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1988 Dodgers player profile: Don Sutton comes home

After an eight-year absence from the team, Don Sutton came home, and the results were far from what Dodgers fans had hoped for from the only Los Angeles Dodgers home grown Hall of Famer.

Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE

Little D got a ring, but given how little Don Sutton helped the 1988 team, it should have been a pinky ring. When the Dodgers chorus cries that you can't come home they are usually pointing at Sutton and Orel Hershiser (in 2000). Sutton in 1988 was released on Aug 10, one day after what would be his final big league start. The Dodgers were about to acquire John Tudor and they had no place for their Hall of Famer, plus as Evan Bladh of Opinion of Kingman's Performance noted. there was a rift brewing:

There had been some bad blood between Sutton and Claire the very day of the Reds loss as Sam McManis of the L.A. TImes reported that Sutton had reached out to Houston Astro General Manager Bill Wood and discussed being an assistant G.M. with that club, perhaps in the following season. Claire said that Sutton didn’t have permission to speak with other clubs as he was still under contract as a Dodger pitcher. Less than 12 hours later, he was released.

How acquired: Signed as a free agent on Jan. 5, 1988.

Prior MLB experience: Sutton was signed back before a draft existed in 1964, hit the rotation at age 20 in 1966, and by the time he was done with the Dodgers in 1980, had left his mark on Los Angeles Dodger record books like no one else ever had. He left the Dodgers (and another ring) in 1981, and found himself pitching for the Astros, Brewers, A's, and Angels. Three years ago, Craig Minami and Phil Gurnee covered Don's prior Dodger experience in these columns, but recently Bladh did an outstanding job detailing Don's last game, while giving new and old Dodger fans the rundown on our Hall of Famer.

Sutton did one thing extremely well: Pitch.

Sutton still holds all-time Dodgers franchise records in the following categories:

  • Strikeouts (2,696)
  • Shutouts (52)
  • Wins (233)
  • Innings pitched (3,814)
  • Games pitched (550)
  • Games started (533)

Sutton's 156 complete games are tied with Don Drysdale for the most ever in Los Angeles Dodgers history. Nobody is particular close to Sutton in the other categories. By the time Sutton returned to the Dodgers, he had won another ninety-one games for those four other teams. In 1987, he made 34 starts for the Angels.

Much is made of Sutton never being the best during his tenure and that he got into the Hall of Fame on his long career. Yet, it was Sutton who led the league four times in WHIP, it was Sutton who threw five one-hitters and eight two-hitters, it was Sutton who threw 58 shutouts, and from 1972-76 it was Sutton who was top five in Cy Young Award balloting five times. Don't kid yourself, while Sutton did have a long career, many times during that career he dominated his competition. He had 58 shutouts, 10th all-time, including 47 since 1970, fourth all-time. It was not like his long career added to those numbers, as he only threw four shutouts after age 36.

Don Sutton is the greatest Dodger that will be written about over the next month, or would have been if not for the Orel dude.

1988 age: 43

1988 stats: The man who threw 178 complete games never managed to get past six innings in sixteen starts until his last career start. Don made 15 starts from the start of the year until June 28, but a back injury sidelined him until Aug 9, when he made one final start. Sutton finished the year 3-6 with a 3.92 ERA in 16 starts, with 44 strikeouts and 30 walks in 87⅓ innings.

For a 43-year-old pitcher, it was not a bad year, for Don Sutton it was his worst and his last.

Regular season game of the year: Of those 16 starts, Don managed one game in which he did not give up a run in at least six innings, so I'm going with it. On Apr. 27, he whitewashed the Cubs for six innings, as the Dodgers won 4-0. Alejandro Pena relieved Sutton for the vaunted three inning save.

NLCS & World Series performance: He was a hell of a cheerleader from his couch

Post-1988 playing career: His last game was Aug 9, 1988. Ten years later, he was in the Hall of Fame, becoming the first and last home grown Los Angeles Dodger to be inducted into the Hall of Fame wearing a Los Angeles Dodgers cap. In his induction speech in Cooperstown, Sutton was grateful to his former manager and pitching staff mates who welcomed a 20-year old into their rotation:

I wish Walter Alston could be here. When I joined the Dodgers in '66, I joined the man as a manager who was an extension of my relationship with my dad, in more ways than one. He once told me I was the second most stubborn person he'd ever met. I asked him who was first, he said, "I am. And it might do you well to remember that." But he took a chance on a twenty year old, when a couple of fairly decent and well known pitchers were holding out. And my first week in the big leagues, I was named a starting pitcher with Koufax, Drysdale, Osteen, because Walter Alston was willing to take a chance. And speaking of Drysdale, I'd give anything if he could be here. No kid could ever ask for more than to come on to a ball club, it could be pretty scary, that had just won a World Championship where your three starting pitchers are Drysdale, Koufax, and Osteen. But those are three starting pitchers that taught me a lot about a lot of things. I didn't know you had to tip in the clubhouse. I think I'd only been west of the Mississippi once. And tipping in restaurants, and what to wear, and how to pitch hitters, all three of those guys played a very, very active part. To Claude, thank you. To Sandy, thank you. And I hope I thank "Big D."

Where he is now: Sutton started broadcasting in 1989 and has never stopped. He currently works the Braves radio booth after a long run with TBS. Some might remember Sutton doing Dodger broadcasts on the old Z channel in 1989 but I don't.