Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton died in his sleep Monday night at the age of 75, announced his son Daron.
Sutton was one of the most durable pitchers in MLB history, playing 23 seasons from 1966-1988. His 756 starts are the third-most ever, behind only Cy Young and Nolan Ryan, and his 20 seasons with 30 or more starts are the most in history. He never once missed his turn in the rotation in over two decades.
They were usually good starts, too. His ERA was better than league average for his career, and he was decent-to-excellent far more often than he was ineffective. He’s seventh all-time in strikeouts (3,574) and tied for 14th in wins (324), and he’s one of only 10 pitchers to win 300 games, strike out over 3,000 batters, and keep his ERA below 3.50 (3.24). He’s also 10th in shutouts (58).
The right-hander debuted in the majors in 1966 for the Dodgers, and at age 21 he tossed 225 quality innings. He went on to spend 15 seasons in LA, never dipping below 200 frames, with averages of 249 innings and around 3-4 WAR per summer. Along the way he made four All-Star teams, and though he never won a Cy Young he did finish in the Top 5 for five straight years from 1972-76. He leads Dodgers franchise history in everything from wins, to innings, to strikeouts, to starts, to shutouts.
In 1974, Sutton’s Dodgers faced the Oakland A’s in the World Series. He was personally excellent throughout that postseason, firing a shutout plus another win in the NLCS, then beating the A’s in Game 2 and tossing five more solid innings in Game 5, though of course Oakland came out on top for the championship. He reached the World Series twice more with the Dodgers, in 1977 and ‘78, but they lost to the Yankees both times.
Sutton left as a free agent in 1981 and signed with the Houston Astros, helping them to an NLDS bid. However, they were beaten there by none other than his old LA teammates, as the Dodgers went on to finally win the championship that had long eluded them. It was their first title since 1965, the year before he’d debuted.
The Astros traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers midway through 1982. That fall he helped the Brewers to their only World Series appearance in franchise history, and the fourth of his own career, though they lost to the Cardinals in the end. His acquisition is credited by many fans as the factor that pushed “Harvey’s Wallbangers” over the top in the AL that year.
After a couple more seasons in Milwaukee, Sutton was traded again, this time to the A’s. He made 29 starts for a bad Oakland team, with league-average results (98 ERA+), at age 40.
Sutton, 1985 OAK: 3.89 ERA, 194⅓ ip, 91 Ks, 51 BB, 19 HR, 3.81 FIP
All of that added up to just under 3 WAR on both scales, and then he was traded to the Angels in September and made five more good starts for them.
He stuck with the Halos for another couple years, and pitched well for them in the 1986 ALCS. Finally, at age 43, he returned to the Dodgers for one last tour in 1988, retiring midseason before his teammates went on to win the World Series over the A’s.
But he wasn’t done. The very next year, in 1989, he became a TV broadcaster for Atlanta Braves games, and in 1990 he took over the job full-time. He continued in that role through 2006, through multiple health complications including kidney cancer. After a brief foray calling games for the Washington Nationals, he returned to the Braves in 2009 as their radio voice for the next decade.
As a player, Sutton totaled 85.5 fWAR in his career, and 68.3 bWAR, though he never quite won a ring despite getting tantalizingly close so many times. He was elected to the HOF on his fifth ballot, in 1998.
“I never wanted to be a superstar, or the highest paid player,” said Don Sutton. “[A]ll I wanted was to be appreciated for the fact that I was consistent, dependable, and you could count on me.” (Robert S Weider of Baseball Digest in 1985, via Gregory H. Wolf of SABR Bio Project)
Since the beginning of September, Sutton is the eighth HOFer to pass away, after Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Whitey Ford, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro, and earlier this month Tommy Lasorda. Of note, Lasorda was Sutton’s manager for four-plus seasons in Los Angeles.
Don Sutton is like a guy from a different sport. 22 straight years of being worth at least one WAR. At least 207 innings every year from ages 38 to 41. 191 at age 42. Also one of the best baseball quotes ever: "I'm the most loyal player money can buy." RIP.— Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) January 19, 2021
Some highlight footage
Click the tweet to read the full thread, with more details about the Garvey story
RIP Don Sutton. Hall of Famer, great broadcaster, and the guy who rightfully told the press that Reggie Smith, not Steve Garvey, carried the 1977-78 Dodgers. That led to a fight, but Sutton was right even if it's not a thing you should say on the record about a teammate.— Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) January 19, 2021
Braves fans also lost Niekro a few weeks ago
Been a rough couple weeks for Braves Country. Don Sutton was one of my favorite people. Always had a smile, kind word and a story that captivated you. Always asked how my parents were doing. Always positive! Gonna miss u my friend. Tell Knucksie we all said hello. Love ya buddy!— Chipper Jones (@RealCJ10) January 20, 2021
Don’t forget the hair
Don Sutton has passed away. A model of consistency & dependability for multiple clubs. A 300+ game winner. & you’re a liar if you’re telling me those curls aren’t in the conversation for some of the best lettuce in the history of the game. Rest easy HOFer. pic.twitter.com/ra1ZWjnuuc— Dallas Braden (@DALLASBRADEN209) January 19, 2021