Aging pitchers and anniversaries have been notable for the Twins this month. Last week, there was the 30th anniversary of Joe Niekro’s ejection for scuffing baseballs and 44-year-old Bartolo Colon’s complete-game victory against the Rangers.
Tuesday marks another 30th anniversary involving an aging pitcher, which came with an unexpected twist. Steve Carlton, the Hall of Fame lefthander who was ending his career in Minnesota, won his final major league game. It was unusual because it was the only game Carlton won for the Twins.
It was more unusual because he talked to the press about it in front of his locker afterward.
For those of you who don’t know much of Carlton, he had stopped talking to the media in 1975, a reaction to the things written about him while he was with Philadelphia. He wasn’t the only athlete who didn’t talk to reporters, but his silence was the deepest and most intense. Season after season, his performance (and sometimes his teammates) spoke for Carlton: Four Cy Young Awards (including three after the silence started) and six 20-win seasons (including four after going media mute).
By 1987, though, he was a pitcher in search of work. He was released by the Phillies in 1986 and spent short spells with San Francisco, the White Sox and Cleveland before coming to the Twins in a trading-deadline deal at the end of July. In his first start for Minnesota, he was knocked out in the fifth inning after giving up nine runs.
In his second start, in front of a crowd announced at 50,237 at the Metrodome, Carlton, 42 at the time, was outstanding. He took a shutout into the ninth inning and was the winning pitcher in a 9-2 game against Oakland. If not for Carlton’s pitching, the night’s big stories would have been Kirby Puckett, who went 4-for-4 with two doubles and a home run, and that the Twins moved three games ahead of the Athletics in the American League West.
Brian Peterson photo
But back to Carlton. After the game, as I said, he talked to the press.
I was the press.
It was a different time. No pregame and postgame shows on TV. Some Twins games were on Channel 9 back then (John Rooney and Harmon Killebrew were the announcers) and the team showed others on pay-per-view at $6.95 per game (with Dick Bremer and Frank Quilici). On a Saturday night, even though the Twins were making their surprising run toward the World Series, there were only a few reporters in the clubhouse after the game.
I’d talked to Carlton a couple of times by then. Nothing for publication, but just the kind of chatter common between reporters and people they cover. (We had talked about the movie Being There because he noticed I had the novel by Jerzy Kosinski with me one day.) I walked over to Carlton after the game, not expecting anything but to tell him that it was a fun game to watch.
"That felt good. I've been throwing a lot of pitches this year, and that's one of the problems I've been having. In the ninth, I did what I've been doing all year, overthrowing and losing control."
Carlton was talking. I took out my notebook. He went on:
"It was frustrating (losing the shutout). I have three complete games, but not a game like this, not a shutout for eight innings. Not even close."
And those quotes from Steve Carlton were in the Sunday newspaper. I treated them like they were no big thing. To me, the bigger news was about the Twins, not that Carlton had talked. I didn’t even see reason to mention in the story that the postgame quotes, to the best of my knowledge, ended a dozen years of solitude by Carlton. (Yes, I wonder how things would be different if that happened today.)
Carlton started doing some interviews from time to time after his retirement, with much of the reporting mentioning how he had shut himself off to the media since the mid-1970s.
Now you know that wasn’t entirely true. Here’s the full story from the Star Tribune archives, if you want to talk a look.