By Maury Z. Levy
THERE WAS NO REAL SENSE in splitting hairs over it. The decision to get rid of the moustache was made by a very distinguished committee. Danny Ozark, the new manager of the Phillies, told him he’d rather see him without it. He told him this to his face. He said he just didn’t care for moustaches on ballplayers but that, of course, he wouldn’t demand that he shave. It’s hard to demand anything from the best pitcher in baseball, from the man who was voted the professional athlete of the year, from a guy who makes $165,000 to start. You can only suggest.
This is what Paul Owens, the second member of the three-man committee for the resolution of the moustache, did in his office at Veterans Stadium while he was packing up to go to spring training. Owens is the general manager of the team. Last year he was field manager for a while too, after they finally got rid of the Italian guy. Owens is looking over a pile of publicity pictures to help decide what will be used in this year’s yearbook. There are some with the moustache and some without. He separates them into two piles.
“I think we’ll be safest going with these,” he said, holding up the clean-shaven shots. “Now don’t quote me on that. I mean, he doesn’t know about this yet. He’s still got the moustache, you know.”
The third and deciding vote came from a 46-year-old schoolteacher from Buena Park, California. Larue Harcourt is president of the Athletes Financial Services Inc., a company of some 35 highly trained professionals who help make such momentous decisions. Larue Harcourt would like to see him take off the moustache because at this very moment he is working on getting him lined up with a big sponsor to do a shaving commercial. The marketing men have decided that people prefer to buy shave cream and razors from people who shave their whole face. There are just a couple inches more credibility in it.
The selling of Steve Carlton will call for a flawless product. There’ll be no trouble selling him locally. But the national picture is too fuzzy. Joe Namath could have a moustache because he’s a bachelor who plays for a winning team. On those counts, Carlton has two strikes against him.
The only one who had no real say in the moustache matter was Steve Carlton himself, in spite of the fact that it was his lip. But Carlton really didn’t care that much. “I don’t like to think about those things,” he said. “I just want to go out there and pitch and win. The moustache is only a distraction. I hate distractions. I can always grow a moustache. I can’t always win 30 games.”
Last year, Steve Carlton won 27 games for the Phillies, which came out to almost half of what the whole team won. It is indeed something to win 27 games for a team that ends up in dead last place with the worst record in baseball. Steve Carlton came out of last season like a perfectly cut 27-carat diamond in a setting of zircon baguettes.
He won the Cy Young Award, which meant he was the best pitcher in the league. And he won the Hickok Belt, which meant he was the best athlete in the country. He became quite an item. This shy guy who’d spent the first six years of his major league career in St. Louis, piling up a not-so-overwhelming 77-62 record, needed only a few weeks after his trade to Philadelphia to show that he was going to be the biggest thing to hit this town since Robin Roberts.
Last spring, Steve Carlton came walking into this city almost unnoticed. He walked alone. He sat down in a Phillies’ office and signed a contract for $67,500 for one season. He started off slowly, perhaps slowed down by the players’ strike that lopped off the first two weeks of the season. But then he warmed up. He won 15 games in a row and grew a moustache. He became the only real superstar in the City of Losers.
It was a feat of national significance. He became very much in demand as a speaker, spending the winter on the banquet circuit eating burnt roast beef and talking about winning and clean living and all those things that go hand-in-hand with the former great American pastime. Strangers bearing money came to him for product endorsements, everything from shaving cream to house paint. There were those who would try to take advantage of him. It was a rough and busy winter.
Steve Carlton came back to Philadelphia this year a changed man. And he didn’t walk alone. He was represented by 35 people from Buena Vista, California. He sat down with some of them and with some people from the Phillies and they worked out a contract that will pay Steve Carlton almost $100,000 more than he got last year. It was the beginning of a new era. And it was the end of a man.
THERE IS NO MORE Steve Carbon. There is no more lanky country kid who scrapes his feet every time somebody asks him for an autograph. Only in rare personal moments is there any semblance of an individual human being having total control over his personal destiny. At age 28, Steve Carlton has become a corporation, a highly marketable and very neatly boxed product. He is part machine and part circus act. The machine has only one function. It goes out and wins baseball games. The machine has one moving part. It’s a golden left arm. Without it, there could be no circus act.
