Saturday, March 29, 2014

"the best stuff (Lefty) ever had..."

The seven years Steve Carlton spent as a Cardinal are often just a footnote in his bio.  Most of that comes from how dominate he was as a member of the Phillies and part of that comes from being overshadowed by his teammate while a Redbird, Bob Gibson.  Despite living in that long shadow, the 24 year old left-hander would step out from it (and into the darkness of storm clouds) at least for one special night.

Sandy Koufax, Bob Feller and Don Wilson all held the modern MLB record with 18 strikeouts in a game.  Steve Carlton would write his name one strikeout better than those men while at the same time claiming a dubious honor.  More rare than a Perfect Game, an 18+ strikeout nine inning game has only happened 20 times since 1900.  Even rarer is striking out that many batters and losing a nine inning game.  Carlton's game is one of only four such games since 1900.  

How do we know that this is the Steve Carlton 19 strikeout game?  It takes a bit of sleuthing but with the evidence provided, it is pretty conclusive.  

The date of this game was September 15, 1969.  That Monday night saw not one but two rain delays.  Busch Stadium, not yet with artificial turf, would absorb much of that water.  As you can see in the screen grab, the infield dirt is extremely dark with patches of what appears to be wet dirt scattered throughout.   Also, the concrete supports seen beyond the left field wall are the same supports Mark McGwire would later drill #62 between.

The 1969 St. Louis Cardinals had seven left-handed pitchers appear in games for them that season.  Of those seven, only one gave up a homerun to the Mets in St. Louis.  In 1969, Steve Carlton gave up fifteen homeruns.   Seven of those homeruns came at Busch Stadium.  Of those seven, fourteen of them came against right-handed batters.  More importantly, he gave up 4 homeruns to the Mets that year.  Before 1969, Carlton had not given up a homerun to a Met.  Only two of those that year happened in St. Louis and both of those happened on the same night…to the same hitter.

The hitter we see in the clip is right-handed, which makes sense because right-handed Ron Swoboda was the only Met to hit a homerun off Lefty at Busch Stadium that year.  Which of his two blasts in this game was it?  Both homeruns came with a runner on first base.  Both homeruns likely would have come after the darkness of night had set in, if it had not arrived early due to rain clouds.   We can see Lou Brock watching Swoboda's ball sail over the left field wall.

Based on field conditions, time of day, handedness of the pitcher, the teams involved and the stadium played in, this footage has to be from Carlton's 19k game.  The fact that any of this game exists in broadcast form is a bit of a miracle.

This footage comes from WOR-TV’s “From Mets With Love” special.  There is no play-by-play audio on this clip.  As you can see, it has 'VIDEOTAPE REPLAY' on it, a feature WOR used regularly.  

Bits and pieces of this treasure trove continue to leak out, yet the entire show has yet to be unearthed.  The game itself would have been solely broadcast by the Mets flagship with the game being on the road and the Cardinals reluctance to broadcast home games.  Unlike Gibson’s no-hitter, it appears that (for at least a 24 hour period) this game survived on color videotape.  Odds are this six second clip is all we will ever see of Carlton’s record-breaking performance.


  1. Good sleuthing! And it's unfortunate that none of the 19 strikeouts are what was shown but a home run from that game!

  2. Like baseball's Zapruder film! Seriously though, I recall what looked like 16mm footage of this game featured on an episode of Sports Challenge, complete with fake after-the-fact play-by-play from Dick Enberg. One of the clips featured Lefty fanning a young Amos Otis, who started in LF and K'd 4 times. -- Rob (twib77)

  3. It would be interesting to see that to compare how well the video matches up. I'm guessing the 16mm film comes from the in-house filming MLB made every team do for their games.