The Ultimate Phillies bracket is down to the Final Four: Richie Ashburn represents the outfielders. Chase Utley beat out Mike Schmidt to represent the infielders. Carlos Ruiz, somewhat inexplicably, represents the catchers and relievers. And Steve Carlton, Lefty, represents the starting pitchers.
A case can be made for any of these players—yes, even Chooch—to be named the Ultimate Phillie in this tournament. Yesterday, we made the case for Whitey to win.
Today, we asked a national voice with Philly roots to make the case for Lefty.
The Case For Lefty: Kevin Negandhi, ESPN SportsCenter anchor
First off, I’m stunned…just stunned that Mike Schmidt isn’t in this Final Four. When it comes to all time Phillies Final Four lists, Schmitty should automatically qualify. He deserves a bye until the semifinals, and that includes a Final Four in most boos, wigs, strikeouts and butt shimmys. That’s how much of an impact #20 had on this franchise. He is the greatest third baseman of all time. He was the yin to Steve Carlton’s yang.
I was lucky to grow up with the two greatest players to ever wear the maroon pinstripes. I can’t think of one without wondering what the other is doing. That leads me to this next question – Where the heck is Lefty and what is he doing right now? Two questions that are far more simple than the real answers we would probably get.
Like Schmidt with positional players, Carlton is the man I compare every pitcher to. He was THE ACE. Lefty was the FACE of a franchise during the lowest of lows and the highest of highs. Who else can say that? In 1972, his first year with the Phillies, he won 27 games. A fantastic achievement in any year, but did you ever look at that ’72 roster? This feat seems more alien-like than human, since that squad won a grand total of 59 games. He logged 346 innings and struck out 310 batters, posting an ERA of 1.97 as on his way to a Cy Young. Do you know how good you have to be every fifth day if on the days you don’t pitch, your team won a total of 32 games the rest of the season?
I wasn’t around to witness that season but by the time I could pick up a baseball, I dreamed of throwing it with my left hand. That never worked, but Lefty’s slider did–and it got better in the big moments when the Phillies needed him most. Case in point, during that magical 1980 run, my first real year of Philadelphia sports memories, Carlton went 3-0 in the postseason, capping off a year where he won another Cy Young after posting a 24-9 record with a 2.34 ERA in the regular season.
While Harry’s “swing and a long drive…” helped Schmidt become the face of the franchise, it was Lefty who quietly made opposing sluggers consistently swing and miss. For years, I could not stand Nolan Ryan because he would battle Carlton for the most strikeouts in the league. Every day I would tear through the sports section of my local paper trying to locate the Astros box score to see if Ryan pitched the night before and what the K total was for the season. It wasn’t healthy. But it was the only way for me to fight for Lefty’s relevance. He’s fourth all time in strikeouts. The three in front of him? Ryan, Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens.
When past great pitchers are named, Carlton is often overlooked. Shoot, when great lefties are mentioned, he can sometimes be forgotten, and his nickname is “Lefty” for crying out loud. But stack up his numbers and his success against anyone – it’s like facing his nasty slider – you’ll whiff.
If Schmidt didn’t make this Final Four (a travesty and I’m screaming loud noises at random people in Bristol right now), then Carlton deserves to be at the top. That said, I’m already prepared that he’ll get overlooked at some point in this tournament, but if that happens, I’ll be happy to know at least Nolan Ryan isn’t going to finish ahead of my ACE.