Cold Shoulder Steve Carlton's Parents and Family Bewildered by Hall of Famer's Mysterious Silent Treatment

Article excerpt

Inside a scrapbook Joseph Carlton keeps close at hand is a photograph of his son, Steve, as he prefers to remember him. Steve is standing with his older sister, Joanne, in this picture, and there he is, just 12, with his eyes crossed, tongue out, and both hands stretching at the ends of his ear lobes.

Joe snapped the shot himself, and it is just one of dozens that clutter his dilapidated North Miami house. Arranged on end tables, on walls and in folders, the image of Steve Carlton surrounds Joe each waking hour, and, as he points to one photograph, he says sadly: "That was before Steve became weird."

When Steve Carlton enters the Hall of Fame on Sunday in Cooperstown, N.Y., it should be a day of celebration for Joe Carlton, his wife, Anne, and their daughters, Joanne Garrard of Merrilville, Ind., and Christina Carlton of Gainesville, Fla. But, well . . . Steve did not invite them to the ceremony. In fact, Steve has not spoken to his parents or his two sisters in years.

Curiously, he does occasionally drop in on his old hometown, and he even has set aside 30 tickets to his induction for his former teammates at North Miami High School. The question the Carltons keep asking themselves is this: Why has Steve shunned us?

Only Steve Carlton himself knows the answer to that question, but he declined to be interviewed for this article through his close business associate, Mike Sheehan, who said, "The phone works both ways." Carlton has been turning down all interview requests in the days leading up to Sunday's induction.

Consequently, Joe Carlton has remained in the dark both figuratively and literally. Legally blind (although he does possess some peripheral vision), Joe, 87, has pleaded with his oldest daughter, Joanne, to contact Steve and let him know that their 81-year-old mother has been hospitalized since May because of a broken elbow.

Joanne is unsure at this point if she should, concerned that if she does and Steve rebuffs her that "Dad will be devastated." Joe also has asked her to attend the Hall of Fame induction, but Joanne is afraid that she will "drive two days" to Cooperstown and be "turned away."

"Obviously, he is (holding) a grudge of some kind - but over what?" said Joanne, 52. "No big blowups - just silence. . . . I am hurt by this. I am not sure why he is doing this."

Christina, 45, said:

"You would have to ask Steve why he has not spoken to us. Because he is the only one who knows."

Joe Carlton looked up from his old scrapbook.

"I am proud and fond of Steve - I love him," he said. "But I am also disappointed in him." DAD ALONE AT HOME

The place in which Steve Carlton grew up sits on 144th Street in dangerous North Miami. Surrounded by deep weeds and the occasional pineapple plant, the house is a Truman-era rancher decorated with old pieces of drab furniture and steeped in the stale air of neglect. Alone since Anne slipped and broke her elbow, Joe Carlton visits her at the hospital three times a week. A taxi picks him up at his door at 2 p.m., delivers him to the hospital and then returns him to his door at 5 p.m.

Far removed from the fabulous estate that Steve now occupies with his wife, Beverly, in Durango, Colo., Joe has been entrenched on 144th Street since he bought the house for $4,000 in 1948. Then a janitor with Pan Am World Airways - a job he would hold until his retirement in 1972 - Joe Carlton remembers that the house was "surrounded by wilderness" back then and was so small before the additions were completed that the five Carltons slept in one bedroom.

Steve, now 49, used to occupy himself for hours as a child tossing the ball up in the air. When he started throwing it horizontally instead of vertically, he become one of the top scholastic pitchers in Florida at North Miami High School. The newspapers called him "King Carlton," and Joe Carlton still can remember the day Steve signed his first pro contract with the Cardinals, in October 1963. …