The circus act appears wherever the money is. It tells you to paint your house with MAB Rich-Lux. It tells you to shave your face with frothy foam. In coming weeks, you’ll be seeing it almost every time you turn on the tube. Steve Carlton selling you a new Pontiac. Steve Carlton selling you a new suit. And, all the while, Steve Carlton selling you Steve Carlton. The circus act gets paid very well for all of this, of course. Only Steve Carlton never really sees the money. All of his money, including his salary from the team, is sent straight to Buena Park. In return, Carlton—like all good boys—gets an allowance. He takes some for pocket money and gives the rest to his wife and two kids. The rest of his money is tied up in oil wells and apartment buildings. He’s not exactly sure how many or how much. The people in Buena Park keep track of all that. To Steve Carlton, it’s all a distraction, some loose bolts in the machine.
It would be easy to get the wrong impression from all of this. Through it all, he’s been a very reluctant hero.
Yes, Steve Carlton has become a commodity. But, no, he’s not a whore.
“I’ve been going to these banquets all winter,” he says. ”I just can’t go to all of them. Everybody and his brother wants to give me an award just to get me to town. It’s not that I don’t appreciate it. But if I had my way, I wouldn’t go to any of them.
“Look what happened to Roger Maris a few years back. He broke Babe Ruth’s home run record. It was the biggest thing to happen to baseball in years. But he spent so much time at banquets afterwards that he lost his concentration, he got out of shape, he could hardly swing a bat. He was never the same player after that. The Yankees got rid of him. He ended up being an overweight pinch-hitter. I won’t let that happen to me.
“And I really don’t enjoy speaking at those things. It just distracts from my concentration. Everybody’s always telling you things you don’t want to hear. I came into spring training in not such great shape. I didn’t have a chance to work out all winter. I didn’t have a chance to run and do a lot of exercise, which I normally do. That upsets me. I just haven’t been in one place long enough. If I go back to my home in St. Louis, I can’t stay more than a couple days. I’ve got to go wherever they want me to go. Usually, I’d spend that time working out. But instead, I’ve been spending it with my family. I just don’t see them that much anymore.
“But I’ve got some good financial people behind me and I guess that’s what it’s all about now. We’ve looked into a lot of areas. And we’ve turned a lot of things down.
Sometimes the people behind the promotions aren’t the right people, or the contracts aren’t drawn up right. Everybody wants an exclusive with you. We’ve turned down a lot of things for those reasons. The money isn’t that great in a lot of cases anyway. So you’re just selling yourself.
“I’d rather do something that’s really good. Because I just wouldn’t put anything on the market that’s garbage. I wouldn’t let it happen. That gives me a bad reputation. If it’s not right, it’s not going to be done.
“We’ve talked about going past just the straight endorsements. We’ve talked about marketing different products using my name. Like maybe Steve Carlton baseballs or T-shirts or something. I don’t know. It bothers me a little bit. I don’t like to be exploited. There’s money in those areas and there’s exposure. Those are the only reasons I’d go into them. But I just don’t like the whole idea. I’d rather go off hunting. Be by myself.”
HE’S BY HIMSELF in Key Biscayne. Just him and the camera crew and a lot of cans of MAB paint. He’s a pro at these things by now. He’s already done three 30-second spots for the local Pontiac dealers. They show him sitting on the hood of a car in an orange plaid sport jacket and zip-front shirt. (He never wears a tie.) Carlton sits there and tells you, “I don’t want you to buy this car just because I’m Steve Carlton the ballplayer. Don’t buy it just because I won 27 games for the Phillies last year and will win 30 games this year. I won’t get mad if you don’t buy it. I’ll just go back to St. Louis.”
The MAB people have allowed a full five days to tape the paint commercial, even though it’ll only take a few hours. They just wanted to make sure they had Carlton long enough in case they ran into bad weather. And, of course, Carlton gets paid for all five days.
It’s a ‘little windy and cold for this time of year in Florida. The high’s around 60. But Steve Carlton is used to the freaky Florida weather. He grew up just a short throw from here in North Miami. He was always an athletic kid, always big. In high school, while he was quickly growing toward his current 6’5″ status, he played a few sports. He knew then he wanted to be a professional. Except to go into basketball or football, he’d need to go through four years of college, and he wasn’t really sure he was up to that. So he went to Dade Junior College, a two- year program he never really finished. A St. Louis scout spotted his pitching and signed him to a contract for a walloping $5,000 bonus. Carlton would come to learn more about money. In fact, it was probably his insistence for more money that got him traded from St. Louis to Philadelphia. The Cardinals just didn’t think he was worth all that much.
