24 March 2011

don sutton, my lone hall of famer

i mentioned in a post the other day that i was frustrated during my early years of dodger fandom because there were no dodger sure fire hall of famers in the 70's.  johngy called me on it, and i have to admit that this sentiment may be exaggerated, as i mentioned in the post that young gcrl thought steve garvey was a lock for cooperstown.

and, i have not forgotten, that dodger team of my youth prominently featured hall of famer don sutton.
if you were to have asked me in 1979 (after i had two years of fandom under my belt) who the hall of famers were among current players, i would have said willie stargell, willie mccovey, dave parker, mike schmidt, johnny bench, pete rose, dale murphy (it might have been another year or two before i thought this about murph, but make no mistake, i thought he was headed to the hall), steve garvey, reggie jackson, steve carlton, tom seaver, nolan ryan, and jr richard.  heavy on national leaguers, and especially national league west players.  that's a direct result of baseball coverage back then.  sure, i studied the backs of baseball cards for hours on end, and bought the baseball handbook every year and read jim murray's column and the boxscores in the la times every day, but i also went by what i saw and what i saw mostly were teams that played against the dodgers.

speaking of the dodgers, let's get back to sutton.  when i first saw his 1978 topps card (now nicely signed by the man himself - although he left off the hof notation that he provided the first time he signed a copy for me)
he was the nl's all-star pitcher.  still, his best days as a dodger - 5 straight top-5 cy young seasons - were behind him and i missed them.  i admitted in the post linked above to taking sutton for granted.  i was more interested in the infield, the other everyday players, and even bobby welch who burst on the scene in 1978.  plus, i didn't want to believe that steve garvey wasn't perfect, and the documented locker room tussle between the two soured me on sutton a bit.  add to that the fact that he hosted a celebrity golf tournament for one year in my hometown but didn't show the second year (bill murray stole the show, so we had that going for us) and you might forgive me for not being a board member in the don sutton marching and chowder society. 

this is not to say that i wasn't a fan of sutton's.  believe me, i was.  i saw him pitch a few times before he went to the astros, and i am glad that i did.  every time we sat in dodger stadium with sutton on the mound, my dad would tell me the story about how we stood in line for a ride at disneyland behind sutton and his family one time, and his kids were pleased that i was wearing some sort of dodger gear.  and, i do have another autograph, personalized by sutton and wishing me luck, that my dad (he was in joe beckwith's foursome that day) obtained at the aforementioned golf tourney.  plus, i was ridiculously happy when he wound up leading the nl in era in 1980, not for a small part because it meant a dodger would be featured on a league leader card for the first time in my existence as a collector (although davey lopes did the dead as recently as 1977).  even when sutton returned to the dodgers for one last shot in 1988, i figured out when he was starting and road-tripped to the ravine to see him pitch.  and, while my friends were certain that 'even we could hit this guy', i was just glad he was back. 

when sutton left the dodgers, he had 230 wins and over 2600 strikeouts.  i knew that the magic numbers were 300/3000, and so i watched with great pleasure his 300th win - a complete game victory, no less - as a member of the california angels.  it wasn't until then, however, that i was sure he would be inducted.  even so, it took an extra 5 years for the baseball writers to extend him the honor.

for me, collecting cards and keeping this blog  are quite frankly the primary ways i stay connected to the sport and team of my youth.  sutton was a big part of that (to this day i consider him the starting pitcher for 'my' team), and i admit that while i did not think of sutton as a lock for the hall of fame back in the late 1970's, i am eminently pleased that he made it.

here's to you, don sutton, the lone hall-of-famer from the team of my youth.

1 comment:

Ryan aka Orioles Magic said...

Love the marching & chowder line.