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Don Sutton, Hall of Fame Right-Hander, Is Dead at 75
“When you gave him the ball, you knew one thing,” his former manager Tommy Lasorda said once. "Your pitcher was going to give you everything he had."
Don Sutton, a durable right-handed pitcher who won 324 games over 23 years for five teams, most notably the Los Angeles Dodgers, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998, died on Tuesday morning at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Hey what 75.
The Hall of Fame said the cause was cancer. Sutton’s left kidney was removed in 2002 after he received a cancer diagnosis, and part of a lung was removed the next year.
Sutton’s major league career began with the Dodgers in 1966. He went on to win 233 games during 16 seasons with the team, the most in franchise history.
“When you gave him the ball, you knew one thing,” the former Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda, who died this month, once said. "Your pitcher was going to give you everything he had."
Sutton also pitched for the Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, California Angels and Oakland A’s before retiring in 1988. He was elected to the Hall of Fame on his fifth attempt.
“I wanted this for over 40 years,” he said in his Hall of Fame induction speech in Cooperstown, N.Y. “So why am I shaking like a leaf? Part of it is that I am standing in front of some of the great artists in the world of baseball. "
Sutton is the ninth Baseball Hall of Famer to die since last April, a group that includes four other pitchers, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Whitey Ford and Phil Niekro, as well as Lou Brock, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan and Lasorda.
Sutton’s major league career began in 1966 as part of a stellar Dodger pitching rotation that also included Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. It ended in 1988, after he returned to the franchise as a free agent, on a staff with Orel Hershiser and Fernando Valenzuela.
The Dodgers won the World Series that season, but Sutton, then 43 and with a 3-6 record, had been released by then.
Sutton won 20 games only once (he had a 21-10 record in 1976), but won at least 15 games a dozen times. He is tied for 14th place in career wins with Nolan Ryan and ranked seventh in both strikeouts, with 3,574, and innings, with 5,282.1, and third in games started with 756.
He holds the Dodger team records not only for career wins but also for strikeouts (2,696), starts (533), shutouts (52), home runs surrendered (309) and losses (181).
"I never wanted to be a superstar or the highest-paid player," Sutton told Baseball Digest in 1985. All he wanted, he said, was to be "consistent, dependable and you could count on me."
Donald Howard Sutton was born on April 2, 1945, in Clio, Ala., A small city in the southeast part of the state. His father, Charlie Howard Sutton, was a sharecropper who later worked in construction and became a concrete expert. His mother was Lillian (McKnight) Sutton. The Suttons moved to Molino, in the Florida panhandle, when Don was 5.
Sutton had known he wanted to pitch from childhood, when he was a Yankee fan.
“My mother used to worry about my imaginary friends,’ cause I would be out in the yard playing ball, ”he said at his Hall of Fame induction. "She worried because she didn't know a Mickey, or a Whitey, or a Yogi, or a Moose, or an Elston, but I played with them every day."
Sutton learned to throw a curveball before his 13th birthday. He excelled in high school and pitched at Gulf Coast Community College, in Panama City, Fla., And Whittier College in California before signing with the Dodgers as an amateur free agent in 1964.
His 23-7 record for the Dodgers ’Class A and Double A minor-league teams in 1965 led to his promotion to the major leagues the next season.
As a rookie, he had a 12-12 record with a 2.99 earned run average but did not pitch in the World Series, when the Baltimore Orioles swept the Dodgers in four games. Eight years later, he had two victories over the Pittsburgh Pirates when the Dodgers won the 1974 National League Championship Series, and one in the Dodgers ’subsequent World Series loss to Oakland.
In 15 N.L.C.S. and World Series games with the Dodgers, Brewers and Angels, he had a 6-4 record and a 3.68 earned run average.
Sutton was not an overpowering pitcher, but he mastered the curveball and changed speeds effectively on all his pitches. He was accused by rivals of doctoring the ball, as was another Hall of Fame pitcher, Gaylord Perry. In 1976, when Sutton had a perfect game through seven and a third innings, the Pirates asked umpires to stop the game several times to determine if Sutton was adulterating the ball.
"It's been going on for years," Sutton said afterward. "It's become traditional. I'm the most accused and least convicted pitcher in baseball. "
Dave Parker, the Pirates ’right fellder, who broke up that perfect game in the eighth inning with a home run, said that Sutton“ was getting a lot of abnormal movement ”on his pitches.
"It wasn't a curve and it wasn't a screwball," he said. "But it was falling off the table."
Sutton surrendered one more hit, and the Dodgers won, 5-1, bringing his record to 15-9.
He left the Dodgers to sign with the Houston Astros as a free agent in 1980. He was traded to the Brewers in 1982, to the A's in 1984 and to the Angels in 1985, remaining with them until returning to the Dodgers for his final season .
Sutton’s survivors include his wife, Mary; his son, Daron; and two daughters, Staci and Jacquie.
After he retired, Sutton spent most of his time as an Atlanta Braves broadcaster, known mostly for his easygoing manner and sharp-eyed analysis of the Braves ’pitching staff, which included the future Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.
Sutton missed the 2019 season with a fractured left femur and did not return to the Braves ’broadcast booth.
“This ball club is amazing, and I feel left out because I'm not there to watch it firsthand,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution during his convalescence. "It's been nearly 60 years that I've been going to the ballpark every day in the summer."
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