On January 18, 2021, Don Sutton tragically lost his battle with cancer at the young age of 75. Sutton played in Major League Baseball for 23 seasons, spending 16 of those with the Los Angeles Dodgers. During his career, he also played for the Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland Athletics, and the California Angels. In his career, he won a total of 324 games and pitched 58 shutouts, including five one-hitters. He ranks seventh on baseball’s all-time strikeout list with 3,574. Even after his amazing career, he became a celebrated broadcaster for several more decades. Don Sutton was a true baseball lifer. Here is a look back at some of his most memorable moments during his Hall of Fame career.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Don Sutton only spent one year in the minor leagues before joining the Dodger MLB team. He made his debut on April 14, 1966. He was the fourth pitcher in the team’s starting rotation alongside Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and Claude Osteen. During his career with the Dodgers, Sutton set a team record for career wins.
In his rookie season at the of age 21, Don Sutton struck out 209 batters. That was the highest strikeout total for a rookie in Major League Baseball. The last person to do so was Grover Cleveland Alexander, who amassed 227 strikeouts in 1911 for the Philadelphia Phillies. Sutton finished his rookie campaign with a record of 12-12 and added a stellar 2.99 ERA. The Dodgers made the World Series in 1966, and Don Sutton was supposed to make his first start in game four. The Dodgers however, decided to give Don Drysdale a second start in the series resulting in the Dodgers being swept by the Baltimore Orioles.
During the 1966 off-season, Sandy Koufax announced his retirement from Major League Baseball on November 18. This gave Don Sutton a larger role with the team in the next two seasons. During Don Drysdale’s final days in 1969, Sutton started a career high 41 games and had 17 wins. His 17 victories launched a stretch of 10 consecutive years in which he won at least 14 games per season. He had a record of 17-18 with a 3.47 ERA with 11 complete games.
No doubt, Don Sutton’s best years came during the 1970s. Arguably, 1972 was his best year. He finished with a 19-9 record, a career low 2.08 ERA, and he led the NL in WHIP at 0.913. Also, he led the league with nine shutouts while earning an All-star selection. This would be his first all-star selection out of the four in his career. All four All-Star games came during the 1970s: ’72, ’73, ’75, and ’77. In 1976, Sutton had another amazing year, he finished with a record of 21-10 with a 3.06 ERA.
Once he was made a free agent, he eventually signed with the Houston Astros in 1981 after the baseball strike interrupted the season. Sutton posted a 11-9 record with a 2.61 ERA in 23 games. On October 2, 1981, his season ended in a loss to the Dodgers. Sutton had to leave the game with a Patellar fracture. This injury came just as the Astros were about to clinch a berth in the National League post-season. His time with the Astros would soon to be short lived. In the 1982 season, he posted a 13-8 record with a 3.00 ERA in 27 games with before he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers.
Late in the 1982 season, our beloved Milwaukee Brewers traded for Don Sutton. The deal sent prospects Kevin Bass, Frank DiPino, and Mike Madden to the Astros. He finished the season posting a 4-1 record to go along with a 3.29 ERA in just 7 starts. The Brewers, who were in the American League at the time, made the AL post-season and went all the way to the World Series. During the World Series, Sutton started 2 games, pitching 10 innings, giving up 9 earned runs. The Brewers would go on to lose the Series to the Cardinals, four games to three.
Sutton fell off his game during the 1983 season, posting a record of 8-13 with a 4.08 ERA in 31 games. One highlight in the season for Sutton came in June of 1983 when he struck out the 1983 MVP Carl Ripken three times in one game. Ripken came back the next week and hit a 3-run home run off Sutton to win the game for the Baltimore Orioles.
Sutton’s win total climbed back up to 14 wins in 1984. He also had 12 losses with a 3.77 ERA in 33 games. It wasn’t a great season, but it was much better than his previous year. The Brewers would go on to finish the year with a losing record at 67 wins and 94 losses. In the off-season, Don Sutton was traded again when the Brewers struck a deal with the Oakland Athletics. The Brewers received Ray Burris, Eric Barry, and Ed Myers in exchange.
Once he was traded to the Athletics, Don Sutton was discouraged as he was hoping to play for a team in Southern California. He wished to live at home with his family; however, after much discussion, he received their approval. Upon receiving his family’s blessing–and only being 20 wins away from a total of 300 career wins–Sutton reported to the 1985 training camp 12 days late. After starting 29 games for the Athletics in 1985, he posted a 13-8 record with a 3.89 ERA. On September 10, 1985, he was traded for the final time in his career to the California Angels. The Athletics received Robert Sharpnack and Jerome Nelson in the deal.
When the Angels acquired Sutton from the Athletics in September, he finished the 1985 season with a 2-2 record and a 3.69 ERA in 5 starts. He completed the season with 295 wins, just 5 wins short of his 300 goal. Don Sutton became a free agent on November 12, but would re-sign with the Angels on December 5.
At the beginning of the 1986 season, Sutton struggled, but on June 18, he pitched a complete game against the Texas Rangers only allowing three hits and one runfor his 300th career win. The Angels made it to the ALCS in 1986, where Sutton appeared in two games against the Boston Red Sox where he earned a 1.86 ERA and registered two no-decisions. Sutton would go on to play with the Angels in the 1987 season but was released shortly after on October 30, 1987.
Returning to Where it All Started
When Don Sutton was released by the Angels, he resigned with the team that gave him his first shot: The Los Angeles Dodgers. He resigned for the 1988 season but it did not go as expected. Sutton was released by the team on August 10 because he spoke with Astros’ team leadership about a vacant assistant general manager position. This violated league rules by discussing a vacant position while being under contract with the Dodgers. Sutton tried saying that he ran into the Astros general manager, Bill Wood, at a game and mentioned his interest in the position for future reference. But the Dodgers still parted ways with him.
After retiring in 1988, Don Sutton started his broadcasting career in 1989 where he called Dodger games on the Z Channel, and Atlanta Braves games on TBS. In 1990, he started broadcasting full time for the Braves. In 2002, Sutton was diagnosed with kidney cancer resulting in the removal of his left kidney and a part of his lung the following year. He continued his broadcasting career while undergoing cancer treatment. He then left TBS in 2006 after the network announced it would broadcast fewer games in 2007.
Sutton became a color commentator for the Washington Nationals on the MASN network for the next two years until a position opened up with the Atlanta Braves radio team. He negotiated his release to return to Atlanta, and left the Nationals on January 27, 2009, where he spent the rest of his broadcasting days leading up to his death.
Don Sutton was dominant on the pitching bump and memorable in the broadcasting booth. Although his career was overlooked by the plethora of elite teammates, his stats speak for themselves. Sutton struck out at least 100 hitters in 21 consecutive seasons between 1966 and 1986. The only other players in Major League history to accomplish this are Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, and Nolan Ryan. Amazingly, Sutton never took home a Cy Young Award. He did however finish top five in NL Cy Young voting every year from 1972 to 1976. When I think about Don Sutton, one word comes to mind: LEGEND!
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