Quiet Carlton Joins the Hall of Fame
Steve Carlton and Phil Rizzuto entered baseball’s Hall of Fame on Sunday completely in character--Carlton displaying little emotion until the end of his short speech and Rizzuto bringing down the house with a rambling half-hour soliloquy.
Carlton, stung by a magazine article this year that portrayed him as anti-Semitic, had a chance to break the silence that marked half his 24-year career and tell the baseball world what he really believes. He chose instead to reveal little of himself.
It was an altogether appropriate setting to honor one of baseball’s great recluses. The makeshift podium from which Carlton spoke was set on a lawn on the outskirts of this quaint village, the deserted Catskill Mountain foothills in the background.
Carlton, 49, lives on a 400-acre spread in the Colorado Rockies. In one of his few personal recollections, he spoke of a White House visit.
“I remember we were in the White House after we won the World Series in 1980,” Carlton said. “The next day there was a picture in the papers and I was listed as an unnamed Secret Service man.”
Carlton, who struck out 4,136, second only to Nolan Ryan, is the only pitcher to win four Cy Young awards. He won 329 games, second among left-handers only to Warren Spahn. He credited catcher Tim McCarver, who was in the audience. “He forced me to pitch inside,” Carlton said. “He’d set up behind the hitters and the only thing I could see was the umpire. I was one of the most focused pitchers to ever play the game and Timmy remembered everything about everything.”
Carlton said the trade that sent him from a pennant contender, the St. Louis Cardinals, to the woeful Philadelphia Phillies in 1972 was one of the keys to his success.
“The trade was a blessing in disguise,” said Carlton, who won 27 games that year on a team that won only 59. “It gave me a chance to put my ideas in focus.”
Carlton was followed by Leo Durocher’s former wife, actress Laraine Day, and their son, Chris, in the most riveting part of the ceremony.
The feisty Durocher, whose teams won 2,008 games, seventh on the all-time list, died in 1991 at 86. He once said he didn’t want to go in the Hall of Fame after he died. If there was bitterness when he said that, it was forgotten Sunday when his son accepted the plaque.
“His last years were spent hoping he would get a call from the Hall of Fame,” Chris Durocher said, sobbing and barely audible at times. “At first, I thought what a shame it was that he could not have lived to receive it himself. But now I know, as I stand here, that my father stands with us here today. I guess he got time off for good behavior.”
It didn’t take a hoarse Rizzuto long to change the somber mood. The 1950 MVP, who played on nine American League pennant winners in 13 seasons, was in top form.
Midway through, the former New York Yankee shortstop, and the team’s current broadcaster, broke up the crowd.
“If people are understanding this speech, raise your hands,” said Rizzuto, who will turn 77 in September. “My family knows me. They’re raising their hands.”
As he was rambling toward the end, Rizzuto told the 34 Hall of Famers on the dais they could leave if they wanted to. Johnny Bench and Yogi Berra, Rizzuto’s former teammate, took the cue and walked off.
Wendell Smith, a writer for the Chicago American and Chicago Sun-Times, received the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for his service to baseball. Smith, the first black member of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America, helped Jackie Robinson break baseball’s racial barrier in 1946 and wrote the first biography of the Brooklyn Dodger star.
New York Met broadcaster Bob Murphy received the Ford Frick Award for his more than 40 years as a broadcaster. Murphy is known for his “happy recap” after each Met victory.
“It’s been such a joy ride for me,” he said.