From the paint commercial in Key Biscayne, Carlton moved on to Clearwater, the Phillies’ spring training home. The opening of camp had been delayed for about a week by the threat of another players’ strike. Steve Carlton wasn’t very happy about this, about the delay. He knew things would be tough enough in spring training.
“I’m getting a little upset,” he said. “There are a lot of people down here for interviews, to do tapes with me, and I’m down here to try to get into shape, to try to get ready to have another good year. I just don’t want the distractions. But what can I do? Either I do it all or I tell them no, cut them off and create a bad image. That’s what I’m fighting against right now. You try to do everything they want you to do, but there have got to be some limits on it.
“The biggest thing about this game is the mental approach to it. That’s why all the interviewing is distracting to me. Physically, I can still run and throw, get myself in shape. But it’s just hard to concentrate on the game when you’ve got all these questions thrown at you.”
It’s only natural that all the reporters, all the radio and television people head straight to Carlton. It’s not that he’s such a bubbling interview, but he’s the only superstar they’ve got. Last season, when he was rising and the Phillies were dying, they labeled him “The Franchise.” Carlton found that very embarrassing.
“I’m not the only guy on this team,” he says. “All the guys are good. They all give it everything they’ve got.”
Funny how all baseball players talk like that. Give them a piece of apple pie and a flag and they’d all fit into the Johnny Mann singers. The truth is that if the other guys were giving it all they’ve got, they sure wouldn’t have much. Carlton seems to feel this will be the year the Phillies could turn things around. Some of the guys who’ve been sentenced to cover the team tend to agree with him. Nobody’s talking World Series yet, but a general consensus says the team just might win more games than it loses. And, for the Phillies, that’s a start.
Steve Carlton credits the projected progress to the new attitude of management. The new field manager, Danny Ozark from Los Angeles, is supposed to know what he’s doing. The new general manager, Paul Owens from the Phils’ farm system, is a lot closer to the players than old John Quinn ever was. And the new owner, Ruly Carpenter, away from his father Bob Carpenter, is even letting his hair grow a little longer.
They’ve made some interesting trades to bring new players here but, more importantly, they’ve loosened the purse strings to the players they’ve already got. This is the first year in recent history that anybody can remember the team not having any major holdouts. There were always at least a couple top players left without a signed contract come spring training, having to bust balls and bats with the management to get a few extra bucks.
The Phillies were notoriously the tightest team in the league. When everybody else was dealing out $100,000 contracts, they just wouldn’t hear of it. That’s one of the reasons they lost so many good players in the past. You get what you pay for. The former Richie Allen was a malcontent here. He’s now the darling of Chicago, having recently signed a White Sox contract that will give him $675,000 over the next three years.
Steve Carlton more than broke the Phillies’ $100,000 barrier. Considering what he’s done, he’s probably worth it. In spite of finishing so dismally last year, attendance was very good, although it was very uneven. Carlton pitched every fourth game. And every fourth game there’d be 30,000 or 40,000 people in the stands. On the days in between, they’d be lucky to get 10,000. But it all evened out.
Steve Carlton figures to have another super season. He says it’s all in his head. “I just go out there and know I’m going to win. Every game. I don’t lose. I never mention that word. That’s not necessary. I never look back. You can’t look back in this game. Live now and in the future. I never think of losing. If I start 30 games, I’m going to win 30 games. If I start 40, win 40. The other team’s got to beat me. I don’t have to beat them.”
They don’t call these guys jocks fm nothing, you know. But Steve Carlton is pretty much a nice, folksy, country guy. He looks just like Dennis Weaver —long, lanky and seemingly easy to be had, but smarter than he looks. He’s got these very beady eyes. They stare at you and follow you around and, whenever he’s ready, they penetrate you. They’re the eyes of a man of single focus.
Carlton managed to get in some training in Clearwater. The season that opens this month will tell everybody whether it was enough. As predicted, he did have a hard time getting away from the interviewers and the autograph hounds. He doesn’t mind the autograph hounds that much, though, because most of them are kids and most of them don’t ask questions.
