Hall of Famer Don Sutton dies at 75
Whether compiling 324 wins, sitting behind a microphone or proudly serving his family, Don Sutton drew widespread respect for the competitive desire that carried him through a highly successful life.
Sutton died in his sleep Monday night, according to his son, Daron. The Hall of Fame pitcher spent most of the past three decades as a member of the Braves broadcast team. He was 75 years old.
“Don Sutton was one of our game’s most consistent winning pitchers across his decorated 23-year career,” Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “The longtime Dodger was a four-time All-Star, a top-five finisher in Cy Young Award balloting for five consecutive years, a World Series participant four times in a nine-season span, and a model of durability on the mound. He also helped bring baseball into the homes of millions of fans as a Braves broadcaster.
“Throughout his career, Don represented our game with great class, and many will remember his excitement during his trips to Cooperstown. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to Don’s family, friends and the many fans he earned throughout a memorable life in our National Pastime.”
• Dodgers mourn loss of another all-time great
Sutton lost his left kidney after being diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2002. Part of a lung was removed the following year. But along with continuing to undergo treatments during the final years of his broadcasting career, he maintained a full schedule until ’19, when he fractured his left femur at the start of the season. Unfortunately, he was never able to return to his broadcasting role and further extend a baseball career that dated back to when he signed with the Dodgers in 1964.
“Today we lost a great ballplayer, a great broadcaster and, most importantly a great person,” said Dodgers President Stan Kasten. “Don left an indelible mark on the Dodger franchise during his 16 seasons in Los Angeles and many of his records continue to stand to this day. I was privileged to have worked with Don in both Atlanta and Washington, and will always cherish our time spent together. On behalf of the Dodger organization, we send our condolences to the entire Sutton Family, including Don’s wife Mary, his son Daron and his daughters Staci and Jacquie.”
Saddened to share that my dad passed away in his sleep last night. 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. For all these things, I am very grateful. Rest In Peace. pic.twitter.com/cvlDRRdVXa
— Daron Sutton (@lifeisgreatsut) January 19, 2021
• Braves forever grateful for Sutton’s impact
Sutton completed just one full Minor League season before beginning his 23-season big league career in a Los Angeles rotation that included future Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. Sutton became a Hall of Famer himself in 1998.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of our dear friend, Don Sutton,” the Braves said in a statement. “A generation of Braves fans came to know his voice, as Don spent 28 seasons broadcasting Braves games after a 23-year, Hall-of-Fame Major League career with the Dodgers, Astros, Brewers and Angels. Don was as feared on the mound as he was beloved in the booth. A 300-game winner who was a four-time All-Star, Don brought an unmatched knowledge of the game and his sharp wit to his calls. But despite all the success, Don never lost his generous character or humble personality. It is with a heavy heart that we send our condolences and sympathies to Don’s entire family, including his wife Mary, his son Daron and his daughters Staci and Jacquie.”
The Los Angeles Dodgers mourn the passing of Hall of Famer and Dodger all-time great Don Sutton. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time. pic.twitter.com/RArUeoiBB1
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) January 19, 2021
More than 30 years after his retirement, he still owns the Dodgers franchise records in wins (233) and strikeouts (2,696). Speaking to his remarkable durability and consistency, he is third on the all-time leaderboard in games started (756) — behind just Cy Young and Nolan Ryan — and seventh in innings pitched (5,282 1/3). He is one of 18 members of the 3,000-strikeout club, finishing with 3,574 punchouts, good for seventh all time. He also played for the Angels, Brewers, Astros and A’s before serving as a broadcaster for both the Braves and Nationals.
“With apologies to Lou Gehrig, I’m the luckiest man on the face of the earth,” Sutton said to conclude his Hall of Fame induction speech. “I have everything in life I’ve ever wanted.”
Sutton certainly advanced far beyond the humble surroundings he was introduced to when he was born in Clio, Ala., in 1945. His parents, both teenage sharecroppers at the time of his birth, taught him the value of a strong work ethic.
When Sutton joined the Dodgers organization in 1964, he was introduced to pitching coach Red Adams, a man he later described as the most influential to his career. The two would work together until Sutton left the Dodgers to join the Astros after the 1980 season.
“Don Sutton’s brilliance on the field, and his lasting commitment to the game that he so loved, carried through to his time as a Member of the Hall of Fame,” said Jane Forbes Clark, chairman of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. “I know how much he treasured his moments in Cooperstown, just as we treasured our special moments with him. We share our deepest condolences with his wife, Mary, and his family.”
• With 324 wins, Sutton was picture of consistency
Proving to be a reliable workhorse like his childhood idol Robin Roberts, Sutton logged at least 200 innings during each of his first 15 Major League seasons. A four-time All-Star, he finished among the top five in National League Cy Young Award balloting over five consecutive seasons (1972-76). He led the NL in WHIP in ‘72 (0.913) and ‘75 (1.038), and paced the Majors in ERA (2.20) and WHIP (0.989) in ‘80.
Sutton’s success in Los Angeles opened doors for him in the television world. He made a cameo appearance on “Fantasy Island” and was a frequent panelist on “Match Game.”
Along with having an outgoing, energetic personality, Sutton had a good sense of humor. When asked about allegations he used foreign substances to doctor the baseball, he reportedly said, “Not true at all. Vaseline is made here in the United States.”
When Sutton joined the Astros in 1981, he was a 35-year-old pitcher who had recorded 230 of his eventual 324 career wins. He was traded to Milwaukee on Aug. 30, 1982, and made a pair of World Series starts for the Brewers a little more than a month later.
• Sutton’s Brewers legacy tied to ’82 pennant
Sutton was traded to the A’s after the 1984 season and then was dealt to the Angels with less than a month remaining in the ’85 campaign. He had 295 wins when this late-season trade brought him closer to his family and friends in Southern California.
After winning just two of nine starts through the end of May 1986, Sutton got on track and claimed his 300th career win in impressive fashion. He reached this lofty milestone with a three-hit complete game against the Rangers on June 18, 1986. He’d retire after being granted the chance to rejoin the Dodgers two years later.
Don Sutton is 1 of 10 pitchers to record 3,000+ Ks, 300+ wins, and an ERA below 3.50. pic.twitter.com/lJFbmHzgTr
— MLB Stats (@MLBStats) January 19, 2021
“I am 100% convinced that if I had spent most of my career anywhere but with the Dodgers, I would not have the record, not have the Hall of Fame, not have the life I enjoyed,” Sutton told the Los Angeles Times in 2017. “All those Dodger people gave me all of that. It’s my alma mater, and all the good I had in baseball came from them.”
Sutton ended his playing days at the age of 43 and entered the broadcasting world the next year, spending time on both Braves and Dodgers broadcasts. He became a full-time member of Atlanta’s broadcast team the following year and would remain in that role until joining the Nats’ broadcast team for the 2007 and ’08 seasons.
After returning to the Braves’ booth in 2009, Sutton carried on the tradition of his mentors — Skip Caray, Pete Van Wieren and Ernie Johnson Sr. Sutton’s entrance to the team’s Hall of Fame in ’15 was a testament to the success he had with his second baseball career.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.