In 1982, Steve Carlton won his fourth Cy Young Award, going 23-11 with a 3.10 ERA for the Philadelphia Phillies.

In 1983, he became the second of three men that to surpass Walter Johnson’s all-time mark of 3509 career strikeouts — Nolan Ryan was the first, and Gaylord Perry was the third.

By the end of the season, Carlton had surpassed Ryan and stood in first place with 3709 Ks, thanks to 275 that summer — Lefty’s fifth strikeout crown, second in a row, and third in five years.

Oh, and in September of 1983, he won his 300th game.

Also oh … his efforts helped the Phillies to a National League East division title, and then he went 2-0 with a ridiculous 0.66 ERA against the Dodgers in the NLCS.

Carlton lost his lone start in the World Series game as the Phils dropped a five-game snoozer to the Baltimore Orioles, but it was still a season to remember.

All this at age 38.

The next season was a step down, with Carlton running up a 13-7 record with a 3.58 ERA, and his K/9 dropping from 8.7 to 6.4

Then in 1985, at age 40, the wheels fell off — injuries limited him to just 16 starts, and he ran up a 1-8 record with a respectable 3.33 ERA, but with more walks (53) than strikeouts (48).

Things got worse in 1986, with Lefty coming out of the gate to the tune of 4-8, 6.18.

The Phillies released him in late June.

At age 41, it seemed Carlton was out of gas. Time to hang up his spikes.

But …

Carlton wasn’t ready to walk away.

And, with a Hall of Fame resume under his belt, it’s really not surprising that someone gave him another chance.

On July 4, 1986, the San Francisco Giants signed Carlton and inserted him into their rotation.

There were some moments, too, including a big milestone in orange and black — on August 5, he recorded his 4000th career strikeout.

Topps recorded that highlight, sort of, on one of the miniature cards they issued on the side of their wax boxes in 1987:

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Hold that image in your mind for a moment, and check the back of the card, where 4000 comes into play:

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Now, scroll up and look at the front of the card again, because you need the imagery for the rest of this story.

The sour, slightly challenging expression.

The airbrushed Giants hat.

That storm-cloud-gray fake uniform against a blue sky.

The hint of old-man eyebrow bushes beginning to emerge, promising future myopia and get-off-my-lawn-you-kids rages.

And then consider …

Two days after Carlton’s big moment, and with six starts and a 5.10 ERA for manager Roger Craig, he was sent packing again.

Released by the Giants on August 7.

Time to retire?

Nah … the White Sox signed him on August 12, then let him walk in the offseason.

Finally, he was …

Well, he was back in the spring, trying to catch on with another team, that’s what.

The Indians took the bait in April, then traded him to the Twins in July, for Jeff Perry. Amazingly, Carlton made seven starts for the eventual world champs down the stretch, though he didn’t appear in the postseason.

Then … Minnesota released him in December. Finally, it was over.

Except, it wasn’t.

The Twins re-signed Carlton in January 1988, and he opened the season with four appearances, pitching to the tune of a 16.76 ERA.

Minnesota released him in April.

Months passed with no announcement from Carlton, but when no teams came calling as the 1989 season dawned, he finally announced his retirement at age 44.

All told, Carlton’s last four seasons in the majors yielded a 16-37 record with a 5.21 ERA and -2.2 WAR (yes, negative) for five different clubs — a sad and clinging conclusion to one of the greatest mound careers of all time.

And Topps was right there to commemorate it all with one of the saddest, most foreboding baseball cards ever to hit store shelves.

1987 Topps Baseball Card Pick Choose Your Cards 1-200

$0.99
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1987 Topps John Offerdahl Rookie Card PSA 8

$16.50
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Mark McGwire RC - 1987 Topps #366 - PSA 9 MINT

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1987 Topps Bo Jackson #170 ROOKIE CARD-Royals

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