Don Sutton, a Hall of Fame pitcher who was a stalwart of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ rotation spanning an era from Sandy Koufax to Fernando Valenzuela, died Tuesday. He was 75.
The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, said Sutton died at his home in Rancho Mirage, California, after a long struggle with cancer. The Atlanta Braves, for whom Sutton was a long-time broadcaster, said he died in his sleep.
A four-time All-Star, Sutton had a career record of 324-256 and an ERA of 3.26 while pitching for the Dodgers, Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland Athletics, California Angels and the Dodgers again in 1988, his final season.
The durable Sutton never missed a turn in the rotation in 756 big league starts. Only Cy Young and Nolan Ryan made more starts than Sutton, who never landed on the injured list in his 23-year career.
A master of changing speeds and pitch location, Sutton recorded just one 20-win season but earned 10 or more wins in every year except 1983 and 1988. Of his victories, 58 were shutouts, five were one-hitters and 10 were two-hitters. The right-hander is seventh on the career strikeout list with 3,574.
Sutton ranks third all-time in games started and seventh in innings pitched (5,282 1/3). He worked at least 200 innings in 20 of his first 21 seasons, with only the strike-shortened 1981 season interrupting his streak.
“He worked as hard as anyone I’ve ever known and he treated those he encountered with great respect ... and he took me to work a lot,” his son, Daron, wrote on Twitter. “For all these things, I am very grateful.”
Donald Howard Sutton was born April 2, 1945, in Clio, Alabama, the son of sharecroppers. The family moved to northern Florida, where Sutton was a three-sport star in high school who showed an affinity for baseball as a youngster. He played the sport in junior college before the Dodgers signed him as a free agent in September 1964, months before the first MLB draft.
After going 23-7 during one season in the minors, Sutton won a spot in the Dodgers’ rotation in 1966. He made his big league debut for the defending World Series champions on April 14, 1966, and earned his first victory four days later.
Sutton immediately found himself in a rotation with Koufax, Don Drysdale and Claude Osteen as the fourth starter. Sutton recorded 209 strikeouts that season, the highest total for a rookie since 1911. He helped the team win the National League pennant but didn’t pitch in the World Series as the Dodgers were swept in four games by the Baltimore Orioles.
He also led the Dodgers to National League pennants in 1974, 1977 and 1978.
“Today we lost a great ballplayer, a great broadcaster and, most importantly a great person,” Dodgers president Stan Kasten said. “I was privileged to have worked with Don in both Atlanta and Washington, and will always cherish our time spent together.”
Sutton left the Dodgers as a free agent in 1980 and signed with Houston.
A trade in 1982 sent Sutton to the Brewers, where he pitched Milwaukee to its first American League pennant. He worked for his sixth post-season team in 1986 with the AL West champion Angels and then returned to the Dodgers in 1988, retiring before the end of a season that saw them win the World Series.
Sutton was 4-1 with a 2.02 ERA in seven National League Championship Series games and was 2-3 in eight World Series games. In the 1974 post-season for the Dodgers, he was 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA and 25 strikeouts in four games.
He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998. The Dodgers retired his number 20 the same year.
“2021 is just taking freaking legends man,” Alex Wood, former Dodgers and Braves pitcher, wrote on Twitter. “Getting to be around Don every day my first few years with the Braves was something I will cherish forever. He genuinely cared about everyone he talked to and was a wealth of knowledge. Prayers up for his family.”
During his long career in Southern California, Sutton also took a stab at show business, appearing on the iconic game show, “Match Game.”
Sutton carved out a new career as a broadcaster after his playing days ended, spent almost entirely with the Atlanta Braves.
He joined the Braves in 1989 when they were one of baseball’s worst teams but had developed a national following through the TBS superstation and its trio of broadcasters: Skip Caray, Pete Van Wieren and Ernie Johnson Sr.
Sutton was part of the soundtrack for Atlanta’s worst-to-first season in 1991, its dominating run of 14 straight division titles, and the 1995 World Series championship. He called Braves games on television and radio for 28 of 30 seasons, interrupted only by his move to the Washington Nationals in 2007. He returned to the Braves in 2009 and continued to broadcast games through the 2018 NL Division Series, when Atlanta lost to his long-time team, the Dodgers.
Shortly before the start of the following season, Sutton broke his left leg. He struggled with his recovery and never returned to the booth.
The Braves said they were “deeply saddened by the passing of our dear friend.”
“A generation of Braves fans came to know his voice,” the team said in a statement. “Don brought an unmatched knowledge of the game and his sharp wit to his calls. But despite all his success, Don never lost his generous spirit or humble personality.”
Sutton’s passing comes on the heels of seven Hall of Famers dying in 2020, the most sitting members of Cooperstown to pass away in a calendar year. They were Lou Brock, Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro and Tom Seaver.
Sutton pitched for Dodgers Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda, who died on Jan. 7.
“ENOUGH! #DonSutton Such a classy man,” Reds Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench wrote on Twitter. “Great career not only in baseball but broadcasting as well. I am so sad.”
Besides his son, Sutton is survived by his wife, Mary, and daughters Staci and Jacquie.