I’ve been following the Brett Favre saga with detached curiosity; I have enough baseball issues to worry about without getting too deep into football
But it struck me, when thinking about Favre’s career path — long Hall of Fame tenure with Green Bay, followed by a one-year stint in New York with the Jets, now apparently to be followed by a stint in Minnesota — that he is in danger of becoming the Steve Carlton of baseball.
Carlton was a Phillies mainstay for 15 seasons after being traded from St. Louis prior to the 1972 season. Favre was a mainstay with the Packers for 16 seasons after being traded from Atlanta prior to the 1992 season. (Carlton won 77 games in seven seasons for the Cardinals; Favre threw just four passes for the Falcons, and two of them were intercepted).
Carlton won four Cy Young Awards for the Phillies and helped them win one World Series, but in 1985, with Carlton’s skills waning, Philadelphia management decided it was time to move on and released him in June. Favre won three MVPs for the Packers and helped them win one Super Bowl, but after the 2007 season, Favre “retired,” and then decided to come out of retirement to play with the Jets.
Here, courtesy of Baseball Reference.com, is Carlton’s career path from his release by the Phillies until the end of his career:
June 24, 1986: Released by the Philadelphia Phillies.
July 4, 1986: Signed as a Free Agent with the San Francisco Giants.
August 7, 1986: Released by the San Francisco Giants.
August 12, 1986: Signed as a Free Agent with the Chicago White Sox.
November 12, 1986: Granted Free Agency.
April 4, 1987: Signed as a Free Agent with the Cleveland Indians.
July 31, 1987: Traded by the Cleveland Indians to the Minnesota Twins for . The Minnesota Twins sent Jeff Perry (minors) (August 18, 1987) to the Cleveland Indians to complete the trade.
December 21, 1987: Released by the Minnesota Twins.
January 29, 1988: Signed as a Free Agent with the Minnesota Twins.
April 28, 1988: Released by the Minnesota Twins.
And here are his numbers in that stretch: San Francisco 1-3, 5.10 ERA; White Sox 4-3, 3.69; Indians 5-9, 5.37; Twins (1987) 1-5, 6.70; Twins (1988) 0-1, 16.76. This from a guy that, in his prime, was as good as just about any modern pitcher has ever been.
According the Carlton’s Wikipedia entry, “He attempted to find work in 1989 but found no takers. The closest thing to an offer was the New York Yankees offering him the use of their facilities for training purposes but no spot on the spring training team.
As far as I can tell, Carlton still hasn’t announced his retirement.
I was in San Francisco when Carlton passed through, and it was very sad to see him as a mere shadow of his old dominating self. It happens to every superstar, of course; it’s happening, in a way, to Ken Griffey Jr. right now. But most of them (some of them?) have the grace to step down before it gets downright embarrassing; Carlton didn’t. He spent two years or more trying to recapture something that was gone forever.
I’m not saying that Favre has reached the Steve Carlton level of late-career desperation. Favre was far more productive for the Jets last year than Lefty was in the nomadic stage of his career. Everyone deserves to keep playing as long as they’re still enjoying themselves, and someone still wants them. Carlton’s meandering may have tarnished his reputation slightly at the time, but two decades later, those years are pretty much forgotten, and he’s rightly regarded as one of the best lefties in the history of baseball, just as Favre, regardless of how many more teams he plays for, will remain a legendary quarterback.
But if this goes on a few more years, it could get just as painful to watch as the sad end to Carlton’s career.
(Photo credits: Getty Images for Favre/SI.com for Carlton)