He’ll sign for whomever asks and he’ll sign with his right hand. It’s about the only thing he does with that hand. He throws left, he bats left, but he signs right. Big baseball players are funny like that. Especially pitchers. They get paranoid about their arms. They don’t really like to talk about it, but there’s this constant terror they live with, a nightmare about waking up one morning and not being able to throw right anymore.
Steve Carlton carries his left arm like a violinist with a Stradivarius. It dangles a few inches behind where it should, just for protection. His hand is always open, like it’s gripping some invisible ball. And, unconsciously. he’ll move his fingers around, wiggle them back and forth to make sure he hasn’t been hit by some sudden paralysis. It’s a touchy way to make a living. A season could be lost by a hangnail.
WHILE CARLTON KEPT WIGGLING his fingers and signing autographs, an older, more professional-looking man stood quietly in the background. Larue Harcourt was a teacher for 25 years, business administration at a Los Angeles college. Around ten years ago, a doctor friend of his who was making a lot of money asked Harcourt if he’d help manage it for him. It turned into a profession. From doctors he went onto baseball players. He’s got some 35 people working for him now; and contracts with over 100 big athletes.
“If you can’t be a big athlete,” Harcourt says, “the next best thing is to handle their money.”
The members of Harcourt’s staff are all experts in different fields—banking, insurance, investment, promotion and so on. They all work on salary. Together they pretty much determine the financial well-being of their clients. They handle everything.
For instance, Steve Carlton the person has become Steve Carlton Inc. All of his salary is directly forwarded by the Phillies to a trust account in California. He never even sees the checks. He gets his spending and living allowances mailed to him, and the balance goes into savings accounts and investments. This is where Harcourt and his people make their money. They take nothing at all from his salary. Their profit is made from Carlton’s profit on the investments they make for him.
Like they’ll spot a good piece of real estate, say an apartment building that’s being sold for $300,000. So they’ll buy it. But they’ll buy it for themselves. They’ll then turn around and sell it to Carlton for $310,000, which gives Carlton a sound investment and gives his advisors an immediate $10,000 profit.
Actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that, since the profit technically goes to the company, Athletes’ Financial Services, and the ballplayers are all stockholders in that company.
Harcourt says he never goes out and hustles business. It’s all done with referrals. Steve Carlton came to him, having heard of him from a friend.
Harcourt negotiated Carlton’s contract with the Phillies. It was hardly a matter of negotiation, though. It was more like just naming his price. But Carlton needed the help, he says, because he just doesn’t know how to read a contract. Carlton’s real problem now is all those people running at him with money in their fists, if you want to call that a problem.
It’s pretty much up to Harcourt and his marketing men to decide just what money Carlton will take and what he’ll do to get it. All personal appearance requests are filtered straight through to California, as arc all requests for endorsements.
They went for the paint commercial because the money was right and the product was proven. They’re now giving serious looks to offers from shaving cream, cars, clothes and hunting and fishing equipment. Hunting and fishing is Carbon’s real passion. And when he has any time to himself. that’s what he does.
He has a great love of the land and most of his investments are in that area. Carlton’s a real sucker for the outdoors.
In fact, it was the lure of fishing that hooked him up to his first promotional strikeout at the hands of a guy Larue Harcourt likes to call the “Philadelphia Lawyer.” His real name is R. Jere Bloche. Bloche approached Carlton directly.
“He had this deal,” Carlton says, ”at least he said he had this deal with a rod and reel company. And I was very interested in it. That’s my bag. So I come to town and all of a sudden the rod and reel thing wasn’t there and they started throwing a whole bunch of other things at me”
Bloche was going around town passing himself off as Steve Carlton’s agent for promotional activities. Under that guise, he even persuaded City Council to present Carlton with an official City award. He set up a meeting at a center city restaurant between Carlton and a whole crew of people whom he’d offered a piece of the pie. One of them, a former PR man named Johnny Bond, had this recording studio over in Jersey. Bloche and Bond wanted Carlton to cut a record. Since he couldn’t sing very well, it would have to be a talking record, an instructional record for kids, to teach them how to pitch a baseball. (Bloche says he got out at this point because the whole deal had turned into “an abortion.” He says Johnny Bond made his own deal for the recording, that he’s concentrating more on the book.)
