Steve Carlton never used to talk. Now he can't shut up. He's got the muse.

Talking about gamma rays! Mind-controlling low-frequency sound waves! Three hundred Italians ruling the world from a meeting at a round table in Rome -- no, wait. ... make that "12 Jewish bankers meeting in Switzerland" to control the world! His house in Colorado resembles a bunker, complete with three-foot-thick cement walls and a 7,000-square foot storage area underneath the main living area filled with canned food, bottled water and weapons stored in plastic plumbing pipes. Why?

"The revolution is definitely coming," Carlton is quoted as saying.

And eight straight U.S. presidents have committed treason. And AIDS was "created at a secret Maryland biological warfare laboratory. ... 'to get rid of gays and blacks, and now they have a strain of the virus that can live 10 days in the air on a plate of food, because you know who most of the waiters are. ... ' "

Long before the article attributing all those comments to Carlton hit the newsstands this month, one of Carlton's handlers called Philadelphia Magazine editor Eliot Kaplan, concerned that the magazine's fact-checker was focusing on such topics during calls to the ex-Phillies pitcher. "This isn't going to be another one of those 'Nutbar in the bunker' stories, is it?' " Kaplan says he was asked.

Well ...

Few sports figures have made remarks as consistently strange as Carlton's. Former Los Angeles Dodgers executive Al Campanis's racist theories on buoyancy come to mind.

Carlton's insistence, under fire, that his remarks were taken out of context, made off the record, quoted inaccurately or never uttered at all to magazine writer Pat Jordan sounds suspiciously like Charles Barkley's complaint a few years back that he too was misquoted -- in his own autobiography.

Carlton's complaints would be easier to take seriously if he challenged part of Jordan's article -- not the entire six-page spread. A seed of doubt might have been planted too if scads of teammates rushed to Carlton's defense. But even Tim McCarver, Carlton's personal catcher in Philly and a close friend for three decades, has said Carlton's "eccentricity" is "misguided" and one of Carlton's problems is he becomes "confused reading about radical things."

Then again, it could be something else we've just learned about Carlton: He likes to listen to Rush Limbaugh's radio show, which -- come to think of it -- travels over LOW!. ... FREQUENCY!. ... SOUND!. ... WAVES!


There's that concept again.

Carlton didn't return phone calls Friday. But he has publicly apologized if he offended anyone with his comments.

Jordan firmly says, "I wrote what he said."

Neither McCarver nor Jordan believes Carlton is a bigot or anti-Semite. Ask someone else who has read Carlton's remarks -- especially a Jew or a homosexual or an African American -- and you might get a different answer. I'm more inclined to agree with what sociologist Harry Edwards said when people rushed to Campanis's defense: "If he's not a racist he'll do till the real thing comes along."

The American Jewish Congress immediately condemned Carlton's remarks and issued a statement urging the Baseball Hall of Fame to rescind Carlton's election before his induction on July 31. (It later withdrew its objections when Carlton clarified his remarks.)

When reached Friday, David Smith, a spokesman for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, denounced Carlton's remarks as "reprehensible and based in hatred. He has absolutely no place being entered in the Hall of Fame. Comments like his inspire violence, and are totally in conflict with the values that should be exemplified."

But Hall of Fame President Ed Stack has said Carlton's entry will stand.

For the sake of argument, let's say McCarver and Jordan are right and Carlton is not a bigot.

Then what is he?

Jordan, who spent three days with the reclusive Carlton at his Durango, Colo., home, says: "He's a fearful man, one of the most fearful men I've ever met. Fear is a dominating thing with Carlton. And whenever you have a personal neurosis like that -- be it fear, anger, guilt, whatever -- you justify it by pointing to the outside world for reasons or influences. When he feels it {fear}, he hunts around, points to all these conspiracies that might or might not be related. ... He takes to heart just about anything he reads. And he doesn't see the contradictions in the things he reads."

As a kid who was haunted by fears of an imminent apocalypse because of the passages my mother used to read aloud when she was on her Edgar Cayce kick -- "Listen to this, honey. It says here the end of the world will happen when you're ... um ... 35! How 'bout that?" -- I have to add it would have been nice if Carlton would make up his mind when it comes to his conspiracy theories.

Is "The Revolution" going to be started by the Skull and Bones Society of Yale University OR the International Monetary Fund OR the World Health Organization? He mentions them all. And is it those 12 Jewish bankers OR British intelligence OR the Elders of Zion OR the U.S. and Russian governments that are ruling the world?

There has always been a debate about whether careless words really are glimpses of the soul, whether words can inflict harm the same way actions do, whether words -- and how many -- are enough to make a life's work irrelevant. And the answer, unsatisfying as it sounds, is that it depends. The bottom line here is Carlton gets into the Hall of Fame, alongside unchallenged racists such as Ty Cobb. But now, like Cobb, his name might be forever sullied. And Carlton gets this asterisk too: It was better when he refused to give interviews all those years. We didn't miss a thing.