Now, Overwhelmed : Sutton, Who Had Once Considered Giving Up, Says 300th Win Was Worth It
More than two hours had passed since Don Sutton struck out Texas’ Gary Ward to become major league baseball’s 19th winner of 300 games Wednesday evening. The clock was approaching midnight, the Anaheim Stadium offices were empty, the security guards had left for home.
But, there in the darkness, still clad in his Angel uniform, was Sutton, still grinning, still clasping a celebratory plastic cup of champagne.
So this is Mr. Unemotional, eh? The man who supposedly wears nothing on his sleeve except cuff links? The pitcher who prides himself on two decades’ worth of poise, who attributes his long-running success to never leaving himself vulnerable to an unguarded moment?
Well, one must understand what 300 means to Don Sutton.
“It’s hard to remain unemotional,” Sutton said. “This is something I’ll probably have to take in and roll around inside for a while.”
Sutton was still at it Thursday morning when he arrived in the Angels’ clubhouse to prepare for a six-game trip that begins tonight in Kansas City. He sat alone in front of his locker, trying to gain some perspective on what had transpired the previous night.
“I still haven’t figured out what it means, but it’s something special,” he said. “I know it’s a wonderful feeling. I know it’s a fantastic place to be along the way to where I want to be when I’m finished.”
Sutton’s hopeful destination: Cooperstown. He has maintained all along that reaching the 300-win level was his best--only?--chance at gaining admission to the Hall of Fame. He admitted that 300 victories eventually became an obsession for him, prolonging his career by at least three years.
In 1983, Sutton won fewer than 10 games for the first time in his career. His record was 8-13, his earned-run average 4.08. He was playing in Milwaukee, separated from his family in Laguna Hills.
At the time, he considered giving up the quest.
“Eighty-three was a lousy year,” Sutton said. “It was tough being away from home. I didn’t know if it was worth the sacrifice to go after what is basically a selfish goal--and one that maybe was out of reach.”
He said encouragement from family and friends convinced him to continue. A 14-win season for the Brewers in 1984 helped. A trade to Oakland, where he won 13 games through August 1985, helped even more.
Gradually, he was moving closer to home.
Finally, on Sept. 10, 1985, he made it all the way home--being traded by the A’s to the team with which he wanted to end his career, the Angels.
There, Sutton was united with an old rival, Gene Mauch, who managed against Sutton for 10 years in the National League with the Philadelphia Phillies and Montreal Expos.
Mauch was asked if, back in the early days, he ever envisioned that skinny Dodger pitcher some day winning 300 games.
“He didn’t give me time to think about that,” Mauch said. “He must have beat me 16 or 17 times. And six or seven of those were shutouts.
“I probably spent more time wishing he’d quit than win 300.”
Mauch deserves an assist in at least the timing of Sutton’s 300th triumph. Mauch moved Sutton up a day in the pitching rotation, giving him another chance at 300 in front of the home crowd and a start against a team he routinely handles with ease. Sutton was 1-0 with an 0.68 ERA against Texas last season and, in his career, he is 5-1 with a 2.37 ERA.
Sutton appreciated the gesture, especially after seeing and hearing the raucous standing ovation given him by the Anaheim Stadium fans in the ninth inning.
“That’s the biggest charge I’ve ever seen a team experience from the response of a crowd,” Sutton said. “One of the guys said to me this morning, ‘If we heard that every inning, we’d never lose again.’
“I had to back off and re-plug today.”
Sutton was also impressed by the reaction of his teammates, who treated the final out as if it were the one that clinched a World Series championship.
“The response from the team at the end of the game was far more than I expected or envisioned,” Sutton said. “There’s a commercial that says, ‘It doesn’t get any better than this'--and it couldn’t get any better than the way it was last night.”
And now, the obvious question: What’s next for Sutton?
According to the 41-year-old pitcher, life doesn’t stop at 300.
“I didn’t die when I got 300,” he said. “I still have to go back out there and pitch again. Three-hundred’s not terminal.
“I have more goals--700 starts (Sutton has 685), 5,000 innings (he has 4,873) . . . and 301 wins.”
His contract with the Angels calls for an option year in 1987. At this point, Sutton said he is undecided about next season.
“That’s a question that won’t be answered until the end of the year,” he said. “It depends on someone wanting me to pitch and my ability to pitch. I have too much pride to go out and embarrass myself. But if I can continue like I am, I’d like to keep playing.
“I don’t want to be known as just a 300-game winner. I want to win more games, win a world’s championship . . . and visit Upstate New York.”
Times staff writer Ross Newhan contributed to this story.