By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and legendary right-hander Don Sutton passed away on Tuesday after a long and courageous battle with cancer at the age of 75.
He died at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. His son, Daron, shared the news of his death in a statement on Twitter just after 5 p.m. E.T. on Tuesday.
Jane Forbes-Clark, chair of the board of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, offered her condolences to Sutton’s family in a statement.
“Don Sutton’s brilliance on the field, and his lasting commitment to the game that he so loved, carried through to his time as a member of the Hall of Fame,” said Clark. “I know how much he treasured his moments in Cooperstown, just as we treasured our special moments with him. We share our deepest condolences with his wife, Mary, and his family.”
Sutton is the ninth Hall of Fame inductee to pass away within the past nine months. Al Kaline, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Whitey Ford, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro and Tommy Lasorda have also died during that period.
Born in Clio, Ala., in 1945, Sutton was raised in the community of Molino in the Florida Panhandle. He realized he wanted to be a professional pitcher at a young age and he devoted himself to perfecting his mound skills in high school and at the collegiate level. The Los Angeles Dodgers signed him in September 1964.
The young right-hander proceeded to post a combined 23-7 record between class-A and double-A in his sole minor league season before he joined the Dodgers’ rotation alongside Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale in 1966.
Rarely overpowering, but arm with a variety of pitches – including a devastating curveball – Sutton became a fixture in the Dodgers’ rotation and one of the most durable and reliable starting pitchers of all-time. From 1966 to 1985, he hurled 200 or more innings in 20 of 21 seasons.
Though he never won a Cy Young Award or tossed a no-hitter, he was a model of consistency who registered 15 or more wins in 12 seasons, finished in the top five in National League Cy Young Award voting five times and was selected to four All-Star games. He also pitched in four World Series.
In all, in 23 big league seasons with the Dodgers, Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland A’s and California Angels, he made 756 starts, which ranks third all-time behind only Cy Young and Nolan Ryan. His 324 wins are the 14th most in MLB history, while he ranks seventh all-time in innings pitched (5,282-1/3) and strikeouts (3,574). For his efforts, he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998.
Following his playing career, he enjoyed a successful broadcasting career that saw him serve as an analyst on Atlanta Braves games for parts of three decades.
In total, he spent more than 50 years around Major League Baseball and not surprisingly he developed a number of Canadian links and connections. Here’s a summary of them:
-On April 23, 1966, two days after he was acquired by the Chicago Cubs from the Philadelphia Phillies, Chatham, Ont., native Fergie Jenkins relieved Cubs starter Bob Hendley in the third inning of a game against Sutton and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field and proceeded to toss 5-1/3 shutout innings to earn the win in his Cubs’ debut. Making his performance even more impressive was that Jenkins also clubbed his first major league home run. It was a solo shot off Sutton in the bottom of the fifth inning. Jenkins also knocked in the Cubs’ second run with an RBI single in the seventh inning in the 2-0 victory. Jenkins expressed his condolences to Sutton’s family in a statement on Twitter on Tuesday (See below).
-That home run was one of three hits that Jenkins recorded in 10 at bats against Sutton. The other two hits were singles. Jenkins was also teammates with Sutton on the National League All-Star team in 1972. The National League beat the American League 4-3 in that contest that was played at Atlanta Stadium. Sutton hurled two scoreless innings, while Jenkins did not pitch.
-So what Canadian had the most hits against Sutton? The answer is Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and Astros outfielder Terry Puhl (Melville, Sask.). Puhl went 15-for-39, good for a .385 batting average against Sutton. Aside from Jenkins, the only other Canadians that I could find that had at bats against Sutton were right-handed pitchers and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductees Ron Taylor (Toronto, Ont.) and Reggie Cleveland (Swift Current, Sask.) both were hitless in their sole at bats against the Hall of Fame righty.
-Given Puhl’s .385 batting average against him, Sutton was probably glad to have the Canadian outfielder as his teammate when he joined the Astros as a free agent prior to the 1981 season. Sutton played with Puhl on the Astros in 1981 and 1982. He also shared a dugout with Canuck right-hander Gordie Pladson (New Westminster, B.C.) during those two seasons.
-Overall, Sutton made 40 appearances (39 starts) against the Montreal Expos and posted a 17-11 record and a 3.04 ERA. He was more effective at Jarry Park than he was when the Expos moved to Olympic Stadium in 1977. At Jarry Park, he was 6-3 with a 2.92 ERA in 12 games, including 11 starts. At The Big O, he was 1-4 with a 4.98 ERA in seven starts.
-His best performance in Montreal was the first pro game he ever pitched in the city. On May 28, 1969, he started for the Dodgers and fired a five-hit shutout in a 6-0 win in front of 11,042 fans. He struck out six Expos. “That’s the best fastball he [Sutton] had this season,” Dodgers general manager Al Campanis told the Montreal Gazette after the game.
-According to Brodie Snyder in his 1981 book, The Year the Expos Finally Won Something!, the Expos strongly pursued Sutton as a free agent after the 1980 season, but the veteran right-hander expressed little interest in playing north of the border and instead signed with the Astros. The Expos went on to sign right-hander Ray Burris.
-The Astros traded Sutton to the Milwaukee Brewers, who were then in the American League, on August 30, 1982 and he went 4-1 with a 3.29 ERA in seven starts down the stretch to help the Brewers win the pennant. He split the next five seasons in the American League with the Brewers, A’s and Angels. During that time, he made 12 starts against the Toronto Blue Jays and went 6-4 with a 3.81 ERA.
-Six of his starts against the Blue Jays came at Exhibition Stadium, where he posted a 3-3 record and a 4.40 ERA. He did pick up a win for the Brewers in his first start at Exhibition Stadium. On April 12, 1983, he hurled eight innings and allowed five runs (four earned) before giving way to reliever Jamie Easterly to close out the Brewers’ 6-5 victory. Following the game, Sutton told the Associated Press that he pulled himself after the eighth inning because he knew he was out of gas. “I said to Harvey [Kuenn, Brewers manager], ‘That’s it, I’ve had enough,'” said Sutton. “I’ve seen myself pitch 600 times to know when I should come out.”
-Sutton pitched with Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Kirk McCaskill (Kapuskasing, Ont.) in the California Angels’ starting rotation for parts of three seasons from 1985 to 1987. The then 25-year-old McCaskill had one of his finest seasons in 1986 when he went 17-10 with a 3.36 ERA in 246-1/3 innings in 34 appearances. Sutton served as a mentor for McCaskill that season. That year, McCaskill’s velocity was up from the previous season (to about 91 mph), but he told the Los Angeles Times in a July 4, 1986 article that he was adhering to Sutton’s advice and not talking about his velocity. “Don Sutton said to me, ‘Don’t tell anyone you’re throwing harder,”’ said McCaskill. “For 20 years, all you’ve heard about Sutton is that he has no stuff, that he just gets by. Well, I can tell you – that’s bull. But that’s what he has made people believe and it’s worked for him. He keeps people off-guard. I never thought much of the psychology of the game before, but what he told me makes a lot of sense . . . I don’t want to tell anyone how fast I’m throwing.”