RIP Don Sutton, 1945-2021

21 03 2021

Less than 2 weeks after Tommy LaSorda died, another Dodgers great passed away when Don Sutton died on January 19th after a long battle with cancer.  After Seaver and Niekro – Sutton was the third 300 game winner of the past year.

Sutton was a model of consistency.  He came up to the Dodgers’ big league club in 1966 at the age of 21 and went 12-12 over 225 innings for the team.  He was the 4th starter for the NL champions – but there was a lot to say for being that reliable for a top notch team.  He overlapped that one season with Sandy Koufax – Koufax (who is only 9 years older than Sutton), was finishing up the most dominant pitching stretch in modern history.  He would retire after the Dodgers were swept in the World Series by the Baltimore Orioles.  Sutton didn’t get to pitch in that World Series – and the disappointment at the game’s greatest stage became something of a theme for this all-time great.

That aside, Sutton became a workhorse like quite a few of the great pitchers of that era.  He threw over 200 innings for 20 of the next 21 seasons – only missing the 1981 strike season when he pitched 159 innings and would have almost assuredly met that mark in a full season.  Even in 1987 at the age of 42, he missed the 200 mark by a mere 8.1 innings.

I found an interesting (dubious) record for Sutton – he has the most at bats in MLB history without a homer.

Back to the postseason.  What struck me with Sutton was how unlucky he seamed to be as far as getting a World Series ring.  He lit the minor leagues on fire in 1965, going 23-7 at A and AA level but wasn’t called up when the Dodgers won the World Series.  The next year he was debatably the Dodgers 2nd best pitcher but didn’t get to pitch in the World Sereis – with the Dodgers down 3-0, Walter Alston passed him over for Don Drysdale for game 4 (Drysdale pitched great in a 1-0 loss, the Dodgers issue was their hitting which scored 2 runs in the whole series).

The Dodgers made 3 more World Series in his tenure with the team – losing 4-1 to Oakland in 1974, then dumping back to back series to the Yankees in 1977 and 1978.  After 15 seasons with the Dodgers, Sutton left via free agency to join the Astros in 1981 – and of course, LA won the World Series.  In 1982, he was traded to the Brewers, who lost to the Cardinals 4-3 (in fairness, he contributed greatly to that loss).  In 1985 he was with the fabled Angels who lost the ALCS in 7 games to the Boston Red Sox.

He went back to the Dodgers in 1988 for his last season, and though he didn’t finish the season there, he technically notched that World Series ring.  He retired as (and still is) the Dodgers all-time leader in just about every cumulative statistic – though Clayton Kershaw could pass a few of those (or at least strikeouts).

RIP to an underrated pitcher!

 


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