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The time Rick Sutcliffe trashed Tommy Lasorda’s office

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Saved by Dusty Baker and the Frank Sinatra wall

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers have a rotation logjam, with eight starting pitchers in spring training vying for five spots. In reality, it’s actually three pitchers fighting for one spot, with one of them, Tony Gonsolin, tossing a scoreless inning in Monday’s 10-0 win over the Rockies at Camelback Ranch.

While it’s highly unlikely that Gonsolin or Dustin May would resort to fisticuffs if they get optioned to the minors, that is fresh on my mind thanks to a 40-year-old story I saw rehashed last week.

I was on vacation and spent the better part of the week offline, a strategy I highly recommend. I read three books, the first two of which referenced the time Rick Sutcliffe ransacked Tommy Lasorda’s office.

Sutcliffe won 17 games with a 3.46 ERA in 242 innings in 1979, the first of four consecutive Dodgers to win National League Rookie of the Year. But he regressed to a 5.10 ERA over the next two seasons, seeing his time on the mound dwindle.

Because of the labor stoppage in 1981, the season was split into halves, and the Dodgers’ leading the NL West in the first-half guaranteed them a playoff spot. It meant their games down the stretch were more about staying healthy heading into the postseason. There were ample opportunities for folks vying for playing time.

But Sutcliffe only pitched twice in the Dodgers’ final 49 games that season, and when he was left off the playoff roster he was, to put it mildly, royally pissed.

From Chris Mortensen in The Daily Breeze on October 4, 1981:

“I have a lot of love and respect for the O’Malleys (Dodger owners), but none whatsoever for Tommy Lasorda, who is an out-and-out liar,” Sutcliffe said prior to the game. “Almost four weeks ago, I met with Tommy and told him I needed the opportunity to pitch. He said, ‘You’re right and you’ll get it.’

“I’ve pitched twice since then, each when nothing counted. He lied to me. Today, he said he never got the opportunity to use me and that’s a lie.

“He used Ted Power, a guy who wasn’t even eligible for the playoffs, twice in starting roles and there are a dozen other times I could tell you when he could have used me.”

Three years later, Sutcliffe recalled the incident with Thomas Boswell at The Washington Post. “I picked up Lasorda’s desk and slammed it and I grabbed him by the throat and threatened him,” Sutcliffe said. “I lost it.”

The 6’7 Sutcliffe trashed Lasorda’s office, and then picked up a chair and was about to throw it at the wall Lasorda filled with pictures of Frank Sinatra. Dusty Baker entered the fray, which brings me to two of the books I read last week.

In ‘They Bled Blue’, Jason Turbow’s story of the 1981 Dodgers, Baker is reported to have said, “Hey man, you’re already in trouble, but not the kind of trouble you’ll be in if you tear up that Sinatra wall.”

Sutcliffe in 2015 recalled the incident in ‘The Wax Pack,’ Brad Balukjian’s story of tracking down the players from a pack of 1986 Topps baseball cards. Said Sutcliffe of Baker: “He’s laughing and he says something like, ‘Kid, you’re in enough trouble. You don’t need Frank pissed off too.’”

Either way, it’s a classic Dodgers story.

For his part, Lasorda denied that he lied to Sutcliffe, telling UPI in December 1981, “My run-in with Sutcliffe has nothing to do with his ability. He slumped a bit the last two years but I’ve always said he was one of the best competitors that ever played for me. He has good ability and has a chance to be a good pitcher.”

Sutcliffe demanded to be traded and got his wish, dealt to the Indians at the 1981 winter meetings. He pitched 13 more seasons, including winning the NL Cy Young Award for the playoff-bound Cubs in 1984.

Since it came up in two different books I read, I thought it was too good of a story not to share.