires you as pitching coach in 1955, the Dodgers, proceed to win three World’s Championships and three Cy Youngs through 1963 – and then when you come up empty in 1964, they
fire you? Becker went to St. Louis in 1965 and the Cubs in ’67 and did pretty well with Bob Gibson and Fergie Jenkins in those places, but evidently not well enough.
Lastly two intriguing facts which figuratively fell off the book shelf while the research unfolded. Two Cy Young winners have gone on to be pitching coaches for Cy Young winners, and if that’s not a good new trivia question, I don’t know what is. The answers are Warren Spahn (1957 winner; coach for Gaylord Perry in 1972), and Bob Welch (1990 winner, coach for Randy Johnson in 2001).
That fact in turn led to this one, which suggests Hall of Fame berths for pitching coaches may not be that great an idea. Johnson won four of his six Cy Youngs with the same team, yet with three different pitching coaches in three consecutive years: Mark Connor in 2000, Welch in ’01, and Chuck Kniffin in ’02