The skinny, hard-throwing Charlton was the Expos’ first-round draft pick in June 1984 but was traded to the Reds two years later. After spending his entire minor-league career and his rookie season of 1988 as a starter, he was switched to relief duty in 1989. With a sharp-breaking slider and forkball, the southpaw hurler was almost unhittable vs. left-handed batters.
In 1990 he split time between the starting rotation (included among his 16 starts was a three-hit shutout of San Francisco on August 10th) and the bullpen, where he teamed up with fellow relievers Rob Dibble and Randy Myers to form the “Nasty Boys”, a fearsome troika that Cincinnati rode all the way to a World Series sweep of the heavily favored Oakland A’s. When he racked up 26 saves and made the NL All-Star team in 1992, he and Dibble became the first pair of teammates in major-league history to record at least 25 saves in the same season. That November, however, the Reds traded him to Seattle for slugging outfielder Kevin Mitchell.
Charlton notched 18 saves in 21 chances for the Mariners before tearing a ligament in his left elbow in early August and spending the rest of the year on the disabled list. The injury required “Tommy John” surgery, which forced him to miss the entire 1994 season. He resurfaced with Philadelphia in 1995, but performed so poorly that the Phillies released him in July. Snatched up by the Mariners, Charlton responded by pitching brilliantly the rest of the way (2-1, 14 saves and a 1.51 ERA in 30 games) claiming the closer’s job for a Mariners’ team which made up a 13-game August deficit to the division-leading Angels and earned the first post-season berth in franchise history by beating California in a one-game playoff.
Despite pitching in at least 70 games in both 1996 and 1997, Charlton struggled to repeat his 1995 success, blowing 18 saves chances over the two seasons and seeing his ERA balloon to 7.27 in ’97. Hoping to resurrect his career, he spent the next three seasons moving from Baltimore to Atlanta to Tampa Bay and briefly back to the Reds in 2000. The Reds cut Charlton on April 28, 2000, after he gave up a whopping nine earned runs in two appearances.
Signing a free-agent contract with Seattle at the end of 2000, Charlton was reunited with his former Reds skipper, Lou Piniella. He seemed comfortable in Seattle blue, earning a 3.02 ERA in 47 2/3 innings.
Before becoming a major-league baseball player, Charlton earned three different degrees at Rice University: Political Science, Physical Education and Religion. A lifelong hunter and fisherman, he spent his off-seasons with his wife Nancy on the 4,000-acre cattle ranch he owns in south Texas.