Sutton Says He's Had It, He's Through, He Means It--Unless . . .

Times Staff Writer

Being of sound mind but battered body, baseball's original prodigal son, Don Sutton, hereby retires his services, barring a trade from his new team, the Oakland A's, to a) the Angels, b) the San Diego Padres or--and picture this--c) the Dodgers.

Yes, Sutton, the all-time winningest pitcher in the history of c), knows he may be flushing away a chance at 300 wins--and the lifetime pass to the Hall of Fame that goes with them. He has 279 wins now. He needs only 21 more. He doesn't care.

All Sutton really wants is to click his heels three times and go home to Laguna Hills, where he runs a successful business and has a running acquaintance with his wife and two kids.

The decision marks the end of a long line of Sutton's putting his foot down only to have his toes trounced. Please note that this is not one of those patented Sutton crisis points that visits him now and again like the flu. At 39, Sutton means it this time.

He said the same thing to Harry Dalton, general manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, at the end of last season, a renaissance year of sorts for Sutton, who had a 13-11 record with a 3.65 earned-run-average--10 of those losses being backed by a total of 12 Brewer runs. Anyway, Dalton said he'd do what he could.

What Dalton did was trade Sutton to none of the three clubs above. What Dalton did was trade Sutton to Oakland, which is close if you're a pilot for PSA but no cigar if you're trying to watch your kids grow up.

"I wouldn't go if it was the 1927 Yankees," Sutton said. "It's not Oakland. Oakland is a nice place to visit. But Oakland isn't home. And I'm not staying away from home another year."

What Dalton also did was work the Sutton deal with no strings attached, which means that Oakland gave up pitcher Ray Burris and two minor-leaguers for the rights to throw his retirement party.

Was somebody bamboozled?

"Maybe Harry's thinking was, 'Well, he's talking like he won't play now, but once he gets out there, he'll play. Don't worry. He'll play,' " Sutton said. "All I know is, I hope something works out, because if it doesn't, Oakland loses, I lose and Harry Dalton wins. And that's not good."

The Dodgers don't figure to be interested in Sutton, having too many pitchers as it is. Angel General Manager Mike Port said he wouldn't talk about Sutton specifically, but said the Angels "may be interested in pitching help." The Padres lost a right-handed starter in Ed Whitson to the Yankees, but would seem doubtful as Sutton saviors. So there you are.

The crazy thing is, Sutton came within two thin dimes of coming home last year. On August's last day, in the hot breath of a pennant drive, Sutton, his wife, his kids, the dog, 13 pieces of luggage and that dream deferred arrived at the Long Beach Airport, certain he'd been traded to the Angels.

But when Sutton made one last phone call to Milwaukee owner Bud Selig to confirm the trade, Selig told him the deal had been kiboshed, four hours from the midnight deadline. This is known as Sutton death.

"I hung up the phone and I didn't have to say a thing to my wife," Sutton remembered. "All she had to do was look at my face. . . . It was the quietest car ride home I've ever taken."

That was Chapter Umpteen in a bizarre autobiography. Prince and pauper, victim and suspect, hero and villain, Sutton had been all of these things in his 18 tumultuous years of baseball. It was the 18th that finally drove him to come home.

It was Sutton's newest truth to live by, following on the heels of such other favorites as: Know Thyself (Forget Everybody Else); Win 300, Go Directly to the Hall of Fame; and the ever-popular Why Me, God?

Sutton's latest and perhaps last is simply this: Be Happy.

And so it is that he says he has seen the last of the Oakland A's, realizing full well that he had never seen the first of them.

"It's got absolutely nothing to do with Oakland." Nor did it have anything to do with Milwaukee. Sutton said nothing is wrong with Milwaukee--"great city, great fans,"--apart from Milwaukee's tendency to be 2,200 miles from Laguna Hills.

Not so livable was playing for a team that went went 67-94 last season, worst in the American League. "I'd look around the locker room and see some of the best talent in baseball and yet we were losing every game," Sutton recalled. "It was like being in the Twilight Zone. Bud Selig must have sold his soul to the devil."

After the 11th-hour squelching of the Angel deal, Sutton was more bent on bolting than ever. At season's end, he told Dalton he wanted to be traded to a Southern California team--or else.

If Dalton was dubious, you can understand. After all, isn't this where we came in with the Dodgers? And in Houston? And each time, didn't Sutton demand his freedom?

Yet each time, his request was granted at some expense to his ego. The Dodgers simply neglected to renew his contract. The Astros traded him to Milwaukee for three minor-league players. The Brewers traded him to Oakland for Burris and two minor-leaguers.

What is this? Ray Burris? Failed to renew a contract? Three minor-leaguers? For the pitcher who ranks sixth in strikeouts with 3,194, and 24th in wins?

What has kept baseball happiness and Sutton such strangers? These days, Sutton thinks he has the answers.

"A lot of people thought of me as an unemotional, insensitive, arrogant ass," Sutton says. "And they were probably right."

But the New Sutton is different. A near break-up with his wife and the subsequent counseling they received turned Sutton inside out.

"I came to realize that my way was not the only way," he said. "I was just a dumb jock. 'Forget yesterday. Don't worry about tomorrow. Just live on your instincts today.' Tomorrow was just one more today. That's the way I lived."

It was that Sutton who made a few enemies on the Dodgers--starting with Tom Lasorda and ending with Steve Garvey and their infamous loser-leave-town clubhouse wrestling match.

"I didn't understand Tommy Lasorda then," he says. "We were 180 degrees opposite, but I didn't understand where he was coming from. Tommy needs to be speaking, motivating, working in sales. Me, I had to rationalize; had to use logic. All Tommy's peaks and valleys didn't make sense to me."

Sutton is trying to patch things up with Lasorda, and although they aren't hugging much these days, they at least say hello.

As for Garvey, he said: "We haven't been good friends, but I'd like to get that rectified. . . . When we were rolling around on the clubhouse floor, we each believed ourselves to be right. We didn't talk anything out. Back then, it was not cool to care about somebody else on your club. It was not macho.

"But I think we are on the same side of the fence in a lot of ways. Steve and I have the same goals and priorities. He does so many things I admire. He has that great consistency. You have to shoot him to get him out of the lineup."

Then too, both Sutton and Garvey felt neglected with the Dodgers, and both left.

But while Garvey carries on with the National League champion Padres, Sutton has come nose to nose with baseball mortality. Sutton admits that his Holy Grail--300 wins--may be Paradise Lost.

"For a while it was an obsession with me," he has said. "But now I'm pretty much convinced it's not possible."

So Superman's cape is a little frayed. Hey, it looks more lived-in that way.

"Yeah, 300 (wins) is important," Sutton said. "The Hall of Fame is important, too. Very important. I'd be a damn fool not to go for it. But there are other things that are just more important. . . . Besides, if I can't make it with 280 wins and 3,200 strikeouts then, well . . . All I know is there are people with lesser credentials than I have who are there.

"Anyway, it's not worth it to leave home for another year. I'm responsible for other people--my family. Bud Selig and Al Campanis aren't responsible for my family. I am."

As of this morning, this story has no tight-fitting ending. Sutton will not go to Oakland. Oakland has not worked a deal.

"Nobody believes I'd really retire," Sutton said the other day as he climbed in his classic red and white 1955 Chevy Bel-Air . . .

" . . . But I would."

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