The pitching matchup between Sutton and Phil Niekro on June 28, 1986 was the first between 300-game winners since Tim Keefe and Pud Galvin opposed one another in 1892. It put into perspective an era that began in the 1960s. A new breed emerged, pitchers who would go on to win over 300 games by staying consistently effective into their forties. Although he lacked the overpowering stuff possessed by others of this group – Perry, Carlton and Seaver – and never earned the Cy Young awards they did, Sutton, a fanatic about conditioning, never spent a day on the disabled list in 22 seasons. He combined longevity with excellence, even brilliance, to put together an impressive career.
Sutton was chosen TSN Rookie Pitcher of the Year in 1966, when his 209 strikeouts were the most by a NL rookie since Grover Cleveland Alexander ‘s 227 in 1911. He was the fourth starter behind Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and Claude Osteen. That foursome proved to be the only rotation in which each member would amass 40 or more career shutouts. As the years passed, Sutton became the ace of the Dodger staff. Without having the dominant individual seasons that his predecessors had, he still became the Dodgers’ career leader in wins, losses, games pitched, games started, strikeouts, innings pitched, hits allowed, shutouts, and Opening-Day starts (seven).
Sutton’s all-time statistics reflect his consistency and longevity. En route to defeating every major league team, he earned a spot among the career leaders in losses (sixth), games started (second), strikeouts (fourth), innings pitched (sixth), and shutouts (eighth) at the time he retired. He never pitched a no-hitter, but he did pitch five one-hitters and nine two-hitters. He became the first pitcher to win 300 games while only once winning 20 in a season. He made his way past the 3,000-strikeout mark by racking up a record 21 consecutive 100-plus strikeout seasons (recording 99 in his final season), with a high of 217 in 1969.
Seven times Sutton was a starter on the NL staff with the best ERA, and he was a frequent member of pennant-bound teams. Sutton earned a reputation as a money player. He allowed no earned runs in eight All-Star innings, including his start and win in the 1977 game of which he was named MVP. He pitched the Dodgers’ first-ever LCS game in 1974, shutting out the Pirates, and beat them in the fourth and final game as well. He was acquired by the Brewers toward the end of their 1982 pennant drive, and beat Jim Palmer and the Orioles in the division clincher on the last day of the season. In 1986, at age 41, he won 15 for the Western Division champion Angels. In total, he competed in five League Championship Series and four World Series with three different teams.
Sutton’s repertoire featured the curveball, although he was often accused, especially toward the end of his career, of throwing illegal pitches. In 1978 he was ejected from a game for defacing the ball. When he threatened a lawsuit against the league, he was let off with a warning. He once claimed that when he met Gaylord Perry, “he gave me a jar of Vaseline. I thanked him and gave him a piece of sandpaper.”
A polished speaker, Sutton served as a postseason announcer during his baseball career. Following his retirement, he became a full-time Braves TV announcer.