Carlton was very wary of the whole thing, but the money looked good. At least the promise of it did. He spoke to his people in California and they gave him the go ahead. Larue Harcourt flew in with the signed contract in his hand, just to make sure everything came off all right. The contract called for a substantial amount of the money up front, plus a percentage of the take. All parties agreeing, they went to the recording studio in Jersey.
Everything was set up there. All the mikes in place, all the recorders ready to roll. “Wait a minute,” Larue Harcourt remembers saying to Johnny Bond and associates. “I think you’ve forgotten something. The money. We were promised the money up front.” There was a lot of fumbling and mumbling, and Harcourt says he was told that the money wasn’t actually on the spot, but they had put it away in a bank account for safekeeping. That was easy enough, Harcourt said, he’d just call into Philadelphia and check with the bank. There was some more mumbling. Well, the money really wasn’t in a Philadelphia bank, Harcourt and Carlton were told. No, it was in a bank somewhere in California.
“Well, that should be easy to check,” Harcourt said, “our company’s in California. I’ll just call out there and have one of our people check it.” He says he called. There were long periods of silence in the studio interspersed with some very worried looks. Finally, the word came back long distance. There was no California bank account. Harcourt turned to Carlton, grabbed him by the arm and pulled him out of the studio, leaving the Philadelphians with their mouths open and their mikes dangling.
STEVE CARLTON SAYS that was his first bad experience with Philadelphia. Everybody had always been good to him. In fact, he set a Philadelphia sports record of sorts by going through an entire season without being booed once. He’s been feted with a Steve Carlton Night at the ballpark, given cars and televisions and all kinds of goodies. His family has been well received too. His wife Beverly and their two young sons still live most of the year out in St. Louis. But during the season Carlton has rented a big old Main Line mansion for them out in Rosemont. It’s one of the few places Carlton’s got left to enjoy some private moments.
He can’t even eat in peace anymore. Last year he was able to go into a place like Gatsby’s on Montgomery Avenue in Narberth practically without being noticed, which is a pretty neat trick when you’re 6’5″. But this year is going to be something else again. His first trip back to Gatsby’s came just before he was ready to leave to do the paint commercial. He went there with some baseball buddies. They sat in the back, in the dark, under one of the scrolls of the lords of the castle. It didn’t work. He was spotted right away. The restaurant started to buzz and a lot of heads started turning.
Carlton tried to ignore it all by not looking up. He sat there sipping a Mediterranean Stinger—a concoction of Galliano and mint and cognac—from a very big brandy snifter. One of the more forward of the crowd came up and asked for an autograph. She was a nice-looking young girl with long brown hair. She tried to start a conversation. She asked him if he’s ever been to a place called the Rusty Nail, a less formal spot.
“No,” he snapped. “I wouldn’t go there because right away all you hippies think I’m a fag because of the way I look. I mean, just because my hair’s a little long and I’ve got this moustache, that doesn’t make me one of you. All you hippies do is smoke pot. And I don’t do things like that.”
Carlton’s reaction seemed a bit extreme, but not when you consider his fear that this kind of hounding could eventually blow his concentration, and with it his career.
“What makes you think I’m a hippie?” the girl asked.
“Well, you’re wearing pants. Girls wear dresses.”
For some reason, she continued the conversation. Carlton went on to tell her how good he was at sizing people up, how he liked to study psychology.
“Really,” she said, “what kind of books do you read?”
“Well, the Bible. It’s in every room I stay at on the road.”
“What can you learn from the Bible?”
“Well, there’re a lot of people in the Bible. And I like people. But don’t get me wrong. I like to go to places to meet people and talk to people—not to pick up girls or be picked up. Say, do you want to come to The Library with us?”
Carlton got up and threw his coat over his right arm and started to leave. He didn’t see the little bald guy until it was too late. The guy came up from out of nowhere and grabbed his only available hand, the left one, and started grabbing and shaking and pumping it.
Carlton suddenly looked scared. The guy was squeezing his hand very hard and shaking it. But he wasn’t just shaking his hand, he was shaking his whole career, all his money, all his endorsements—everything.
Carlton quickly pulled back his arm and tentatively wiggled his fingers around. His face turned very pale and his forehead very wet.