Atlanta Braves: remembering Don Sutton
Baseball lost a legend last night, and the Atlanta Braves lost an enemy who became a friend.
As you’ve likely heard by now, Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton has passed away at the age of 75. The passing was announced by his son Daron — whose own voice gives one double-takes given its similarity to his father.
Growing up, I didn’t like Don Sutton. I didn’t hate him… I just didn’t like him because it always seemed that whenever I had a chance to see the Atlanta Braves play on TV, it was a game in which his Dodgers were the opponent… and Sutton always seemed to be their starter.
In those days, the inner groan was because seeing Sutton meant that the Braves were probably going to lose that day. At least that’s how I remembered it.
Turns out, the stats didn’t really do a lot to suggest that my memories were that wrong… at least for the games in Atlanta — the ones I could stay up to see.
Over his career, Sutton’s outings in Georgia went like this:
- 19 starts
- 12 Wins, 2 losses, 5 no-decisions.
- 141.1 innings, 43 earned runs. That’s a 2.74 ERA
Five times, he pitched all nine innings. Once — and this was one of the no-decision games — he had the audacity to pitch eleven innings… giving up no runs and 6 hits in the process.
Even though everyone remembers Sutton as a Dodger, there were 4 games in which Atlanta faced him as an Astro. That didn’t go well, either:
- In three of those games, the Braves got 3 hits or less.
- Somehow, Atlanta managed to rock him for 3 earned runs (5 overall) in a 4 inning outing in 1982. He must have put his shoes on the wrong feet that day or something.
But Sutton did this to everybody, really: 324 wins and 256 losses with a lifetime 3.26 ERA and 1.142 WHIP over twenty-three years. He was an absolute workhorse, with 5,282 innings.
That’s what Hall of Famers do. But it’s also why I didn’t like him… he was too good, and he was too tough against my team.
So it was a surprise when in 1989 — with Sutton barely out of his cleats — he showed up in the broadcast booth at TBS… starting Braves games. He kept at it, too.
Sutton’s style behind the microphone worked, too… he didn’t complicate the analysis. He explained what was going on. He didn’t take himself too seriously or make himself the focus of the commentary.
Over the years… he was a comfortable member of the iconic group of Braves broadcasters that we enjoyed in the 1990’s and beyond. We’d almost forgot those Dodger days where he’d be shutting down the Braves offense on a regular basis.
For his last decade of work, Sutton was brilliantly paired up with Jim Powell — a play-by-play man who worked with Sutton like a hand fits into a well-broken-in glove. Their rapport was great together. They were our friends on the radio waves.
Sutton will be missed. Not just because of the thousands of games in which we heard his voice, but because of his baseball skills, knowledge, and humanity.
We’ve felt like we’ve shared some of his life struggles over the past couple of decades. His close-but-not-quite Hall of Fame election while his family was struggling with the premature birth of daughter Jacqueline.
We then celebrated his election the next year — the 1998 ballot, but later prayed with the family through various serious health issues of his own.
It was a good life, shared by many, and to many more via his words.
“Right you are, Don Sutton.” Rest in peace.