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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

On Michael Wacha and Steve Carlton

Two high-profile 22-year-old pitchers for the St. Louis Cardinals faced the Boston Red Sox in the World Series – 46 years apart.

The entire baseball world has now witnessed the poise and performance of St. Louis Cardinals rookie Michael Wacha. In the 2013 post-season, the 22-year-old right-hander is 3-0 with an 0.43 ERA and was named the National League Championship Series Most Valuable Player.

The Texan’s meteoric rise to the majors, sticking after pitching just over one season in the minor leagues, led to questions here and elsewhere as to its uniqueness.

While there may have been other Cardinals pitchers in the interim to arrive as quickly, the name that immediately came to mind for me as a comparison is a Hall of Famer, Steve Carlton.

“Lefty” had been signed out of a Miami high school in October 1963 at the age of 18. The next summer, Carlton breezed through two Class-A leagues and Double-A with a combined record of 15-6 with a 2.22 ERA. At the start of his second professional season – on April 12, 1965 at the age of 20 – the left-hander made his major league debut with St. Louis.

Not having the collegiate experience of Wacha made Carlton’s rapid rise to the bigs even more impressive, in my opinion. Though in reality, additional development time was needed. Carlton’s career did not really take off until the Championship season of 1967 when he was 22 – the same age as Wacha now.

In fact, Carlton’s team took the same title Wacha and his teammates are currently chasing, with the same opponent standing in the way – the Boston Red Sox.

For the record, Carlton absorbed a hard-luck loss in his first World Series appearance in 1967, despite allowing no earned runs in six innings. In Game 5 at Busch Stadium, the Sox scored an unearned tally in the third inning due to a Mike Shannon error at third base sandwiched between two of Carlton’s three hits allowed. Lefty departed for a pinch-hitter in the home sixth, down 1-0 in a game the Cards eventually lost, 3-1.

Carlton went on to pitch for another world championship club, the 1980 Philadelphia Phillies, for a total of two titles in his 18 seasons.

(I feel proud that I was able to get this far into the story before once and always condemning Gussie Busch for ordering Carlton to be dealt away following the 1971 season over a few shekels. It was the most colossal trade blunder in Cardinals history.)

At any rate, it is completely unfair to expect Wacha to become a right-handed Carlton, winning four Cy Young Awards and 324 games – but it is still fun to consider the possibilities. Wacha clearly has a shot to top Lefty in one very important area. Perhaps it will not take him 18 years to exceed Carlton’s number of championships – hopefully accomplished with the same team!

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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14 Responses to “On Michael Wacha and Steve Carlton”

  1. blingboy says:

    I would note that it was not until the 1972 seaon that Carlton could say he won as many as 33 games over the course of two consecutive seasons, which Lance Lynn has already done in his first two as a starter. And we have guys who are better than Lance, and younger. Without any fall off in performance, he could be our 4th or 5th best starter by late next season.

  2. JumboShrimp says:

    Carlton collected 329 wins in the majors. A fantastic winner, strikeout artist, and innings eater, for years and years.
    He won 27 games in his first year with the Phillies, despite being trapped on a team that went just 59-97. That’s not easy to do.

    • JumboShrimp says:

      5,200 innings pitched, 4,100 strikeouts. Carlton was not overpowering for a few years, which many have been, but sustained excellence for two decades. He seemed driven to stay in top flight physical condition. Pitchers today generally do not receive such a workload.

  3. Bw52 says:

    Since Bob Gibson who can think of the Cards pitchers who have won 100 + games while wearing the Redbird uniform? Bob Forsch and Matt Morris only ones I can think of? Anybody else?

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