Don Sutton: The Most Underappreciated Pitcher in the Hall of Fame
We have lost yet another Hall of Famer, pitching great Don Sutton, who passed away Tuesday at the age of 75. Yet he is not having the same praises sung as the others, and it is not surprising. As far as pitchers go, Sutton is the most underappreciated Hall of Famer of them all. Even though he ranks high on the career leaderboards in several statistics, there are some in baseball message boards who claim that he shouldn’t even be in Cooperstown. A look at Sutton’s career stats, however, shows how foolish these arguments truly are.
Don Sutton spent a remarkable 23 seasons in the majors with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland Athletics, and California Angels. His accomplishments are many, but one that immediately stands out is career victories. Sutton, with 324, is 14th on the all-time list. He was the eighth of 13 pitchers from the Live Ball Era (and 19th out of 24 overall) to join the 300 Win Club. That came with the California Angels on June 18, 1986. The game was a complete-game three-hitter, and the fact that he was 41 years old made it even more impressive.
Although he won 20 games in a season only once, he won 15 or more 11 times. Out of his 23 seasons in the league, he won 11 or more in 21 of them. He only failed to do so in 1983 – a down year for him – and 1988, his final year in the league, when he was 43 and running on fumes.
Despite 1983 being a down year for him, he still hit another major career milestone. This came against the Cleveland Indians on Friday night, June 24, at County Stadium in Milwaukee. Sutton hurled a complete-game three-hitter en route to a 6-2 victory, but the big moment came in the top of the eighth. Indians left fielder Alan Bannister struck out to end the frame, giving Sutton his 3,000th career strikeout. He was only the eighth player to hit that mark. Before blowing off this milestone, keep in mind that only 18 pitchers have ever done it. By comparison, the 3,000 Strikeout Club has fewer members than the 3,000 Hit Club, which has 32.
An exclusive club that has gone unheralded – so much that few even know about it – is the 50 Shutout Club. Only 10 pitchers from the Live Ball Era (and 20 overall) are in this group. In chronological order, they are Warren Spahn, Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson, Jim Palmer, Gaylord Perry, Tom Seaver, Don Sutton, Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, and Bert Blyleven. Sutton spun his 50th shutout on August 10, 1979, in a 9-0 road victory over the San Francisco Giants. Incredibly, his 50th shutout was also his 215th victory, meaning that nearly 1/4 of his career victories up to that point were shutouts. Sutton ended his career with 58 shutouts – 10th on the all-time list.
Other Career Statistics
Don Sutton has started more games than anyone in major league history other than Cy Young (815) and Nolan Ryan (773). That is impressive in and of itself, but even more impressive is that he never missed a start in his career due to injury or illness. In 20 of his 23 seasons, he started 30 or more games – the most seasons in major league history.
All of these starts – combined with his 178 complete games – led to 5,282 1/3 innings pitched. This is good for seventh all-time, behind only Cy Young, Pud Galvin, Walter Johnson, Phil Niekro, Ryan, and Perry. When limiting the list to Live Ball Era pitchers only, Sutton is fourth. Needless to say, the guy was a workhorse.
Don Sutton Led an Outstanding Career
Other than Roger Clemens, who has been tied to PED allegations, every member of the 300 Win Club has made the Hall of Fame. Every eligible member of the 3,000 Strikeout Club is in the Hall except for Clemens and Curt Schilling, who has been kept out largely for non-baseball reasons. All 20 members of the 50 Shutout Club are in the Hall. (With the Shutout Club, this may not have been done consciously. If a player has 50 shutouts, his numbers in several other categories will be remarkable as well.)
A look at the other members of these clubs should speak to how great Sutton was. Membership in any of these clubs is reserved to only the greatest of the great pitchers. For a player to be in two of these clubs is even more special. But for a player to be in all three means that he is among the truly elite.
Only six players are in all three of these clubs. One is Walter Johnson. Four others are Ryan, Carlton, Seaver, and Perry. The sixth is Don Sutton. It is a shame that it took until his passing for many fans to take a deep breath and examine his career without bias. Maybe now he’ll be given the proper appreciation for the truly special career he put together.
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Players Mentioned: Don Sutton, Alan Bannister, Warren Spahn, Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson, Jim Palmer, Gaylord Perry, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, Bert Blyleven, Cy Young, Pud Galvin, Walter Johnson, Phil Niekro, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling