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Remembering Don Sutton

January 21, 2021

The fact that Don Sutton, who died too early at age 75 days back, never played on a title team (his teams lost in all 4 of his World Series “apps” and in one of his 5 LCS) and though the best of them, was a “compiler,” ought not take too much away from his baseball accomplishments.

He also was a very good man, one I encountered both on the phone when as a much younger still Dodgers fan, I told him how proud I was of his progress, and when I interviewed the so personable Sutton in Vero Beach (my camera person was Amy McQuillin and why oh why did I not “try” with her then?!!) in 1989.

On an essentially gambling show with football always the biggest topic, especially now before the title tilts, sportsbook director Chris Andrews told the tale (why is the great movie, “The Sting” not on any more?) of Sutton setting up he and two family members for a great day in the L.A. dugout, after seeing his uncle, who lost both legs, out and about, relishing life despite a horrible blow.

Do not get me wrong he was a helluva pitcher and he was in agreement when I called his game 1, 1974 NLCS performance, a brilliant/no sweat 4 hit win vs a hard hitting Pittsburgh Pirates’ team as his best game. With a lineup that included Willie Stargell, Al Oliver and Manny Sanguillen among other hard hitters (were not they “The Lumber Company?!), Don remarked to me that 3 of the hits were by Paul Popovich, who was on the field for a good chunk of Don Drysdale’s scoreless innings in ’68, but certainly was never confused with Rogers Hornsby (lifetime average of .358) as a hitter.

I think more so than the fictional character in “Kane” who had “a rare privilege” reading at the rich broker’s library, when I got to interview Sandy Koufax (I better find the tape/DVD), Don Drysdale, John Podres, Claude Osteen, and Burt Hooton (what a pitching staff and in ’66 when the Dodgers won the pennant and even/despite in a swept out losing World Series to the Orioles, had excellent pitching with Sandy, Don, John and Mr. Sutton all on the team).

Referencing football, Sutton, recognizing my great recall (alas what was said regarding a great memory in the seminal “Kane,” told of his day on the last day of the ’80 “reg” when in those great no wild card days the season was on the line.

L.A. had to win vs the Astros, who somehow had Sutton the next season (he did not pitch in the ’81 extra round in which L.A. down (2-0) won in 5 en route to a shortened season title. Two of their 3 titles since Sandy shutout the Twins in #7/’65 W.S. were in such seasons, including following the 50 game debacle last season) and Don having pitched well in a no decision must L.A. win 2 days earlier, surely was not going to pitch.

He hung out watching NFL games, chicken perhaps dripping on his warm up stuff, though he was told he might be needed to get a batter out.

It manifested and Don in the interview said sans an “athletic supporter,” (that’s ok you can call me Jock, was the old joke. Surely I was no jock, but was far from terrible), got a good hitter, Denny Walling and there was to be a 1 game ‘off for the N.L. West that Houston won behind Joe Niekro (Recently we lost his brother Phil and with Sutton’s death–8 Hall of Fame players have died in 9 months, a period of time usually associated with the opposite.)

One more really big game win for Don Sutton was in a winner in/non winner out, 1982 “reg” finale for the A.L. east crown. Selig knows. He chain smoked as the Brewers’ owner, knowing there was no bogus wild card “safety net.”

Sutton evokes both good and bad memories, more good including his “me managed” Strat-O-Matic baseball prowess, I relayed to a very receptive Don Sutton, in that aforementioned phone call in not so glorious, but far better days.

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